TV Review – The Best of Seinfeld Part 2

The Pitch (Season 4, Episode 3)
Original airdate: September 16, 1992
Written by Larry David
Directed by Tom Cherones

There are few seasons of network sitcoms as wildly bold as Seinfeld Season 4. Because it’s become part of the cultural conversation, we don’t really notice it, but it was insane that this was even made. Larry David decided to make a season-long serialized story about the sitcom characters making a sitcom based on their lives. These days, meta-humor is a fairly common element in media, but in 1992, most audiences had never seen anything like this. One of the things I’ve noticed about rewatching these episodes is how often Jerry’s comedy routine was picked apart or made the butt of a joke. It all informs Curb Your Enthusiasm, which would be Larry David’s unbridled dissection of the entertainment industry and his continued examination of the minutiae of daily life.

In this episode, Jerry is approached by NBC executives after a set and offered a pitch meeting. George decides to cling like a barnacle to this opportunity becoming the co-creator of the sitcom. He’s the one who offers up the “show about nothing” tagline and explains how the sitcom would just be about moments like waiting for a table in a Chinese restaurant. At the time, Jason Alexander and a Castle Rock executive expressed worry over going in this direction. Seinfeld was a moderate success but still not the powerhouse NBC wanted it to be. They both thought a show about making a show and dissecting the show would be “too inside baseball” for audiences. They were utterly wrong, and this became the season that launched Seinfeld into the stratosphere.

This single episode does many things, setting the tone for the rest of the season, introducing Susan Ross, creating a conflict between Jerry/Kramer & “Crazy” Joe Davola. There are lots of interesting little bits of trivia seeded through the episode. When Jerry explains his making a sitcom and Kramer will be a character, his neighbor insists he plays himself. This refers to Larry David’s actual former neighbor Kenny Kramer saying the same thing when he found out about Seinfeld. George’s persona here is the most it’s ever been like David’s, pivoting between charming and lying his way through the pitch meeting. “The Pitch” was a sign the audience was in for something unique.

The Bubble Boy (Season 4, Episode 7)
Original airdate: October 7, 1992
Written by Larry Charles & Larry David
Directed by Tom Cherones

During the first season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David explained one of his writing philosophies about disabled characters. He said he didn’t want to portray them as pristine saints like many sitcoms did in the 1980s. For the longest time, the disabled were made invisible in media, hidden away in society. When they finally did start to show up in minimal numbers on television in the 1970s & 80s, they always had to be presented as characters for the non-disabled to learn from. It’s the same pandering treatment racial & ethnic minorities often get under the guise of diversity. David said he wanted to feature disabled characters who were assholes because, ultimately, they are just people. Some of them are nice, some of them are jerks, some are inbetween, just like anyone else you might meet.

Jerry & Elaine are in the coffee shop when a truck driver (Brian Doyle Murray) from upstate New York recognizes them. He tells Jerry that his son, Donald is a huge fan of him. He also explains that Donald must live in a hermetically sealed area of the house due to a deadly auto-immune condition, making me the titular “Bubble Boy.” The man learns Jerry & Elaine are going upstate for a weekend at Susan’s family cabin with George and petitions them to stop by his place on their way up. Meanwhile, Jerry has just ruined a burgeoning relationship with Naomi (Jessica Lundy), who learns he’s told his friends that she laughs like “Elmer Fudd sitting on a juicer.” George has also given Kramer a box of Cuban cigars gifted to him by Susan’s father, and so Kramer is puffing away on them all the time. All of these elements, like in any good Seinfeld episode, slowly but surely converge into a hilariously over-the-top finale that involves a rush to the hospital, an angry mob, and a raging fire.

There’s a lot of interesting little bits in this episode. “The Boy in the Bubble” was a popular television movie from the 1970s starring John Travolta that first introduced this particular disease to the mainstream public. There’s a good conversation that explains in this episode that explains how it’s not a bubble but a plastic divider in the room. We even see special gloves that allow Donald to use the television remote and play board games. We never see Donald’s face, which is an interesting choice and is just one of those decisions that you can’t imagine the episode changing. 

Playing a diner waitress who wants Jerry’s autograph is character actress O-Lan Jones. Audiences likely know her as Esmerelda, the religious fanatic from Edward Scissorhands. She’s a fascinating woman, married to writer/director/actor Sam Shephard for fifteen years. O-Lan was named for a character in Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth and spent her childhood living very unconventionally. Her parents split when she was a child, and her mother moved the family to a remote Mayan village in the Yucatan. A few years later, they headed to Greenwich Village, where O-Lan began her acting career as a teenager. She married Shephard a few years later, and their marriage ended when he left her for Jessica Lange. O-Lan has such an interesting face and line delivery; she immediately stands out in any production she appears in and has always been someone I’ve noticed.

The Contest (Season 4, Episode 11)
Original airdate: November 18, 1992
Written by Larry David 
Directed by Tom Cherones

As a child, when this aired, I had no idea what the hell they were talking about. I was homeschooled, so maybe if I’d gone to public school, I would have picked up on it better? I don’t think anyone but an adult could really appreciate the clever writing on display here. Once again, in a landscape of saccharine toothless television comedy, Larry David penned an episode about the main characters withholding masturbation on a bet and never once says any form of the verb “masturbate.” Yet, adults know exactly what they are talking about from the first scene. Instead, the phrase “master of my domain” is the euphemism used, which has taken a spot in the cultural lexicon.

The bet arises out of George telling his friends he was caught by his mother performing the act. It caused her to fall in shock, and now she’s in the hospital having broken a bone. They decide to bet who can go the longest without self-pleasuring. Elaine wants to get on it, but they demand she chip in double because, in their words, it’s easier for a woman to go without. Oh, the 1990s were making progress but not quite there. The comedy comes from seeing what makes each character crack. Kramer gives in immediately when he discovers a woman across from Jerry’s apartment is unashamedly walking around her apartment naked. George becomes distracted by his mother’s hospital roommate’s silhouette as she’s given a sponge bath by a female nurse. Jerry is dating a virgin at this time, and the allure of the naked woman across the way starts to wear on him. Elaine learns John F. Kennedy Jr. goes to her gym, they meet off-screen, which prompts her mind to work out the possibilities.

The idea came from a real contest Larry David had with friends many years earlier. He had wanted to write an episode about it for a while but knew it would be a difficult pitch, but Jerry Seinfeld heard it and thought there was nothing offensive there. Initially, the word “masturbate” was used, and predictably the network sensor said they could not use that word. This is the first episode where we meet Estelle Costanza (Estelle Harris), George’s mother. Estelle Harris is absolutely perfect in this role, and it’s another instance of not being able to imagine it any other way. She creates a character that shows where George gets his sudden escalation in frustration from. Another notable cameo was from singer-actress Rachel Sweet as George’s cousin Shelly. She had her own series on The Comedy Channel (now Comedy Central) for about a year (1989-1990) and is the voice singing on the Clarissa Explains It All theme song.

The Pick (Season 4, Episode 14)
Original airdate: December 16, 1992
Written by Larry David
Directed by Tom Cherones

The original title for this episode was “The Nipple,” but Larry David smartly decided against that, knowing the network would object. That title comes from the ill-fated Christmas card photo Elaine has Kramer take. She didn’t notice anything when he took the picture, but it is immediately apparent when the card arrives at Jerry’s. Her nipple is exposed in the photo. Elaine goes over how many people received it: her coworkers, her grandparents, her little nephew, her family’s pastor, and her religious boyfriend. 

The side stories include Jerry dating a Calvin Klein model (met in the previous episode) who sees him at a stoplight and mistakes a nose scratch as a nose pick, leading to her ghosting Jerry. Kramer also learns that Calvin Klein has come out with a beach-scented perfume. In the previous season, Kramer had pitched this to a Calvin Klein executive only to be rejected. As compensation, he is made an underwear model for the label. George is pining for Susan after breaking up with her and sees a therapist. Instead of discussing his problems, they end up struggling with his jacket zipper for the whole session. Eventually, George gets Susan to take him back and immediately regrets his decision. 

I really love this episode because it highlights the living world David & Seinfeld had created in the sitcom. Events from previous episodes and seasons and the season-long “show about nothing” arc are all at play here. Seinfeld is not the most accessible show to just jump in and watch out of order for the first time, so it invented NBC’s Must-See TV slogan. Not only would you not get the jokes the following day at work, but you’d also be behind on the storyline by skipping the show.

The Implant (Season 4, Episode 19)
Original airdate: February 25, 1993
Written by Peter Mehlman
Directed by Tom Cherones

Jerry has just dumped his most recent girlfriend, Sidra (Teri Hatcher), when Elaine convinces him her breasts are silicone implants. Later, Elaine is in the sauna when Sidra enters and takes off her towel. She doesn’t let Sidra know she is friends with Jerry, and they begin talking pleasantries. When Elaine steps forward to shake her hand, she begins to fall and must grab onto Sidra’s breasts to secure herself. Elaine sees Jerry later and says they feel real, which causes him to question the breakup. Kramer becomes convinced their gym is being frequented by an incognito Salman Rushdie. 

The real meat of this story comes from George’s subplot. He’s dating Betsy (Megan Mullaly), who receives a distressing phone call one evening while he’s at her house. Betsy’s grandmother has died, and she has to fly back to Ohio for the funeral. Jerry advises George that this will firmly put him in boyfriend territory and be a good move to console her. Kramer, appealing to George’s penny-pinching side, tells him about the bereavement fares offered by airlines.

It’s not until he’s purchasing the ticket that George finds out he will need to provide a copy of the death certificate, something that’s a little touchy to ask for at the wake. The episode finds its big cultural moments in the “double-dip” scene. As a kid, this was always one of the pinnacle Seinfeld moments for me. While Larry David didn’t write this episode, that whole moment feels lifted from his work. There’s the labeling of a social faux pas and a violent explosion over it. George once again digs his own grave here, arrogantly going back for the double-dip after being warned.

One thought on “TV Review – The Best of Seinfeld Part 2”

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