Jerry Seinfeld Rides Into Netflix With ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee’
After nine seasons on Crackle, Jerry Seinfeld brings “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” to Netflix. More of a social experiment than a sitcom, this series is designed for extroverts who love to chatter away and introverts who enjoy listening. Seinfeld keeps it very friendly, giving the show the sunny feel of spending a day with your friends just driving around, sharing donuts and laughs. As with actual conversations in real life, some material is gut-busting, some not so much.
For its inaugural Netflix season, the show features Seinfeld driving around with comedy luminaries like Ellen DeGeneres and Dave Chappelle, as well as actors like Alec Baldwin and SNL star Kate McKinnon. Jerry Lewis also appears for one of his final television appearances before passing away last year. Each episode features a different model car, in which Seinfeld picks up his guest and they drive around mostly Los Angeles, although at times the locale will change, as with Chappelle who Seinfeld drives around Washington, D.C. The topics are spontaneous and far-reaching, from how hard it is to build a career in comedy to life’s various mysteries and pleasures. Seinfeld is both addicted to cars and coffee, as he makes clear early in nearly every episode (“I’m dying for a coffee”).
This series has one of the simplest formats you can find in any show. Even the sights of the cities and roads disappear behind the windows in whatever car Seinfeld is driving. Everything is centered on the conversations. With “3 Mics” standup star Neal Brennan Seinfeld gives some interesting commentary on the nature of good comedy, “it’s when you make people talk like you,” he says. Brennan chides Seinfeld for his car hobby as they drive around an Irish Green Porsche, calling Seinfeld horny for cars. One of the more laid back, but also disappointing episodes is the one with Alec Baldwin. Seinfeld loves to spend time with the actor, and it is not hard to see why. The two make an excellent pair with their rowdy banter and habit of breaking into imitations. Baldwin recalling Marlon Brando chatting about weight with him is particularly funny. In another moment Baldwin contemplates on marriage, “isn’t marriage a gunfight?” But interestingly enough, Seinfeld never bothers to ask Baldwin about his most famous recent role, Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live. Maybe it’s Seinfeld playing it safe, preferring not to edge close to controversy. Yet while driving around with Zach Galifianakis the two start discussing college, with Seinfeld lamenting that colleges, in his view, have recently become centers of intolerant thought by banning controversial speakers. Ellen DeGeneres attempts to bring a little more, meaningful commentary to the diner talk, probing Seinfeld about having kids in a world becoming ever more uncertain.
What’s quite interesting about much of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” is how much it reveals about Seinfeld himself. He’s funny but only edgy in odd ways (“women only like to hang out with women of the same weight”). Some anecdotes are real chortles, like when Seinfeld reveals he went car racing with Paul Newman and told him, “car racing is a sperm flashback.” When the other comedians try to bring up more meaningful talk Seinfeld comes across as almost mildly conservative. He’s certainly not radical, especially when he tells Brennan that he loves bees because they all know their place, and none of the worker bees ever feel like being the boss. He half-kiddingly tells Ellen that he doesn’t care much what his kids think about what’s happening in the world, and his general commentary is, “You know, my attitude is that each generation gets this thing dumped in their lap to deal with.” With Dana Carvey Seinfeld does touch on the Harvey Weinstein scandal, jabbing a bit at what he perceives to be false surprise by the Hollywood crowd. Yet this is good conversation, because it never feels false or stagey. It would be worse to have Seinfeld pretending for the cameras, or at least to do so in an obvious way.
Much of the show works in a style where you can just listen to it. Seinfeld describes in loving detail the specifics and mechanical structures of the cars he drives, before picking up his guests. The insights the comedians give are at times fascinating, such as Ellen admitting she simply always wanted to be famous, or Chappelle pondering how nobody ever says “I wish I had a camera” in this day in age. Galifianakis reveals he hates getting attention in public, Seinfeld responds that he doesn’t mind it at all and thinks anyone who wants fame should accept it. The episode with Jerry Lewis is the one episode where it truly feels like a student speaking with a master, as the two share thoughts, anecdotes and commentary that today has a new, striking unintentional sadness (“What’s left to kill you with? There’s nothing left here”).
“Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” is binge-worthy for viewers who enjoy simply listening to long conversations. Because these are comedians there is always a special energy and at times sharp observations about the subjects’ surroundings. How Jerry Seinfeld’s brand of humor is accepted in these times only time will tell, but when it works it’s enjoyable.
“Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” season ten premieres July 6 on Netflix.