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Jerry Lewis and Jerry Seinfeld
Netflix

Television

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

Mutual respect flows in Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee isn’t new, but it’s new to Netflix, and one of the more refreshing things available for streaming.

Rumor has it that Jerry Seinfeld is worth nearly $1 billion—making him the richest comedian in the world. And yet, this entertainment legend and car enthusiast in each episode hand-selects a vintage ride to match his guest comedian’s personality. He picks them up for a perfectly normal, sun-drenched brunch, heavily laced with shots of dripping espresso (courtesy of a coffee advertiser). Then he gets them talking about themselves.

Could anything be more simple or more sweet?

Of course, the result is goofy. On its face, the show has no real point, like the sitcom Seinfeld is best-known for, only this format is less laugh-track funny than it is thoughtful interview. But it also doesn’t have the air of a man desperate to stay relevant. In fact, his interest is so genuine, we almost get the feeling Seinfeld would be doing this even if there were no cameras around—driving around his oldest friends and mentoring young comedians, all in the very best cars.

Comedians in Cars is a truly lovely product. Four-letter words, rarely used, are bleeped out. The closest this show comes to raunchiness in this latest season is Seinfeld’s habit of joking about male anatomy with his lesbian guests, but even that can’t spoil the fun.

Seinfeld is meticulous, going so far as to find a 1960s Jaguar for his date with Jerry Lewis, in the exact model and color Lewis once owned. (Lewis died five months later.) The respect just flows in this show. Jerry respects the guest, the guest respects Jerry, and they sit in a haze of mutual admiration for 20 minutes, sipping coffee and sending each other into stitches.

It’s neither groundbreaking nor extraordinary, but we need more shows like this in the #MeToo age. In an industry that seems to get darker and darker, it’s a bright bit of chivalry.

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Comedy Dynamics

Jim Gaffigan
Comedy Dynamics

Television

Noble Ape

Jim Gaffigan is funny, but Noble Ape meanders

Jim Gaffigan has been married 15 years and has five kids: not the typical profile for a popular comedian. His wife, Jeannie, recently survived a brain tumor. Gaffigan drew on their medical experiences for his new special, Noble Ape, available on cable and streaming services.

Brain surgery is an unlikely topic for comedy, but Gaffigan has a gift for finding humor in tough circumstances: “Why are doctors so obsessed at comparing the size of tumors with fruit? Do they think we can’t understand centimeters?” Gaffigan also wonders why anyone would be content with less than the intensive care unit. Who wants to be in the pretty good care unit?

He jokes that, at the sight of his large family walking into a restaurant, a waitress once threw down her apron and quit. His 5-year-old’s greatest memory after traveling around China, seeing the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army, and other famous sights? “I liked when we saw that truck full of pigs!”

Gaffigan is a Catholic, but claims that he’s not a very good one: “If there were a test, I’d probably fail. Then again, most Catholics would!” He’s known as a “family-friendly” comedian, and much of his material is inoffensive and quite funny.

Several jokes suggest he does not take the Bible seriously, though. He ridicules hospitals named after Biblical places of healing, comparing miracles to astrology or UFOs. Viewers could fast-forward through a lame joke about St. Boniface being the patron saint of bowel issues, and the accompanying casual blasphemy.

Overall, is it funny? Some of Gaffigan’s stories were a little too meandering and long-winded, and the punch lines weren’t worth the journey. The teens and adults in my small family test audience didn’t laugh a lot during the hourlong viewing. If you’re a fan of Gaffigan’s past work, you’ll probably enjoy Noble Ape. Otherwise, you won’t miss much if you give it a pass.

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Netflix

Peterson
Netflix

Television

The Staircase

Netflix series addresses the trial and life of Michael Peterson

A woman with seven deep lacerations to her head dies in a pool of blood in her home, with only her husband nearby. As murder cases go, it seems pretty cut and dried, right?

Hold on—there’s no clear motive for a murder, no signs of struggle, and no blood spatters or brain injuries consistent with a beating. The victim, who had a blood alcohol level of .07 and had just taken Valium, was found wearing flip-flops at the bottom of a dark, narrow staircase in the middle of the night.

First responders found Kathleen Peterson dead at the bottom of a staircase in 2001, and a jury convicted her husband for the killing in 2003. The Staircase, a Netflix docuseries, addresses Michael Peterson’s trial, his life and legal choices after his conviction, and his eight years in prison (including too much screen time with his adoring family members).

Peterson is not an altogether sympathetic character. He seems to be a loving dad, but he’s also pretty awkward—the kind of guy who hires a French filmmaker to document everything he does in the aftermath of his wife’s death. He’s also bisexual, kept gay pornography on his computer, and solicited men for sex. The series contains strong language, flashes of pornography, and some gruesome details.

But most of us would like to think that, if we were in Michael Peterson’s position, certain processes would be in place. That evidence would be handled properly, that testing would be replicable—that we would be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

In this case, the state of North Carolina withheld, lied about, and possibly even wiped away evidence that might have exculpated Michael Peterson.

One intriguing theory the docuseries doesn’t address but has been swirling around the internet: Kathleen’s lacerations may have been inflicted by an owl attack.

“I don’t know the meaning of life,” Michael says in the series, reflecting on the last time he saw Kathleen alive. “I wouldn’t call it nonsense. … I just don’t get it. What happens seems to be … random. It just happens.”

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