22. ‘The Bizarro Jerry’ (Season 8, episode 137)

bizarroWorld

Well! I can’t spend the rest of my life coming into this stinking apartment every ten minutes to pour over the excruciating minutia of every single daily event…

The central plot thread running through Season 8’s ‘The Bizarro Jerry’ is one of the Series most philosophically and personally complex ones. It centers around Elaine Benes finding herself severing ties with a boyfriend who surprisingly accepts the usually off-the-cuff “let’s be friends” parting with enthusiastically open arms. This on itself isn’t that out of the ordinary; Seinfeld had dealt humorously with the diner/dinner break-up on several occasions, even finding multiple uses for the “it’s not you it’s me…” routine, but here there was somewhat of a twist. Rather than having the scene end there, or even having the episode centered around the revengeful fallout of the breakup (see Season three’s ‘The Truth’ for example), this episode decided upon a more wildly inventive turn.

Kevin, Elaine’s (former) boyfriend, instead decided he’d love the idea of just being Elaine’s actual friend. Not ‘friends’ like the other ones she’s grown accustomed to over the years on Seinfeld, but ones who actually remembered to pick her up from the airport, go to the Museum of Miniatures, and finally, aspire to absorb high(er) culture. This is shown in the episodes short 22 minute running time with a great Superman inspired concept of the ‘Bizarro World’, a world where Superman had found everything in reverse (‘Hello’ was ‘good bye’, ‘up’ was ‘down’, etc); a direct 180 of what it had normally been (a nice touch is added at the episodes close where the usual bass guitar popping intro is heard over the end credits; literally end is beginning). Soon Elaine is meeting (at Reggie’s, the Bizarro Monk’s coffee shop of course) the tall and eccentric Feldman and the short bald eye-glassed Gene, meant as Bizarro versions of Kramer and George respectively (in a consistent, funny twist keeping with the Bizarro world theme, is the idea that Feldman’s business schemes and inventions are actually necessary and thoughtful things and that Gene is polite and demure). She then finds Kevin’s apartment to be a direct transposed mirror of Jerry’s, (complete with the small production touch of a miniature Bizarro albino Superman figurine in the background) right down to an impromptu pop in from Kevin’s Fedex mail carrier, Vargus, who is portly like Newman, but offers himself as a kind and generous friend to Kevin. All this leads Elaine into an alternative reality almost science fiction Seinfeld universe where she can perhaps seek solace being around people more in touch with her sensibilities (“they read Jerry!”). The potential positive outcomes seem endless for Elaine briefly; the “changes” she yearned for at the close of Season 7’s opener ‘The Engagement’ seem immanently possible, and in this possibility the most glaring traits of Elaine Benes’ depths begin to expose themselves.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ creation of Elaine Benes during Larry David’s stewardship was always a marvel to behold. She was the perfect articulation to everyone else, as well as one with often visible depth. She had Jerry’s snarkiness, but lacked his shallowness; she had Kramer’s body control and occasional eccentricities, but lacked his hipster aloofness and freeloading; she had Georges’ self-destructive faults, but lacked his selfishness; she was the shows moral compass at nearly every turn and just once—in Season 2’s ‘The Deal’—offered the Series’ only truly emotional exposition. Near that episodes close, Elaine and Jerry sit on a bench that Kramer has given Elaine for her birthday, as they ponder the future of their now disastrous idea of a purely physical relationship. Elaine, incredibly forlorn, says she seeks “this, that, and the other” and that she can’t go back to how it was (“just friends”). It’s easily the Series most moving moment, and Louis-Dreyfus shines with a touching vulnerability, a height that was never really explored again (which, I’d argue, was only for the best).

But then again they did, especially for Elaine, just not in such a raw manner. There were mentions everywhere to her pain and reluctant dread in having to accept a world not to her liking. Mentions of her father finding religion in “drinking”, to being educated by her “safety school”, to her constantly being overqualified at every job we see her attain, to her being extremely unlucky in love (often due to her strident individuality), to her being stuck in a world amidst people that almost certainly didn’t deserve her. Seinfeld was a Series of hilarious absurdist highs which the boys added to and frolicked in, but for Elaine Benes it was a show of unending blunt reminders that the absurdity was detrimental to her possibilities and potential (this episode makes that all to clear, as she’s eventually shunned by her new crowd for showing several of her unique personality quirks—none of which are that negative). If the world is clownish, than only clowns will be laughing. ‘The Bizarro Jerry’ was the final exclamation point on that idea as she’d become unrecognizable in the remaining episodes (sometimes embarrassingly so), and what an exclamation point it was, one certainly deserving any Jake Jarmel novel.

(While I do think discussion on Elaine is the worth of this episode, I’d be remiss to not mention the other plot lines in the episode. The Elaine thread, while funny, offers mostly interesting conceptual weight while the three other ones—specifically Jerry’s and Kramer’s—offer the majority of the laughs in the episode. The Kramer one especially is extremely hilarious; he enters a building in New York City for the sole reason to use an office’s clean restroom but upon exiting is swept away into an urgent meeting on the belief that he must be employed there. Once he wins everyone over with his ability to quickly make acquaintances [a scene with him having drinks after work is a particular highlight, Kramer ends a story with “You don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle” to uproarious applause and laughter] he beings donning a suit and going to the office every day. He turns in faulty reports [“These reports that you turned in, it’s almost like you have no business training at all”], puts crackers in his briefcase, takes no pay in return for his services [“I’m doing this for me”], speaks vaguely about what he does there all day [“TCB, Taking Care of Business”], and eventually begins drinking hard liquor to ward off the pending anxiety and eventual heartburn from stress [this all after only about a week on the job!]. It’s a perfectly realized slice of business subversion, done with maximum affect in minimal time allotment with a bevy of wonderfully quotable passages. Then there is Jerry’s story; stuck somewhere between Greek Mythology and an episode of Blind Date, he’s found himself set up with a perfectly fine, attractive women except for one small fact he can’t seem to shake: “she has man hands”. Quite literally too, as we see her masculine sized mitts in action doing a number of funny things from opening a bottle of beer [“that’s not a twist off”] to brushing an eyelash from Jerry’s cheek. No longer is Seinfeld content to show Jerry’s quibbles with females as trivial or minimal, no, now they’re humorous pop culture creating meme’s grounded more in absurdity than they are in real life. Both, however, with the addition of Elaine’s foibles in the bizarro world, make for the most memorable and brilliant Seinfeld of the post-Larry David run and the only one appearing in my Top 25.)

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