Seinfeld Volume 3 Season 4

Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards. Aspect ratio: 1.33:1. Dolby Digital 2.0 (English), Dolby Digital 1.0 (French, Spanish). Four discs. 552 minutes. Sony Pictures 09774. NR. $49.95

Picture ***
Sound ***
Film ****

In It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey has a chance to find out what life would have been like if he had never existed. But consider this: what if Seinfeld had not existed? No, not Jerry Seinfeld, the standup comedian, but the eponymous TV series. We wouldn't know about regifting, low talkers, close talkers, double dipping, being sponge worthy, being Master of Your Domain, Yada Yada Yada, and "not that there's anything wrong with that." The show "about nothing" was No. 1 in TV Guide's ranking of the best TV shows of all time, and, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Jerry Seinfeld holds the record for "most money refused," by refusing $5 million per episode to continue the show.

True to form, the first two Seinfeld volumes were the fastest-selling TV shows on DVD. And now we have the third set, which consists of the show's fourth season. This was dubbed the Breakthrough Season, because the show made the leap from cult hit to mainstream success, winning the first of 10 Emmy awards. Virtually every episode in this season is a classic, starting with "The Trip," in which Jerry and George travel to Los Angeles to pitch a TV sitcom that sounds a lot like Seinfeld.

As effective as these shows were on TV, they gain tremendously on DVD. First of all, there is the absence of commercials. Even if you—like me—routinely change channels during commercials or scan past them if recorded, not having these interruptions makes for more effective continuity. The video quality is much better than I remember from the original broadcasts, and better even than the earlier episodes in Volume 1. (Volume 3 is said to have been remastered in high definition, although the DVDs are not HD, of course.) The episodes are complete, without the cuts that are present in the versions seen in syndication.

As with the earlier volumes in this series, the 13 hours of extras are truly worthwhile. There are "Inside Looks," in which the writers and actors talk about each specific episode, including the occasional plot development that was nixed by the production company or the network. There are audio commentaries, deleted scenes (mostly good ones, deleted to make the show fit the time slot), outtakes/bloopers, some alternate endings, and optional "Notes About Nothing" pop-up text information.

There is a refreshing lack of self-congratulatory hype, and, insofar as possible with this format, we get to know the show's creators and performers. I was surprised to find out that Michael Richards, who plays Kramer, that wild and crazy guy, is the most serious of the cast members, and takes a highly structured approach to the seemingly effortless bits of physical comedy.

The word is that the release of the first set of Seinfeld DVDs was delayed because of negotiations with cast members about payments for interviews and commentaries. I certainly hope these concerns have been settled for the entire series. I can't wait to see Volume 4!