Two exact same watches. He tells you a week, and him a day. How could that be? Something’s fishy about this.
‘The Watch’, like ‘The Ticket’, is an episode that works wonderfully as itself, but also as a central piece within Season 4’s ongoing story line involving the creation of the Jerry pilot by Jerry and George for NBC (my pick for number eleven in this countdown contains a more thorough articulation of my thoughts on this dynamic, specifically how the affected episodes—more than a half-a-dozen—could form an almost ‘Seinfeld film’ if strung together in correct sequence), but another thought that I have while watching these particular episodes is the idea of attempting a formation of the aesthetics of Seinfeld.
Contemplating the art of Seinfeld has appeared to me up to now to be a completely ideological affair; I can only see artful gestures in what Seinfeld is saying, and sometimes how they are saying it (here I’m purely speaking about actor performance). But what then of how Seinfeld looks or how Seinfeld moves in relation to art. That’s become a much different, and more difficult proposition for me. Mainstream television of this type (most generically specified as ‘sitcom’) is pretty bland visually, what with its lighting being little more than the high-key lightning technique and the blocking usually being the most simplistic of two dimensional space. Characters face each other seated, they walk side by side in straight shots, no choice of filmic grammar other than what produces the most consistent shot in the quickest of time to set up on set. The choice of lightning previously mentioned is a decision in a likewise, time efficient manner; you rig the lights in your most common sets once (in this case Jerry’s apartment and the coffee shot) and conceivably nothing needs to change for the entire duration of the Series except a switching out of a bulb when one inevitably sputters out. Even in the comedy television era that Seinfeld certainly birthed that has had some growth in camera movement and other filmic expressions (Arrested Development and all the faux-documentary style of, say, The Office would be the most readily identifiable examples) often has less to do with artistic decision than the readily affordable nature of handheld digital high quality cameras (FX’s Wilfred, used much handheld work in its wonderful first two seasons, via a digital video camera that retails for under four grand). Even the production aesthetic offers similar common sense decisions which lead us down dead ends in this sort of contemplation; the sets are meant to look as standard as possible (apartments are to offer very little detail other than the surface level, restaurants and bars are totally utilitarian, etc.) while costuming, while offering a bit more and interesting in its authentic everyman way (George is wonderfully costumed; his clothes were selected to fit slightly small in many scenes to accentuate his discomfort and overweight nature, as Elaine often is too; her floral dresses paired with denim jackets and two-tones brogues are an understated comment on her masculine/feminist interplay, while Kramer is an originator all his own. Vintage lounge wear meets poverty, as he wears pants that are hemmed to short and coats in serious need of a cleaning. He’s as factitious as his means allow.), is more used to create an atmosphere of character rather than specific pointed aesthetic wholeness.
But thinking more, specifically after studying Season 4’s ‘The Watch’ again recently, I do think there is something of a cohesive aesthetic vantage point that can be explored. First, there is the generic sameness at the foundation as I just discussed. This consciously puts it next to everything else, makes it not glaringly stick out and lose credibility. Its values outwardly seem pedestrian even if its arguments are rooted in shaking bedrock. ‘The Watch’ does this most interestingly with an acute sense of mirrored duality, seen through its interesting use of juxtaposed cut story-telling device. Everything about the episode is a transposed mirror of what came before or after it, making the episode one long undulating dream of connected points akin to a stand up comedians one hour HBO special. The episode starts in exploration on this theme, even if in just subtle hinting, as the Seinfeld’s—complete with the great Uncle Leo in tow—eat at a nice, what appears to be Italian, restaurant. The conversation ping-pongs between Helen’s exclaiming the attractiveness of the waitress and Morty and Leo’s interjections merely when their convenience allows. Then, as if adding the thesis to which we’re set to explore, Morty offers the earlier quoted, “Two exact same watches. He tells you a week, and him a day. How could that be? Something’s fishy about this.” Continue reading