It’s like I’m Neil Armstrong. I turn around for a sip of Tang and you jump out first.
Season Five’s ‘The Hamptons’ is immediately a pretty recognizably great Seinfeld episode by any measure. Everywhere are there indications that it’s a cut above in its uniqueness; from the tightly compacted narrative involving every member of the group rather then the oft used pairings or singling out, to it creating one of the Series’ defining pop-culture idioms in ‘shrinkage’, and, probably most uniquely, it shows the entire group at leisure. Seinfeld, as I’ve pointed out almost ad nauseam at this point, was a show concerned within the everyday realities and oddities of the average person (err, average urban person more specifically, or even more specifically, an upper west side New Yorker) whether it was a weekend brunch, or an evening date, they were mostly activities purposefully juxtaposed against the working day (or sometimes in Kramer and George’s case, the humor in working so hard to not work).* What then, the episode seems to wonder, would happen if all the humorous anxieties and foolish chicanery were packed up into a weekender and thrown into a car for a jaunt to the otherwise peaceful and calming Hamptons? Even if only for this one weekend?
The packing of a weekender seems an apt metaphor as the group almost seems to transplant everything from their lives right down to bringing the ruckus to an otherwise normally relaxing atmosphere. George, in particular, is traveling with excess baggage we’re told early, as Elaine laments that George, and his girlfriend Jane are taking a significant step in their relationship—a weekend getaway—without yet sharing the intimacy of sexual intercourse. The idea, it’s spoken then, that George sees this weekend as a ‘letter of intent’ in the regard, but all it really says for anyone who has seen any Seinfeld, is that here is our chief crux, to which George will have his expectations foiled over on. In short work it does of course (and it’s a glorious humorous passage, while George steps out to get famous Hampton tomatoes for—wait to you hear this Freud—his mother, Jane sunbathes topless, in effect giving everyone else a look at the goods before George. His thorough emasculation, thus creates all the ensuing plot points), but it’s also a wonderful precursor to everyone’s eventual expectations also being complete thrashed. It would appear that while the gang does, and can often, find some degree of peace and semblance in their workweek doldrums, that when removed to a place of pure leisure the total lack of control amounts to a complete lack of, well, actual leisure. Elaine, after seeing the handsome doctor Ben, expects a romantic turn, only to be continually detoured and obscured from real intent as the courteous Doctor offers pleasantries everywhere but towards Elaine. Jerry, thinking a nice weekend is in store, has it turned upside down by the small (literally it would appear after a chilly dip in the pool), angry George, hell bent on walking in on a changing naked Jane (George’s girlfriend; his act a means to finally see her naked once and for all), mistakes her room for Rachel’s (Jerry’s girlfriend) and makes the weekend uncomfortable enough for her that she wants to end it permanently (though, to be slightly fair to George, it was Rachel seeing him naked, then gossiping to Jane, that has set everything in motion earlier). The usual resident loafer of the group, Kramer, surely the one who can always be at home in leisure, also has his weekend thwarted, when his poaching of lobster traps is turned into the local authorities and he’s arrested.
The argument it would seem is clear enough from the creators of our Seinfeld universe: the real world is one ripe enough for turmoil, exploitation, and anxiety, and when we try and avoid it, well, the outcomes could lead us to prison, sexual frustration (coupled with a nice dose of body image issues!), or at the very least, a pretty awful time. What’s the point? Might as well stay in the hot urban jungle, spilling it all over a meager tuna and toast at the local diner…
*It’d be interesting to note how Larry David’s next foray, the manic Curb Your Enthusiasm, seems to be the exact opposite; Larry is forever entrenched in semi-retirement (recent articles post his current net worth to be around $800 million, so yeah, why not put your feet up occasionally) only rarely do we see him warm to the idea of work even as his wife prods him to do so if only as a means to harness some of his otherwise destructive creative impulses.