Thursday, May 28

Up Next: ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee’ offers fresh look into lives of comics

"Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," created by and starring Jerry Seinfeld (right), will premiere its fifth season on Thursday. (Crackle)

The rise of original online programming has revolutionized the way we consume television. But are any of these new shows actually worth watching? Up Next highlights noteworthy original content from Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Studios and examines how the flexible online format functions within each show. All you need is a laptop and your friend’s Netflix or Amazon Prime password.

Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” although straightforward as its title suggests, offers an intimate look into the lives of its guest comedians and a fresh perspective on what lays beneath their wry jokes and knowing smiles.

Distributed by Crackle, the comedy web series that began in July 2012 has since been nominated for two Primetime Emmys for outstanding short-format nonfiction program. The show’s fifth season will premiere Thursday and consist of seven episodes featuring special guests Fred Armisen, Bill Burr, Jimmy Fallon, Kevin Hart, Amy Schumer, Miranda Sings and Alexandra Wentworth.

“Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” follows a comfortable structure. Seinfeld picks up his guest comedian in a vintage car and takes him or her out to a cafe or diner to chat over coffee. Afterwards, the two usually wander around the city doing mundane activities like walking around Petco or perusing pastry shops. In addition, Seinfeld offers a small bio on the car of choice, making the show part talk show, part “Top Gear.”

The show is tailor-made for a flexible web format. Its niche idea, too simple for network or cable television, suits the low-budget of independent web shows who cannot afford the studio-quality of Netflix or Amazon Studios. Compared to the prestigious shows of these companies, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” has a simple formula that doesn’t call for expensive special effects or an assembly of talented actors.

Plus, the low-budget vibe of the show increases its accessibility; Seinfeld and his guests hang out in everyday diners, not the exclusive clubs of Hollywood stars. The credits even list the locations at the end of each episode, so viewers can enjoy the same cafes.

Since each episode varies in length, the packaging of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” also fits the web format. The show’s production team doesn’t have to stick to a set number of episodes or even a strict schedule, so Seinfeld releases each season on a case-by-case basis. However, while the running time is flexible, the show seems more suited for 10-minute episodes rather than its usual 14 to 18 minutes. At times, the coffee pouring and drinking montages intended to pad the run time become excessive, and the flexibility of web packaging should encourage the production team to trim the length of episodes if necessary.

Because Acura sponsors the show, viewers must also endure obvious product placement in some form or another. Thankfully, Seinfeld usually features the Acura in silly ways. On one occasion, for instance, Seinfeld and guest Jon Stewart cross the street just as an Acura pulls up to a stop sign and nearly hits the two. Seinfeld explains that it’s simply a product placement and jokes to the driver, “A little pushy this week.”

Nevertheless, for a low-budget web series of its kind, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” demonstrates impressive editing, with charming animations and intimate camera angles to enhance the personal perspective of the show.

Although the production crew appears in certain shots, the show gives viewers the impression of being a quiet onlooker in a private conversation between Seinfeld and his guest. Because Seinfeld personally knows most of the guests, the show does not have the theatricality of a typical talk show, and its cheaper format makes the show more relatable. Viewers get a glimpse of what these comedians are truly like outside of the glitz of a television studio, in the absence of an adoring audience or a horde of reporters. As a result, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” is, at times, emotionally moving but almost always very funny.

– Savannah Tate

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