20. ‘The Red Dot’ (Season 3, episode 29)


You want me to take an overview?
I see a very cheap man holding a sweater trying to get away with something. That’s my overview.

As I discussed in my essay for ‘The Bizarro Jerry’ two places down at #22, Elaine often articulated her frustrations about her friends and how their existence didn’t wholly jive with how she viewed herself and her possible existence. While Elaine was singular is this complaint (at least in asking the audience to take it seriously, as Jerry often acted superior to the group as well but this could never be read as anything other that vain egoism), George also often purported a strain in his personality that showed he sought more positives from his social relationships as well. He, unlike Elaine, was the root of his own demise, so these yearnings often found themselves as the butt of the jokes or, on a larger scale, the source of the initial domino toppling with which the entire episodes string of dominos followed suit in cascading around him and the group. Likewise, Kramer existed with an unseen, but often referenced, whole other social network of characters to which he could escape into whenever he felt the main three person Seinfeld universe of Jerry, George, and Elaine to be lacking (plus the characters like the Maestro, aka Bob Cobb, or Stan the Caddy shared more an affinity to hanging out with Kramer than anyone else). It consisted of men seemingly as strange as Cosmo himself; wild stories abound about Lomez and Bob Sacamano and that’s just naming two when several more exist (Doug the cop buddy from ‘The Frogger’, Jay Riemenschneider, Corky Ramirez, Len Nicademo, etc.). (To take a slight detour in fact, I’ve always argued that the Seinfeld spin off lay right here; Kramer’s unseen world was ripe for investigation, and its unknown quality meant that it would be defined as it deemed fit [plus it had the known entities of Newman and Kramer should you need the initial familiarity when in development stage], and not in need of the radical environment change that spin offs so often use [see how Frasier Crane’s relocation to Seattle from the Boston of Cheers for example]).

What all this says is that Seinfeld often explored the deficiencies that each saw the others possess within the group dynamic, a topic supremely explored in Season 3’s wonderful Holiday themed ‘The Red Dot’. It’s a point that is often overlooked, but very important as critics of the show often point out that it’s a show they don’t want to watch because it’s filled with ‘unlikeable’ characters. It’s not a criticism I find particularly original, valid, or useful, but when one realizes how critical the characters are of each other it effectively renders it especially moot I’d think (not that their critical nature is enough, but rather that as a satire the fact that the script contains implications to their fault ridden personalities we must look more at the points being made instead of their potentiality as people existing within our actual environments). Framing the episode this way is vital, and immediately starts a synchronicity of content within setting for additional contemplation. For example, the episode starts with Jerry and George entering Elaine’s workplace for the Holiday office at Pendant Publishing. We enter their conversation midstream on a topic (how the Statue of Liberty made its way from France to America) clearly meant only to establish an idea that they’ve been talking their entire commute to the office. Once inside the office they immediately adapt to the setting and adorn the social queues of an office; they gossip (about the inappropriate timing of the party, Elaine’s relationship and the fact that her office suitor, Dick, is a recovering alcoholic) as if they both fit right at home. The commentary is clear enough; people wear their setting as much as they wear their clothes in determining how to act at any one time (similarly you’d expect to act differently in a tuxedo then you would in pajamas just as you’d act in an office differently than you would a church or bar). Dick responds in kind, as the saying goes, in aggressive rude fashion around the same time as the unemployed George is whisked away by Elaine to meet her boss—where he begins attempting to lie his way into a position (A wonderfully hilarious trait that George exhibited throughout Seinfeld‘s run was his ability to say the most asinine things to land a position. Sometimes it was nonsensical, faux-sentimental flattery, sometimes it was gross exaggeration to outright lie, sometimes it was just idle chit-chat elevated to the absurd. Whichever it was, and sometimes it was all of them at once, it provided audiences bountiful laughs every time.).

The next scene finds the George and Jerry pairing again together, this time in the holiday spirit shopping for a gift for Elaine. It’s reasoned that since Elaine has looked out for George that he should offer her the necessary social obligation and give her a gift as a formal ‘thanks’. Its a funny scene, one where the titular red dot appears (though, humorously is never seen by the audience) on a cashmere sweater. The sweater, usually 600 dollars is, because the tiny red dot, now $85. George weasels himself into believing that Elaine will never see the dot and that his wondrous generosity will be celebrated. Initially it does, and George’s shrugging off of attention he clearly desires is wickedly vile (but authentically humorous), until Kramer spots the red dot. Elaine, thinking that George would never give such a gift intentionally, asks him to just return the sweater for a new, unblemished one (which of course he can’t, and we the audience know this from the earlier purchasing scene). The rest of the episode the sweater becomes a sort of hot potato going from Elaine, to George, to the cleaning woman George sleeps with while working late at his new job, to Mr. Lippman (the boss is given the sweater to return to George via the cleaning woman who has ratted their tryst out) who gives the sweater finally back to George when he terminates him (I’m short-changing all the cleaning woman and firing scene[s], but rest assured they’re lively and wonderful. As is a background experiment of Kramer drinking Scotch in Jerry’s apartment.). The episode is all manipulation and gamesmanship for the friends; mostly playful on the surface, but conniving and business-as-usual below that. If you needed to know why Elaine yearned for a Bizarro world from time to time it’s clearly spelled out here why any of them would have.

But then there’s also the counter point that ‘The Dot’ also offers in spades alongside that, that these characters also seek to assist their friends whenever possible which is what you wouldn’t expect from such an ‘unlikeable’ group with this many unredeemable qualities. Here, it’s Elaine introducing George to Mr. Lippman in an informal manner for a possible opening at Pendant Publishing (which George humorously exhibits his ignorance of contemporary literature), to Jerry prodding George to return the favor with a gift to Elaine. There’s Jerry taking George to dinner to cheer him up after he’s lost his job (even referring him to as ‘the kid’ in a playfully affectionate manner). The sort of stuff friends do for each other, and it’s written in such a manner to feel authentically real.

If I can borrow a reference a commenter once left under that previously mentioned ‘Bizarro Jerry’ when it was posted elsewhere for a time, the group often realized at the end that despite their shortcomings, each member knew that social perfection wasn’t possible, so you (perhaps reluctantly) decide to (to unfortunately quote CSN&Y) “love the one you’re with (if you can’t be with the one you love…)”. Warts and all, Seinfeld may seem too often bitter to the uninitiated, but there’s at least as many moments of genuine saccharine sweetness around too. The group would often look elsewhere, but any replacement would just amount to a lateral move in a show exhibiting this much truth (swap George out for a new friend and a similarly damaged person would eventually emerge) and we’d all probably laugh a whole lot less.

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