Sid Farkus?! You’re not having dinner with a bra salesman.
Hey, he only sells them. He doesn’t wear ’em.
Okay, that’s it! I’m not coming home!
Seeing this selection come right on the heels of ‘The Hamptons’ discussion about the shows approach to leisure, the argument becomes even more apropos. ‘The Doorman’ is a very typical episode (granted I think it’s better than almost every other as it did appear here in the top fifteen) in its decidedly proletariat milieu, and buttresses my commentary last post about ‘The Hamptons’ uniqueness was in its being centered purely around leisure. ‘The Doorman’ proves my point that Seinfeld is usually largely centered around the hustle that is work, the reordering of life to fit its demanding urges and restrictions. Here, the hustle effects Jerry and Elaine’s moviegoing plans; both what time they can make due to Mr. Pitt’s demands on Elaine (who is house watching in addition to her regular job as his assistant) to Jerry attempting to avoid the work schedule of the titular Doorman when picking Elaine up after his first encounter goes so hilariously bad. The Doorman is itself a funny characterization, long the reason I hesitated with this particular episode, as his agitation resembles something more akin to a bridge troll in Three Billy Goats Gruff than anything in pro-labor literature. It’s a role written more as annoyance than authentic; he’s fighting with the person he’s most aligned with economically (the tennis shoe’d middle class Jerry), while promptly licking the boot of any opulent character we see him encounter (with the extra touch of cynical irony from the script as well, I was always slightly put off). But one could argue that the Doorman’s hustle is itself one purely based in the ‘yes sir, no sir’ world; like that of the Porter, Shoe Shine, or Valet, it’s a job for the person to have his degradation first hand rather than passed through the usual intermediary channels of, say, the middle manager. You curse those around you, but (learn to) bless those above. Just to survive the hustle, you become the prick we see Jerry deal with.
But perhaps the greatest hustle of them all, and maybe the greatest hustle in the entire Seinfeld canon, is the plot line of Kramer’s wild ‘bro’ invention. Once he brings Frank to the fold, as it was his breasts ‘clanging around’ that blossomed the idea in Kramer’s mind in the first place, we even see the retired brought back into work service. It’s a great two-fold comedic invention; at once funny as an object (almost) put into production made even moreso when we see Kramer’s working prototype, while also throwing George into a hilarious hereditary guessing game. If baldness is a gene that skips a generation (we’d easily understand that once we see Frank’s wild orange mane next to George’s paltry swatch) in men, then the bosom gene, it’s theorized, would come from the grandmother. George asks his mother, in the only way he knows how (awkwardly), and is left with more questions than he’d originally set out asking.
Seinfeld is often described as essentially an American comedy of manners television show; the type of piece that satirizes the behavior of a social class (or classes) born from a knowledge of their status within a culture generally featuring action born from scandal. This designation, it would seem, is meant to lament the fact that it isn’t what most American scripted comedy television shows were, and are (mostly that it’s one of an incredibly incendiary and subversive nature); Seinfeld, I feel, often does tread these waters and does so rather originally—especially for American art which so often uses American settings for essentially very British-styled work within the genre. But, Seinfeld, as a show of almost 200 episodes, can’t be merely classified on this alone. Sure, it works in this way often, sometimes for complete episodes (‘The Hamptons’ seems to work in this way, and ‘The Jacket’ certainly does to name just two), but more likely for individual scenes or plot lines within episodes (all the stuff between Jerry and the Doorman in ‘The Doorman’ certainly fits, as does much of Elaine’s hysteria over her Botticelli shoes—entirely driven by another woman’s fixation with them—while the boys attempt to sell a pilot to NBC in ‘The Shoes’, plus dozens of other situations). Rather, Seinfeld seems to me to be a show that often sidesteps convention and manners altogether, finding laughs in acting like they are oblivious that norms even exist (Jerry wipes his mouth with the tissue offered by Elaine after hearing of the Bubble Boy’s predicament, for example, not because he’s heartless and cruel—which is what you’ll often see his action here described as—but because showing sympathy for a stranger in this manner is a grandiose, self-serving display as well [not that I’m making an argument that Jerry is existing to highlight the phoniness of unquestioning sentimentality either]. Jerry’s supposed lack of compassion is only shown as applicable once we’ve met Donald the Bubble Boy later and he shows himself to be not fitting of any decent human emotion) . The basic fabric of much social convention is assumed acceptance and Seinfeld just doesn’t seem to understand this ordering. And when it’s pointed that Seinfeld does understand, it then often works extra hard in letting us be privy to the fact that we’ve set out to lambast them (and why).
I feel this is an important designation to make, as Seinfeld could theoretically fit several sub-genres of comedy subversion if we were content within a single complete Series genre classification (I obviously feel an individual episode system works better, as I’ve done within this countdown). It’s as much a comedy of manners as it is a piece of the theater of the absurd (my point about sidestepping assumed ethics and morality argues this), while elsewhere it’s pure black comedy, elsewhere still, rudimentary slapstick, to observational minutia in a sitcom format. ‘The Doorman’ argues this well; the plot arranges itself around one chief idea (subversion of the ideas of work via several class agitators) while scene to scene employs several comedic avenues to garner laughs. While the chief idea, and the implementer of carrying it out via a specific comedic sub-genre is clear, Seinfeld constructs its narratives with all sorts of laugh tricks.
The series as a whole does produce an atmosphere of some sort of totality on theme, I won’t deny that, but presenting arguments in such a way would lead to obsessive nitpicking of differences. This isn’t to be unexpected and isn’t nearly a (potentially derogatory) statement on conceptual consistency; shows with this many episodes naturally evolve with the world around them (in accordance to and in lieu of), have dozens of different authors penning scripts each with their own set of idea(l)s even when a series ‘formula of conventions’ is the desired end, and when the most basic of themes are used to designate a show as rich in the multitude of styles Seinfeld employs, they are often pure adjectives (in the ten pieces I’ve already presented I’ve used them all; transgressive, subversive, satirist, etc), and ‘The Doorman’ is as worthwhile an example of this as any episode. At once we’re led to believe the episode is ordered around the titular Doorman character and the plot line that that would imply, but then what about the Kramer/Frank pairing that sees them inventing ‘a bra for a man’, surely the most widely inventive and comedically ripe scenes the episode offers (in fact, they are some of the best in the entire Seinfeld canon)? That’s the take away, at one moment we’re seeing class agitation that we can’t wholly take seriously, the next a homoerotic passage of men trying on lingerie as they bop to cha-cha records. To Elaine in full on Femme Fatale speech patterns from the world of hardboiled Noir, to Frank’s supreme outrage when learning he’s been “sleeping in urine”, Seinfeld brings it all, just so long as it works.