THE SHOW “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”
WHEN|WHERE Streaming now on Netflix
WHAT IT'S ABOUT If you aren't familiar with Jerry Seinfeld's other "show about nothing," it's exactly as advertised. In each episode, the onetime sitcom star hops into a specially chosen vehicle, picks up a fellow comedian, then drives around town having a casual-but-caffeinated conversation. This season, the 11th, features a typically wide range of guests, from A-listers like Matthew Broderick to lesser-known faces like Sebastian Maniscalco. The headliner, though, is surely Eddie Murphy, making a rare public appearance.
MY SAY Like "Seinfeld," which broke television's most sacred rules with what seemed like unstudied insouciance, "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" works very hard to look casual, like some dude's video-podcast. Of course, we know Seinfeld is among the very wealthiest celebrities, with a massive car collection and an even larger collection of famous friends. And behind every dum-de-dum shot of two people walking down the street is a slick team of camera people and assistants.
Nevertheless, the show really does capture stars without their costumes and makeup. Yes, they're still performing — always. But with a companion as genial as Jerry, they unwind, lower their guard and share a little.
That means "Comedians in Cars" can often surprise you. Who would have guessed that the studiously inoffensive Seinfeld would be great pals with Ricky Gervais — and that Gervais would be the sensitive one? ("Are you going to leave that in?" he asks after Seinfeld cracks a dubious Chinese joke.) Or that Jamie Foxx once felt existentially threatened by Chris Tucker? Or that Seinfeld himself would be capable of a long, expletive-filled rant about another comic (name bleeped out)?
On the flip side, when Seinfeld plays the Johnny Carson figure and uses his show to give exposure to newer talent, the results are less impressive. Bridget Everett, a confrontational cabaret comedian, and Maniscalco, known for his hard-edged persona, both let themselves fade into the background. Most disappointingly, "Saturday Night Live" star Melissa Villaseñor spends most of her episode — the shortest at 12 minutes — merely giggling at her host's jokes.
It's Eddie Murphy, launching the season in Episode 1, who leaves the biggest impression. He clearly holds some importance for Seinfeld: Both men were born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island (Seinfeld in Massapequa, Murphy in Roosevelt), and both performed at Manhattan's Comic Strip on the same week, in July 1976.
Murphy knows what's expected of him. He graces Seinfeld (and us) with some fun trivia, revealing that his famous Gumby character — itself a parody of what lies beneath the celebrity facade — was based on a Long Island-based agent named King Broder. Murphy peppers his conversation with vivid impressions (Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, his own dad) and whips up routines on the fly. He also offhandedly leaks the news that he plans to return to stand-up comedy. (Indeed, there are rumblings that Murphy is making his own deal with Netflix.)
At the same time, Murphy seems pleased to be hanging out with a fellow traveler. At 58, he seems calm and comfortable in a way that can't be faked. "If no one ever paid you another dime to do comedy," he says, "you'd still do comedy. It's just who you are."
BOTTOM LINE Affable entertainment and the occasional candid moment from Seinfeld and friends.