'Seinfeld' showcase

April 22, 1992|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

The best comedy flows from real-life experiences, and nobody on television is tapping that vein better these days than "Seinfeld," the NBC series that tonight at 9 and 9:30 gives viewers a double feature of back-to-back episodes on WMAR (Channel 2).

Star Jerry Seinfeld built his stand-up comedy reputation on the ,, "didja' ever notice . . ." school of observational humor, and tonight's first episode tackles a commonplace urban stress: the hunt for a good parking place.

Along the way, it also proves another formula for a successful comedy series: By reaching back to "The Honeymooners" and "I Love Lucy," the show demonstrates the need for a strong ensemble cast of almost-believable characters.

Indeed, tonight Jerry is pretty much secondary to the main action.

In the 9 p.m. episode, which is a first run (the second is a repeat), friends George and Elaine (Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus) have borrowed Jerry's car to go to a flea market. Upon returning to his Manhattan neighborhood, they begin to cruise the streets for a parking space.

"Go to a garage," urges Elaine.

"Nobody in my family ever pays for parking. . . . It's like going to a prostitute," responds George.

When the perfect space miraculously opens and George begins to back in, another car comes up from behind and noses halfway into the space. As the drivers begin to argue, the cars just sit there in V-formation, jutting into the street.

And that's it -- the simple, basic setup for a half-hour that builds joke upon joke and involves every regular in the series, as well as a handful of funny passers-by.

A sub-theme involves Jerry with his friend Kramer (Michael Richards, who fulfills the obligatory wacky-neighbor role of every good sitcom) in a running argument over the revealing of confidences.

You cannot help but get the humor, for most of us have been in similar situations.

The show also mirrors another good recent outing, when the gang went to a big shopping mall. They couldn't find Kramer's car in the cavernous parking garage and wandered for hours, soon needing a bathroom more than the car.

Urban angst/suburban angst. Friendship angst/relationship angst. Work angst/home angst. "Seinfeld" captures it all equally well as the comic frames each episode with short cuts from his stand-up act.

NBC, obviously wishing to showcase the series as the important spring ratings sweeps get under way, says the show is one of the fastest rising on the air, with a 30 percent climb in the ratings last month.

*

It is hardly "The Godfather" trilogy. But a pretty good movie premiering on cable tonight somewhat similarly links three generations of crime-related intrigue.

Family sins lie at the heart of "Legacy of Lies," to be shown at 9 p.m. on the USA Network, and the film even has Eli Wallach as an aging mobster, much like his part in "Godfather III."

Michael Ontkean ("Twin Peaks") stars as Zack Resnick, a straight-arrow Chicago detective who draws the case of a "drive-by" slaying of a prominent symphony conductor. But soon he begins to suspect the intended victim was somebody else, a candidate for office who has dropped from sight.

The film, scripted by David Black (a Pulitzer Prize nominee for his book "The Plague Years"), nicely captures the plodding, often unclean procedure of police investigation.

Zack finds a prostitute witness and backtracks to her pimp, who identifies a car license that takes him to a rental outlet, where he learns the car was hired by . . . well, it would not be fair to reveal too much here.

But Zack discovers that his uniformed policeman father (Martin Landau, in a nicely handled role) is not as upright as he thought. Indeed, he also gains a grandfather on the other side of the law (Wallach).

What does an honest cop do? Is there even such a thing as an honest cop? And how tightly should family ties bind?

Cynicism and a fair bit of violence drive the action, whose darkly atmospheric mood is maintained by a lush, cool-jazz score by Patrick Williams. (In a nice parallel, both Zack and his father are cornet players.)

As Zack and his partner (Joe Morton) probe deeper into the mob, a sub-plot also involves Zack romantically with Pat Rafael, a television reporter covering the story (Patricia Clarkson). As cynical as the cops she reports upon, she asserts journalism's search for truth really is "whatever I know by deadline."

Throughout, crisp writing lifts "Legacy of Lies" well above the usual USA movie fare, as when the reporter is asked what she sees in Zack.

"His bubbly personality."

"Like champagne?"

"Like Drano."

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