What is the greatest ep of Seinfeld? I don't know but I wanted to tell you about this one.
As the title for this newsletter is an alliterative homage of the 90s sitcom, I thought the inaugural issue should touch on it. Also my bit about the Crown season 4
Welcome to the premiere of The Clara Chronicles, a newsletter diving into television, movies and books that set something off in me, whether it be adoration, bawling or confusion.
While we languish in the final days of lockdown, awaiting our tiered fate, I thought I would dip into my one of my favourite episodes of my all-time favourite sitcom. You might have seen it, you might not have. You’ve definitely seen the gifs. Either way, it seemed an apt beginning this newsletter, to begin on a high as I’ve been feeling a bit low.
When thinking about how to go about this, I thought about ranking my top episodes, even deciding my ultimate, an impossible task. It did spark the question of what makes a great episode of Seinfeld, or any television show? Who knows. I’m not actually a scholar of television, able to pull it apart and dissect it for parts. That sounds like pouring joy down the drain, and in this economy, I cannot spare a single drop. All I have gathered after a lifetime of telly watching, great television seems to be concretely defined by great writing.
With a show of this calibre, legend and fanbase, the episodes to discuss are aplenty; The Chinese Restuarant, The Contest, The Limo, The Pony Remark, too many to list. A definitive countdown this is not. We are here for a burst of reminiscing, and with that, I want to tell you about The Pen, a prime example of Larry David’s comedic voice. His writing on Seinfeld compared to Curb Your Enthusiasm is far less cringe. I can knock this sitcom back to back like gin and tonics, but Curb is too tart, like a shot of vodka, to binge.
In The Pen, Jerry and Elaine visit his parents at their retirement village in Florida. The trip is partly for scuba diving and for honouring Morty Seinfeld, the outgoing President of the Condo Association. Jerry opens the door for gossip when he accepts a pen, designed by NASA for use in outer space, from Jack Klompos, noted rival to Morty and known cheap stake. The pen can write upside down, so you can write in bed. Are these things still available? I, like Jerry, have all my best ideas while drifting to sleep. This acceptance of the pen is considered to be a no-no by Helen, Jerry’s mother. Of course, she is correct.
The Pen contains nearly everything that a truly excellent episode of Seinfeld needs; an investigation of social contracts, neuroticism and a show-stopping display from Elaine Benes. What it lacks is George and Kramer, which is an understandable move as it manages to be full without them. Zipping back to Manhattan would ruin it. There were rumours that Jason Alexander threatened to quit the show over this. Apparently, fears that Julia Louis-Dreyfus was going to usurp him led to this diva outburst.
Despite two of the biggest characters, it manages to be wonderfully typical, but different. The struggles are usual; the biggest one being social faux pas. There’s also no air con and uncomfortable sofa beds portrayed viscerally by a sweaty Elaine lying wide awake with a metal bar pressing into her back. No thanks to that trio of problems. I
As most fans of long-running television shows know, the earlier seasons are always better. Writing, premises and ideas become stale, characters development is stunted. This is less of a problem with this show because they aren’t, by design, able to mature. They are terrible, horrible people who do terrible, horrible things to each other and those they come into contact with.
The writers made it a priority that the plot is tied up in a neat bow at the end. I think this what makes it so ripe for reruns. While sometimes little references pop up to previous episodes, it doesn’t really matter. You can dip in and out at random points, and it doesn’t really make a difference.
And on television shows getting weaker as they grow, the fourth season of The Crown is unfortunately BAD! It’s a painful piece of television, and I’m not even drenched enough in ennui to pretend. I gave it a go and folks, I could only face one and a bit. The Clara Chronicles gives a big thumbs up to quitting boring television shows, books and movies. LIFE IS TOO SHORT!
After seeing Lord Mountbatten blown to bits, hoping the action film vibe might linger, being sorely disappointed, I resigned, handed in my notice with nothing to fall back on. I caught the highlights on Gogglebox, and I’m fine now. The zeitgeist has been kept up with.
This is a shame because I loved the previous seasons. I loved its opulence, its exploration of British 20th century life and learning. Before last season, I had no clue about the 1966 Abervan tragedy or the Stalinist sympathiser, even Prince Phillip’s weird obsession with the moon landings was entertaining, if not a bit WTF.
The first season gave a really thought-provoking, untouched look at the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The gender dynamics of Claire Foy’s Elizabeth and Matt Smith’s Prince Phillip. His refusal to be subordinate to his wife, lesser than, was conflict not seen before. Vanessa Kirby stole the show playing Princess Margaret, who heartbroken by being unable to marry the divorcee she loves, but more by the thought of not being HER anymore. These were relatively unexplored House of Windsor plots, far away from our world now. Divorce is commonplace in both our lives and the royal families lives. Prince Phillip has been consorting for decades, following alongside his wife.
This is the real problem with the fourth season. The real story of Princess Diana is better than fiction. All works of fiction about Diana cannot compare to the real thing. It already has a cinematic charm. A vetted virgin Sloane Ranger selected to marry the future king. She then goes on to become a thorn in their regal sides. Prime pickings for blockbusters as people of all backgrounds see themselves in her. Her tragedic life while not a common story holds common themes; sadness, suffering and loneliness. She got to use that platform to speak out and change minds. She was The People’s Princess for a reason! She tugged at their heartstrings.
For example, you cannot watch the clip of Prince Charles answering “Whatever in love means” when asked if he loves his young bride to be, and not gasp. That would be embarrassing if your fiancee said that in the pub or to his mate behind your back, but to the WHOLE WORLD? Diana could not escape as her sister Sarah said, “Your face is on the tea towels”
Why would I watch this reenacted when the real thing is so bonkers? The other day, I watched THREE documentaries about her Panorama interview. Blaming lockdown boredom would be a LIE! Do you know what I felt after the THIRD one ended? I WANTED MORE! The podcast You’re Wrong About filled my urge with their FIVE EPISODE deep dive into Diana’s life. Guess what? I STILL WANT MORE! Please send me recommendations. Before you do, I’ve already read The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown (another nod this newsletter’s name makes) Diana does not need to be fictionalised. She doesn’t need screenwriters or actresses or biopics. She’s already an enduring symbol of vulnerability, style and star quality. Give me archive footage, give me off the record gossip or give me NOTHING!
My objection is not because its historically inaccurate. Frankly, there are bigger fish to fry. All those foolish cries make me want to love it, but just like Charles, I cannot be forced into loving when I don’t. Unlike his HRH, I don’t have a Camilla to fill the gaps in, no one to want to be a tampon for.
With all of this, I’m bereft. The Crown had been allotted into my TV schedule. It’s perfect for this time of year, complimenting the dark days with its slow pace. Although, with all this and the sympathetic framing of MARGARET THATCHER, I’m outie! Gillian Anderson, you are a marvel, but this lady is for turning away from you with that god awful blow out.
What did you think? Like all good modern fights, let’s have it out on Twitter. @ me bitch