I’m sorry. I can’t live knowing Ted Danson makes that much more than me. Who is he?
Continuing on the heels of ‘The Pitch’, ‘The Ticket’ further explores the growing sitcom writing partnership between George and Jerry who have entered negotiations to create a fictional sitcom for NBC. Taken all together and totaling a half-dozen episodes or so spread intermittently in Season 4, the subplot remains the only time Seinfeld ever attempted maintaining a plot line longer than two episodes (all the previous, and later examples are instances where the episode is the standard two part featurette). I’ve always remarked that you could pull all the affected episodes and string them together and have the makings of a quite remarkable comedic feature film. It would be self-contained within the meta-universe thread of George and Jerry working on a sitcom for NBC while also carrying out several divergent (but sometimes one episode) plots involving Kramer and Elaine (those two also see their stories overlap a bit within the world of Crazy Joe Devola). It’d be a strange modernist take on cinema in and of itself, what with its ending being neither revelatory nor anything resembling a conclusion to a rousing climax. No, instead it just sort of dumps itself into a small apartment kitchen via a phone call that the pilot will not be picked up that sends the group into an even more mundane setting, a crowded Monk’s Diner.
It’s a wonderful conclusion though and one remarkably in line with the Seinfeld worldview. A worldview of life as a series of thuds and misadventures, each one always worthy—but more importantly in need of—eventually being hashing out over a small, friendly meal in very humorous banter. It’s the stops and starts within these stories that are at the crux of the Seinfeld universe; the ones that interrupt stories with pure minutia, that when taken as a whole become the basis to which we approach an articulation on modern life’s banalities and superstitions. It’s no wonder that Seinfeld would explain itself to its audience within the fictional Jerry and George (meant to symbolize Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David obviously) as “everyone does something, we’ll do nothing” in the same season that the proper show would finally have its breakthrough. At first it was ponderous and strange, perhaps too plain and alien amidst the usual strangeness of much mainstream scripted television (Seinfeld was strange in how realistic it was, as the sights had been so swayed by years of ALF and the like), but it showed George working over Jerry in conversation, wrestling him to his side. The give and take among speaking people, between sentences of alternating brilliance and nothingness that organically form the nature of urgent—but still nonchalant—conversations over morning coffee. Jerry thought the idea of nothing as ludicrous, and the early ratings of Seinfeld the public might not of entirely disagreed, but they—at the very least—were sympathetic as they weren’t bowled over by its charms. Then Larry David, using George fictionally, explained to everyone why this shows works, why, “everything else was just masterbation” and that a show that skidded the breaks on life to a grinding halt just so that we could pour over all the details was the key to both laughs and examination. The road bumps along the way, the ‘ones that interrupt stories with pure minutia’ that I spoke of earlier, come quickly to life in the meta-Series world of ‘The Ticket’. It happens most aptly when Jerry and George are first informed that their idea of nothing is, at the very least, worthy of creating a pilot for (and getting the very un-Ted Danson like fee of $13,000 for) and so they head to the diner to discuss it proper. They become trapped inside as Crazy Joe Devola—who has assaulted Kramer and then threatened Jerry earlier, but more on that later—might be lurking outside. They ask a nearby policeman (the same actor also played the naive, man-child like gun nut Tackleberry in the Police Academy film series) to escort them out in safety, which he of course says yes to, but only after he has a muffin. And then the uniquely Seinfeldian moment happens; all that is going on around them—a deranged lunatic, a burgeoning exciting opportunity and career, etc—stops so that George and Jerry can agree that “a muffin can be very filling” (it’s uttered after the policeman has bypassed the muffin for the larger, and longer waiting to create and eat, sandwich). At that moment, that realization, however mundane, encompasses all our trivialities. It’s a show full of these moments, and it is alone in having them in such wonderful abundance (if alone in having them at all).
‘The Ticket’ is the first of the great episodes within this fictional ‘film’ (and there would be a few more before the two part conclusion to Season 4), an episode that Wayne Knight, the actor behind the gleefully sardonic Newman, would call his personal favorite in the entire shows epic 9 year run. It’s his inclusion in the episodes ‘other’ plot line that’s chiefly responsible for its elevated place within this countdown here. In the earlier ‘The Pitch’ Kramer and Newman have swapped possessions—Kramer receiving a motorcycle helmet from Newman in exchange for a car police radar scanner—that at first seems heavily favoring Newman until he unsurprisingly receives a speeding ticket largely due to the scanner no longer working. Since Kramer has screwed him over, Newman concocts a wild story that he had received a phone call from a suicidal Kramer and was speeding home to intervene and save his friends life (an otherwise humorous comment on attempting to pry, and benefit, onto a usually serious subject). He then brings Kramer to the courthouse (a debt Kramer must repay for trading him a busted scanner) on judgement day to corroborate the story (and rather humorously has Kramer build upon his story too) in hopes of avoiding the ticket (and most assuredly what’s most important to Newman is the accompanying fine). But Kramer has a back story all his own too. He, while walking aimlessly around in his new white helmet, is kicked in the head by a vicious flying karate aspiring Crazy Joe Devola, and just isn’t himself. He wakes the next day (the day of the courthouse visit) showing the ill effects of his concussion and only shaving half his face, putting on only one leg of his trousers, mistaking Elaine’s name for ‘Carol’, and constantly shouting “Yo-Yo Ma!” as if he has a singular, sudden case of Tourette’s. Obviously appearing in court and giving testimony isn’t going to go well, and it hilariously doesn’t, as Newman, he, and then the judge bicker over the details of Newman’s false tale. It’s important to note, that they, like Jerry and George across town bunkered in debating how full a muffin could potentially leave one, hit their initial snag when Kramer decides to debate the wording of one of Newman’s initial questions, “Would you please tell the court, in your words, what happened on the afternoon of September 10th….” to which Kramer must reply, “What do you mean, ‘in my own words’? Whose words are they gonna be?” It would seem, the Seinfeld ethos is again arguing, that everywhere, no matter the importance or alarming nature of experience happening around us, that what really matters is that we quibble over the smallest of matters. I think it was the 2012 Ridley Scott science fiction film Prometheus that uttered “big things have small beginnings”, but it was Seinfeld that didn’t need to articulate that, but live it fully. Everything large is constructed with the smallest of things and inter-workings, one only hopes we create the time to fully deconstruct them.