Jerry Seinfeld’s series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee depicts an L.A. that is slipping away.
Jerry Seinfeld’s web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee has a simple premise: Seinfeld picks up a comedian/friend, in a rare or iconic car and they go get a cup of coffee.
And perhaps its this simplicity that makes it stand out so much against what seem to be unstoppable forces in L.A., turning our city of 3.8 million into a walkable, bike-able, and transit-friendly utopia. This year K.K. Barrett’s production design for Spike Jonze’s Her received widespread enthusiasm for its depiction of Los Angeles as a dense, tall and easily navigable city, where Metro picks up from downtown and lets off right at the beach. Pharrell’s 24 hour music video to the song ‘Happy‘ portrays a Los Angeles where walking and dancing were the main modes of transit.
But in Seinfeld’s show, cars are not only the way he and his comedian friends get to the beach and coffee shops, they are a fashion statement and social space. They represent an L.A. that is slipping away, an L.A. explored in this DnA and described in this LA Times commentary as “a city caught in limbo between two very different kinds of urbanism: between its private and car-dominated past and denser, more public and more connected future.”
Not all of the episodes are set in Los Angeles, but many of them are because a number of the comedians he meets up with live here including: Larry David, Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Michael Richards.
Rare and Iconic Car Design
As the rate of car ownership decreases in Los Angeles due in part because the younger generation is put off by the high price of cars and in part because the effects of global warming and traffic have become more pronounced, people are worrying less about a flashy facade than they are about utility and gas mileage.
But Seinfeld, as a well-known car enthusiast with an impressive Porsche collection (that used to reside in a hangar of Santa Monica Airport) celebrates a series of rare cars, with often kooky designs that reveal his penchant for small, toy-like cars.
One of the quirkier designs he drives, a 1959 Fiat Jolly (pictured above), is in the first episode of season 3 where he meets with Louis C.K. in New York City. Featuring wicker seats, no doors, and a fringed top, it is not surprising that, according to Seinfeld, only about 100-200 of these rides were produced.
During the episode with Larry David, Seinfeld cruises down Santa Monica and westside streets in a 1952 Volkswagen Bug that features semaphore turn signals (pictured below on left side of vehicle). They joke about the slow windshield wipers and reminisce about the days when these cars were everywhere.
On the latest episode in the series Seinfeld picks up Jay Leno in 1949 Porsche 356/2 (pictured below) a car that Seinfeld says looks like “a little alien flying saucer.”
Even though the show perhaps inadvertently celebrates a version of Los Angeles that is still prevalent but unsustainable, the show acknowledges the city’s trajectory.
In the third episode of season three, Seinfeld picks up Patton Oswalt in a Delorean, the iconic vehicle in the Back to the Future films, which Oswalt jokes embodies “80’s hubris.” In the series of events that follows, the thirteen minute episode unintentionally captures some of the major changes that are happening in L.A.
The Delorean breaks down immediately after Seinfeld picks up Oswalt. As an alternative Oswalt offers that he has Uber, one of the ride sharing companies that have gained prominence in L.A. this year as a cheaper alternative to taxis (although many have bemoaned Uber’s surge pricing). They proceed to use the app, where their driver takes them to Handsome Coffee Roasters in the Arts District in downtown. As they approach the coffeeshop, Oswalt describes the scene in the Arts District:
“Look at this industrial wasteland, and in the middle of it there’s this coffee shop that somebody opened in this sketch neighborhood, like dammit we’re going to do it anyway!”
An excerpt of their conversation on gentrification:
“Why would anyone ever be downtown?” Seinfeld asks.
“Because downtown is slowly turning into Brooklyn.” Oswalt replies.
“I get it. Everybody needs a Brooklyn.”
Move over Brooklyn, mockingly described by Hugo Lindgren as everybody’s “favorite urban concept,” Downtown L.A. is the next big thing. GQ and even the New York Times think so.
All images in this post were screengrabs of the Crackle Original series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.