Students of comedy writing would do well to watch Corndog Entertainment’s pilot for MV Blues. The show is beat for beat a Seinfeld story, but without the distraction of known comedians to prevent you from seeing the structure of the jokes. The setting has been changed to Martha’s Vineyard, but the show about nothing more than a group of friends and their manipulative plots or judgments on other people’s eccentricities remains.
Brothers Sanford and Brad Nadelstein once did submit a spec script to Seinfeld according to the Martha’s Vineyard Times, and it’s clear they spent a lot of time studying the show, at least its performance styles and plot structure. There are two plots for this episode, one about a movie deal hinging upon the sharing of a pie recipe for a store-bought, preservative laden pie. The second plot is about a book club president who commits the social outrage of claiming to be the club’s most avid reader while taking in most of his reading through books on tape, and the plots do come together at the end in the face of the best laid plans by a group of friends to call out pretension while claiming their own bit of success.
The title "MV Blues" sounds more like a police procedural drama than a sitcom and doesn’t really say anything thematically about the setting. This show didn’t convince me to move there because it seems like a dinner party or a book club meeting could happen anywhere without more specific cultural details about the community’s preferences. To be fair, there was a labeling of the gang as tourists and assertion from them that they were not, but I heard no spelled out explanation for outsiders of how the community works and how the tourists are maybe frustrating for the 15,000 or so people I’ve read live there year round. I didn’t catch that on my first viewing. It might benefit from a few repetitions with variation of complaints about tourists. I mostly thought the group of friends were all transplanted Manhattanites, which seemed odd to me on a rural island setting. Where are the yachts and razzing of yachtsmen? I think you have to start with your audience’s pre-assumptions and address them, and then depart completely away from the emulation of a hit show like Seinfeld after that for a show like this to work.
I may be a tough audience for comedy. I enjoy going to standup shows and meeting comedians, and I write jokes for my own scripts. I judge jokes both objectively and subjectively but am conscious of when I’m being subjective. I found the jokes in MV Blues to be adequately well-structured but not adding anything unique other than the show’s setting, and in some cases the lines were in very poor taste or too derivative of Seinfeld. The phone call scene in particular is too much a copy of Seinfeld and does not translate when you have a baking factory worker performing in the style of an entertainment industry notable.
As for the book club, if you’re just hating on someone for claiming to have read many books, as the guys are BEFORE they discover the book on CD, you are missing the finer nuances of the social commentary that found its way into Seinfeld. Better is to point out that literary snobs are arrogant in their knowledge of outdated literature like Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome or James Joyce’s Ulysses, which are admirable to have read but not enjoyable at all to be reading. Granted, exaggerating the gap in social class between locals and tourists is a good idea for a show set in Martha’s Vineyard, but it results in a group of low class guys who lack the redeeming good taste and high standards of culture of the group on Seinfeld.
As a woman of an uncertain age in the Midwest, I had trouble identifying with a pack of male baby boomers. I only noticed one important female character, and she wasn’t that important to the story. The hostess fulfills Elaine’s function of being an inciting influence on the plot when getting the group of guys into trouble while trying to talk them up to create an opportunity with an important person. But then she disappears, unlike Elaine who usually has her own stake in Seinfeld hijinks, or at least has further commentary on how events are unravelling. She was not the voice of social decorum that Elaine is in the Seinfeld episode "The Dinner Party," so the guys thought they could totally get away with bringing the grocery store cake equivalent to Ring Dings and Pepsi to a party and wear oven mitts to the party to pass it off as homemade.
If this project continues as a serial, I think the writers would do well to highlight what is unique about both the Martha’s Vineyard community and their group of friends that is different from Jerry Seinfeld’s life in Manhattan, not just for setting but actually to fuel conflict. A lot of the problems in Seinfeld were created from the over-congested nature of the city and a lifestyle where one is always in competition with other people for a job offer, the last babka or even friendship. As someone who has never been to Martha’s Vineyard but has heard jokes hating on rich people who live there, I find it hard to imagine being down and out in that community or competing for resources on that level.
I would like to express appreciation for MV Blues’s handling of disability in a similar way to the Seinfeld series. A disability related joke was the only one that made me laugh aloud, and it was handled such that characters with disabilities behave aggressively and yet the audience sides with them and with someone whose disability is not putting them at a disadvantage in life against the protagonist who is making a mountain out of a molehill. Calling out society’s tendency to martyr the disabled is a message that bears repeating, and I say this as someone with a partial mobility impairment.
The followup line to the one that made me laugh made me wonder if they knew what they were doing by ignoring the social commentary point in favor of a soft, space-filling, audience calming joke, but I’m happy that they picked up on the best use of cynicism shown in Jerry Seinfeld’s own standup, that of taking a popular opinion and inverting it to start a discussion on the finer nuances of that opinion and create some gray areas in the public’s understanding.
Seinfeld presented the earliest examples of a disabled person with a bad attitude in the Bubble Boy episode, but there is a continued need for many diverse portrayals of disability including disabled individuals who are not noble or weak (not angels to be martyred) but in fact can be mean and manipulative, especially when their already stressful day, which most everyone has sometimes, has been exacerbated by physical pain. Above all, disabled characters should never be silent, and the supporting characters in this pilot were not.
If you really miss Seinfeld, the story of MV Blues holds up to an average episode of Seinfeld but you will still miss the cast of Seinfeld. Honestly, I’d rather watch Seinfeld. I’m a Millennial and we Millennials have a tendency both to over-consume media and to be impatient with anything we feel like we’ve seen before.