So anyway, you’re his favorite comedian. He laughed so hard the other night we had to give him an extra shot of hemoglobin.
‘The Bubble Boy’ is a relatively regular classic era Seinfeld episode; a statement both on the consistent top notch quality the show was then humming along at, and a statement on how designating favorite episodes is an activity specifically designed for the connoisseur. Small variations on plot and theme are all that separate—and then order in rank—such consistent brilliance. Not unlike the Western, Seinfeld is a show with a working template of subtle variation; a very small network of intertwined regular characters with well maintained quirks and reactions doing much the same over the weekly 22 minutes. You know the world in store for you when the various Seasons are queued up, but still the common situations, with a concise eye, can be easily sifted through, differentiated and sorted out (the Western, it was famously said, was the ultimate genre for the connoisseur for this very reason. Only someone with an intense and encyclopedic eye can tell the difference between highly similar situations, conflicts and presentations). What then in ‘The Bubble Boy’ is minute enough to fit the model quality level (and have the uninitiated potentially take for granted), yet glaring enough to stand out?
To me it’s the intricacies in language at several points of the action that separates it into the upper echelon, showing just how much Seinfeld was an exemplary piece of absurdist theater as much as it was a trailblazing mainstream American sitcom. It’s such a glaring designation in this episode that clever dialogue specifics and poetic wordplay manipulation play a central role in both the episodes two chief running jokes. The more memorable of the two is the humorous physical altercation the comes after one such bit of minutia is given full bore. The titular boy in the bubble, Donald, is matching wits against George and Susan in a game of Trivial Pursuit. Donald, though never seen onscreen but voiced wonderfully by Jon Hayman, isn’t the typical sympathetic Make-a-Wish foundation hopeful that his situation—and plea to meet his comedian hero Jerry Seinfeld—would imply. Rather he is rude, obnoxious, and in a funny bit of outrageousness, overtly misogynistic (he casually asks Susan to “take her top off” upon first meeting her). Once it’s clear that he is all these things, plus the Trivial Pursuit superior to the George and Susan pairing, we’ve been primed for the already absurd situation to further escalate. The scene is fully set with the Donald needing just one more pie slice to win the game and drawing a card with the question that provokes ‘the Moors’ as the correct answer (for the record, the question reads, “Who invaded Spain in the 8th century”). After George informs him—rather arrogantly I might add—that he has actually gotten the answer wrong, with the card actually reading—in misprint—’the Moops’ it matters little what the actual, correct answer is. Donald certainly knows it, and George does too, but the stickler nature coupled with the prick one insures that the game will forever go unfinished. It’s a humorously clever bit on the happenstance of language (and misfortune of proofreading error); ‘Moors’ is funny enough, especially when uttered with such anger by an off-screen boy in a bubble, but it’s the sloping, accidental sounding quality of ‘Moops’ that achieves such manic comedic brilliance (it almost sounds like the urgent thrust of a loud burp when uttered with such glee). Since such a stalwart jerk like George is posited at the center of the scene just insures that the word will get that much more use (he even manages to hilariously sputter out the word several times as Donald’s makeshift rubber hose appendages have a firm grip around his throat).
It’s a wonderful climax to the episodes theme, a virtual exclamation point emphasis on language made all the more clearer by the various dialogue intricacies that precede it. First, there’s the wonderful exchange George and Jerry share to Kramer about what sort of pies are sold in upstate New York. They ping pong back and forth in rapid succession on pies ending in ‘—berry’ before Jerry, unable to think of another to continue, hesitates and exhaustedly exclaims, “Peach!” (for the record they each impressively name three variations each; blueberry, blackberry, boysenberry, huckleberry, raspberry, strawberry and cranberry). It’s a funny bit of anxious parlor trick tongue twisting needed to not let Kramer have a spare moment to possibly alter his plans and weasel into the weekend (you’ll recall that the pie filling subject came about after an ‘unvitation’—asking someone you don’t want to come somewhere after you know they cannot as a means to extend a social nicety—was proposed to Kramer about coming to Susan’s father’s cabin after learning the Kramer is set to golf the same day.). Then there’s another bit of script cleverness that occurs several minutes later when Jerry is informing George and Susan of the Bubble Boy, and we get play from the ‘Boy’ (an exclamation “Boy!”, and a young male) homonym (and not to mention a bit of comedic usefulness from punctuation inflection):
Jerry: He’s a bubble boy.
George: A bubble boy?
Jerry: Yes. A bubble boy.
Susan: What’s a bubble boy?
Jerry: He lives in a bubble…
These two, coupled with several others not so dependent on wordplay (I love the diversions Jerry goes on when initially meeting the Bubble Boys father, Mel in Monk’s Diner. Jerry, while the seemingly more important information of the Bubble Boy’s ailments are being sorted out, first confirms if the ‘Bubble’ is a sealed wall divider, or more of an ‘igloo’; then it’s his ‘love’ of yoo-hoo, which Mel drives a truck for; who controls the remote control when watching television; and finally Jerry’s taking of a napkin—that he wipes his mouth with—extended for use on tears following Mel’s recounting of Donald’s sad predicament.) but no less involved with the humorous trivialities of everyday people talking; hashing out the mundane specifics of modern life make ‘The Bubble Boy’ an episode like so many others, yet better than so many others too.