This Jerry Seinfeld is a very funny fellow. A cleverly, wittily, engagingly funny fellow. A screamingly, shriekingly, bone-crunchingly, head-achingly, stomach-churningly funny fellow.
All right, maybe not quite that funny. But Jerry Seinfeld is Just Funny Enough.
The deadpan stand-up wag proves it again tonight with the premiere of a four-week-long (and therefore-too-short) NBC summer series appropriately named "Seinfeld," at 9:30 on Channel 4.
When it got a sneak preview airing last year, the show was called "The Seinfeld Chronicles," but then ABC's dismal "The Marshall Chronicles" came along (and went along), and the title was shortened. Anyway, it's still the same pleasantly bright idea. Stories about Seinfeld's private life as a worried comic are interspersed with scenes of Seinfeld entertaining a small nightclub audience with his sly, accurate observational asides.
If Margaret Mead had been a laugh riot, she might have been Jerry Seinfeld.
Since the jokes comment on the story and vice versa, the series has somewhat the flavor of "It's Garry Shandling's Show" but doesn't actually imitate it. "Seinfeld" doesn't actually imitate anything, which in itself is rare in television comedies.
As our hero, Seinfeld juggles the imponderables and inscrutables of single life in New York City. The premiere, called "The Stake Out," finds him at a party with a former girlfriend, now platonic pal, played buoyantly by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, formerly of "Saturday Night Live."
Across the table sits a beautiful lawyer named Vanessa (Lynn Clark), with whom Seinfeld is instantly smitten. But how to flirt effectively when your ex is sitting right next to you? Later, Seinfeld arranges with his whiny friend George (Jason Alexander) to bump into the lawyer accidentally at the office building where she works.
"So, uhh, do you date immature men?" he asks her. "Almost exclusively," she replies.
Back home in his cramped apartment, Seinfeld's parents, on one of their reconnaissance missions, needle him for expecting too much in a mate. "You know, Jerry, it's a good thing I wasn't so particular," says Dad, as Mom glowers. Phil Bruns plays the father, and mother is played by that funny Liz Sheridan, formerly ALF's next-door neighbor.
In the third show to be aired, "Male Unbonding," Seinfeld faces a peculiar dilemma: how to drop from his circle of friends a man he's known since childhood and now can't stand the sight, or sound, of. The guy drives him crazy. Why did he become friends with him in the first place? "I was 10," Seinfeld explains. "I would have been friends with Stalin if he had a Ping-Pong table."
The writing on the show -- Seinfeld coauthored some of the scripts -- is fresh and light, and the tone deftly droll. "Seinfeld" doesn't plunge pell-mell into the usual formula sitcom situations. Just when you think it will hit a brick wall, it makes a sharp right turn.
One weak link is fellow stand-up comic Michael Richards as Seinfeld's wacky neighbor. He isn't wacky or neighborly enough; it just doesn't work. But he's in the minority where "Seinfeld" is concerned. You may not convulsively guffaw, but you're bound to convincingly smile. Here's one that worked out just right.