Do you need a tonic? Of course you do. There you are, day by day, succumbing to fear and loathing, pity and terror, not to mention ennui. And that’s just the TV content you’re binge-watching.
What we all need is an hour, just an hour, without angst or mention of U.S. President Donald Trump or mention of corona-you-know-what. Well, it’s here.
Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill (new on Netflix from Tuesday) is it, and boy is it a breezy delight. Some of you will be so grateful you’ll be reduced to blubbering wrecks, after you’ve finished laughing. No angst involved, no Trump jokes or even a cuss word. Just Jerry Seinfeld observing things and doing what only Seinfeld can do – make the mundane seem ridiculous and obliging you to nod in agreement.
Now, it might seem that Seinfeld is ubiquitous. Seinfeld reruns are everywhere. There’s his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee series. But, fact is, he hasn’t done a full new stand-up special in 22 years. This one is classic material about “nothing” but making you long for and savour the “nothing” of non-pandemic times. As he asks at one point, after mocking our devotion to phones and texting, “What else is annoying in the world, besides everything?”
Seinfeld was 65 years old when the show was taped (he’s 66 as of last week) and he says he’s loving it. You can tell it’s true. The special was taped at New York’s Beacon Theatre a few months ago and, apart from an opening visual gag about him descending from a helicopter to make the gig on time, it’s just him on stage for an hour, gloriously making fun of everyday stuff.
Including himself. The point of much of his humour is that most things in life are pointless, but we get on with it because we can’t be bothered to change. “If you were me, would you be up here hacking out anther one of these?” he jokes at one point, early in the show. Then he moves on to observational humour about eating in restaurants, paying the bill and having to pretend everything is great. That might sound like commonplace humour, but Seinfeld is as adept as ever at finding that one nugget of original insight, that one sliver of pristine perception.
There’s a brilliant riff about eating from a buffet table and a superb sequence about what he calls “device dictatorship,” and his insights into the absurdity of how we communicate these days are a breath of fresh air. There’s an excellent bit of material that’s vintage Seinfeld, about Pop-Tarts and breakfast cereals. You might feel it was used on some episode of his sitcom, but it still sizzles.
After a good slice of plain humorous annoyance about bathrooms, Seinfeld switches gears. He invites the audience into “Jerry’s little world.” He says, “Yes, I’m 65 years old. I’ve been married for 19 years and we have three kids.” There follows what at first feels like a very old-fashioned riff on marriage and the matter of getting along with a spouse. Some of it could have come from a stand-up act by any experienced comedian half a century ago, but Seinfeld makes it seem both familiar and fresh. A good deal of the wit is about men learning to say very little because the female brain is incredibly attuned to subtle changes in behaviour and tone: “I thought it was a marriage; apparently it’s a musical.”
There isn’t a joke that’s audacious or rash. And yet it’s scintillating, this one hour spent seeing the world from Seinfeld’s elatedly skeptical perspective. It’s a tonic for all of us suffering withdrawal symptoms since ordinary life was put on pause. Thoroughly recommended.
Finally, this column continues with a “stay-at-home-period daily-streaming pick.” Today’s pick is Amanda Knox (Netflix), a coolly eviscerating documentary about Knox and about how her case was covered. In November, 2007, Knox was a 20-year-old American student living in the Italian city of Perugia for a few weeks when her British roommate Meredith Kercher was found murdered. Immediately, Knox and her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were suspects and quickly charged with her murder. Two years later, they were found guilty but the pair were later released on appeal, tried again, found guilty again and, finally, exonerated by the Italian Supreme Court.
"Either I am a psychopath in sheep's clothing, or I am you," Knox says in the doc.
That sums up the seriously traumatized young woman's feelings about what happened to her and how she was portrayed. When she says "or I am you," the resonance is deep and profound – it is horrific to imagine being treated as she was, both by the courts in Italy and by an unconscionably sexist, lying media.
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