Last summer, "The Seinfeld Chronicles" aired rather quietly, as comedy shows go, but garnered favorable comments.
There were viewers who, tired of smutty, cable-only humor, liked Jerry Seinfeld's gentler, kinder approach. He doesn't scream like Bobcat Goldthwait or smash watermelons into the front rows like Gallagher. He isn't into Dennis Miller put-downs or Andrew Dice Clay insults. Instead, he builds his observations around what happens to him.
He was understandably pleased. So was NBC. After all, there hasn't been much truly funny material recently in TV-land.
So "Seinfeld" gets four more outings, beginning Thursday at 9:30. NBC has retitled the show to avoid confusion with ABC's short, midseason series, "The Marshall Chronicles," now ended.
"Everything's new," said Seinfeld of the four new installments. "They're much funnier, by the way ... It's sort of a 'stand-com,' sort of low-concept comedy," he said of the shows, which combine the sitcom format with nightclub stand-up.
Among the stories is one about how "I stake out an office lobby and try to meet a woman," he said. "I only know where she works and I try to find out about her by going to the office where she works. Another story is about how difficult it is to be friends with an ex-lover. You know -- it's like two magicians trying to entertain each other."
Julia Louis-Dreyfus shows up as Seinfeld's ex-girlfriend, Elaine, with whom he maintains a slightly uneasy relationship, and Jason Alexander is his pal George, who's in rental real estate. Michael Richards plays Seinfeld's flaky neighbor, a sometime-inventor. All the men are bachelors.
In this week's sketch, Lynn Clark is Vanessa, a lawyer Seinfeld knows only by the firm where she works (hence the title: "Stakeout"). Liz Sheridan and Phil Bruns are Seinfeld's parents, who are staying with him for a weekend and handing out advice. Next week, Elaine apartment-sits for Jerry, then talks him into looking at a vacant apartment George is listing so she can have his bachelor pad -- a neat solution complicated by the fact that George decides he wants the place, too.
The third story is "Male Unbonding," exploring how a guy can break off a lifelong friendship with another man -- or whether he can. The final outing finds Jerry and Vanessa on a disastrous weekend in Vermont while he continues to lose money on the stock George persuaded him to buy.
Of "Seinfeld" and "Spy TV: How to Be Famous," a half-hour NBC show he hosted April 18, he said: "Both are fairly unusual network projects, not the kind of thing you normally see. They're both offbeat, which I think the networks have to do."
Besides being offbeat, the sketches, punctuated by Seinfeld's standup act before an audience, have a certain laid-back charm. Sometimes the almost offhand bits -- such as Jerry's trip to a dry cleaner that clearly shrunk his shirt -- are as amusing as the loosely wrought storylines.
If you missed last July's "Seinfeld Chronicles," or "Spy TV" in April, or Seinfeld's appearance on HBO's "Just for Laughs Festival" in November, you may have seen him as host of Showtime's hour-long "Second Annual Comedy Festival" April 7, wherein he did an opener and introduced five acts. Or on "Late Night With David Letterman" or Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show," where he's visited more than two dozen times each.
Or you may have seen him live. Seinfeld spent some 300 days last year doing personal appearances around the country, leading him to quip: "I walk through airports for a living."
Brooklyn-born Jerry Seinfeld, 35, grew up in Massapequa, Long Island, and made dean's list grades at Queens College, majoring in theater and communications. In 1976 he appeared at an amateur night at Manhattan's Catch a Rising Star, only to become so paralyzed with fear that he forgot the stories he planned to tell. The audience, which included supportive friends, liked him anyway.
He continued appearing at New York comedy clubs and showed up at both Garvin's and The Cellar Door here, then 10 years ago he moved to Los Angeles. There, he found stand-up tough going, but got a role as Frankie, the messenger boy, on "Benson" for four episodes during the 1980-81 season.
The next year, he showed up on Carson's "Tonight Show," where friend Jay Leno often subs, and began the upward climb. In 1987, he made his first TV special, "Jerry Seinfeld's Stand-Up Confidential," which aired on HBO, and a year later was voted America's Best Male Comedy Club performer in a poll of nightclub regulars. He also was named Funniest Male Stand-up Comic at that year's American Comedy Awards.
Seinfeld, a bachelor who neither smokes nor drinks, enjoys baseball and sports cars and practices Zen meditation. And he is refreshingly philosophical about his future: "I figure, whatever happens is exactly right."