Some years ago, Jerry Seinfeld had this idea. The idea was then honed to a simple-format chat show that would appear online. Seinfeld would introduce a comedian to a vintage car, they’d go for a ride, chat and then chat some more over a coffee or light meal. No fuss, a lean budget and some good, funny conversations. Sometimes a bit personal, but mostly not.
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee was first a cult hit and then a huge hit online. Inevitably, for its 10th season, the show – for it is now more of a “show” than a gag – lands on Netflix. Almost everything lands on Netflix.
The 10th season of Comedians in Cars (streaming on Netflix starting Friday) kicks off with Seinfeld taking Alec Baldwin around in a 1974 BMW 3.0 CS two-door coupe, a car that has not been well-maintained and is a piece of junk. But it does the trick. They get coffee in New York and head out to Massapequa on Long Island, where they both grew up. On the way, they talk about cologne and cars. Then Seinfeld riffs on one of his obsessions. His theory is that he and Baldwin’s generation was the first to have a childhood of pleasure and fun. Their parents didn’t have that.
What you realize, always, is that the show, slight as it is (most episodes are 20 minutes and it being Netflix you can watch in any order), can really only be about Seinfeld and his obsessions. The other comedian is allowed in, but carefully and, sometimes, very skillfully. Baldwin puts it to him that there’s a lot of talent in showbiz, but success is based on luck. Seinfeld says, “No!” He also tells Baldwin that he’s a real man. Baldwin says his fantasy job is to be an orchestra conductor. Then he does a wonderful bit in which he reprises his best lines playing a gay man from a stage production of Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr. Sloane. It’s a side-show bit, but it’s very funny.
For his ride and chat with John Mulaney, Seinfeld drives an Alfa Romeo, a car he adores. They buy mints – very Seinfeldian – and Mulaney talks about writing for Saturday Night Live and then the launch of his famously disliked sitcom. Then Mulaney has to buy “an entryway rug” for his wife. Like a lot of episodes, there’s very male but gentle joshing about getting along with a wife. Out of the idle chatter come moments of pure, inspired hilarity.
For the episode with Jerry Lewis – there seems to be agreement that this was the last interview Lewis did before he passed away – Seinfeld went to Las Vegas and drove a 1966 Jaguar E–type Roadster. It’s an homage, really, with Seinfeld extolling the virtues of Lewis movies such as The Bell Boy. “If you don’t get Jerry Lewis, you don’t get comedy,” he declares.
After much flattery being presented, they eventually go out for coffee. Lewis agrees with all the praise he receives on the ride from his driver. He also agrees that, “Being angry makes you funny.” They go to The Omelette House and Lewis orders a lot of what he calls “stiff, stiff, bacon.” Seinfeld is aghast, but still reverential.
The episodes with Kate McKinnon (in a 1962 Fiat 600 Multipla) and Ellen DeGeneres (featuring a Toyota Land Cruiser) are fascinating contrasts. McKinnon is obviously being cautious and while she’s “on”, she doesn’t seem quite sure about Seinfeld’s approach. DeGeneres throws caution to the wind and admits that when her ABC sitcom was cancelled, she was “bitter, sad and angry. How did this show change everything just by me being honest and gay? Why was this such a shock?”
It’s a strange little series, Comedians in Cars, from the first season to this. It’s a reason for Seinfeld to keep busy and to keeping poking around in the comedy world, looking for insight about why some jokes work and some fail. The episodes are also very heavily edited and polished to present the guest in a particular light. But, really, they are all about Seinfeld still polishing his observational humour and gleaning information about how to be even funnier. It’s all casual banter that’s prepared and cooked with precision to reveal a handful of truths and great comedy bits. An ideal lightweight summer binge.