5. ‘The Pilot’ (part 1 and 2) (Season 4, episodes 63, 64)

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She works for Pendant Publishing. She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. You know, I used to work for NBC, but when I go back to her this time, she’ll respect me.

I’ve already spoken several times about how sublime I feel the fictional show-within-a-show narrative is in Season 4. There is little wonder then that when I began compiling this list that several of its episodes would feature so highly in the ranking. No wonder too that the two part conclusion would end up in the prized Top 5.

It’s a bit of a cheat to put both episodes in one slot, but since they did appear back-to-back on one night rather than the usual splitting across two weeks like so many other ‘To Be Continued’ features, I’m affording myself the luxury. ‘The Pilot’ finds the boys in full on production mode; they’d gotten the speculative advance to write a pilot, and now it’s the next, rare step: cast, film, edit and air. Thinking then this way, it’s amazing how much is compressed into these final two episodes. The idea of the ‘show about nothing’ had sustained itself over the better part of a season (I think it touches no less than five to seven episodes leading up to ‘The Pilot(s)’, and now, with everything to be done, we’re left with a scant 44 minutes. I think that’s something of a point though, the living that created the genesis of the idea for a ‘show about nothing’ was the important take away. Survive or fail, and I’m happy the real Seinfeld (eventually) flourished while the fake one perished, the kernel present in Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld’s minds that produced such a wonderful balance between the urbane, the stupid and yet, the complex and philosophically rich (I love how the fake pilot shows this: on one had it’s a brilliant idea: about nothing, and everything. But then what to make of the truly absurd and stupid “the Judge decreed him my butler” idea?) ‘surviving’ didn’t apparently make much difference. The plots would still exist we’d imagine, somewhere in an alternate universe a version of Jerry and Larry would be talking about shirt collars, and popular condiments and the world at large would be none the wiser. The conversations still exist, and life still curtailed around nothing. Potentially it’d still be Larry and Jerry, but they’d just be pretty successful comics—but not world known stars—stills friends, still laboring over the same things.

But, then we do get the real life opposite. The success, and the success is showing us the potential fail as the real fail of the pilot. Seinfeld showed the fate that bestowed it on a weekly basis during those two, or three early seasons. With low ratings, and an audience almost completely befuddled, they were one or two execs completely changing their opinion away to the show ending before we got many of the now revered moments. Watching ‘The Pilot’ again recently that commentary, sometimes subtle, sometimes not, on the role of execs and their understanding (or not) of the creative drivers of mainstream art (in this case a scripted television show) was my most striking takeaway. The studio execs that both eventually green light, and then sit along offering opinions at every step in the process are shown to be sickly yes men, or at worst, the second in charge is completely ignorant of why such a unique show should be stuck with. It’s only the great Russell Dalrymple character, played with supreme neurotic aplomb (that changes at the sight of his sudden unattainable prize, Elaine) by Bob Balaban that presents something slightly different. But, even he appears stark and prickly matter-of-fact when we first meet him (he’s seen giving “Not Yet” quips and hosting stiff dinner dates at his lavish pad in the story line build ups) it’s only when his heart is thawed by peering down Elaine’s intentional scooped neck dress that he becomes something resembling a poetic, romantic human being.

It’s a side you’d never expect from Larry David, in fact most would laugh at the mere mention of Larry David as a romantic person, but—and I’ll have more to say on this later—David uses his only two large plot lines about his artistic creation to argue the positive, driving force love makes in the creative and development of art and the self. In Curb Your Enthusiasm he has Season 7 centered around a defacto Seinfeld reunion that is really a sweet ploy to win back Cheryl’s affections (that he hilarious succeeds then reverts back to his trollish self that he thinks people expect). I can’t think of Curb without thinking of the lilting piano theme meant to alert us that she is near, or that Larry is thinking of her (for a predominant example, please see the episode ‘The Reunion’ where Larry spots Cheryl with her friends outside the Staples Center before a Laker game. As he walks to her to tell her that he is going to write a part for her, the theme swells [I think it’s Philippe Lhommet & Jacques Mercier’s ‘Riviera Nostalgia’ but I can’t be one-hundred percent sure]), to having the one person fighting for the Jerry series—Russell—become transformed at the sudden thought of possible reinvention within a shared, romantic life. Both amount to huge juxtapositions to the actions around them that I can’t think anything else but that something sweet, even idyllic, is being articulated.

‘The Pilot’ is also a whirlwind of plot otherwise; the show is hilariously cast (the montage of various Kramer entrances always delivers laughter for me, as is the bits of ‘method acting’ of the Elaine character), Crazy Joe Divola (and all that that entails), a whole whodunnit raisin heist, Kramer having to implement ‘the dreaded apparatus’ to alleviate constipation, to Elaine confronting potentially sexist hiring practices at their popular eatery, Monk’s Diner.

The two-part episode of ‘The Pilot’ aired before the two-hour finale of Cheers. You could easily envision that all those tuning in to see the final Cheers some probably were seeing Seinfeld for the very first time. The episode(s) attracted 32 million viewers, its highest number until it itself concluded several years later. Thus, much of the pop-culture phenomenon that became Seinfeld, a show that really latched on more when it starting airing in syndication, is almost an accident (granted, time slots on mainstream network channels during primetime—especially the coveted Thursday night—are a delicately weighted science of luck and quality). The beginning of ones end is always another’s start. As Ted Danson looked out over the bar for the last time, he again saw two overweight men. One, as always in the postal outfit, the other, again, in drab. Little did he know that the thirsty wolves at the door never really drank alcohol, and that they wouldn’t answer to ‘Cliff’ or ‘Norm’. No, their names were ‘Costanza’ and ‘Newman’, and their presence amounted to just a sliver of the gang about to burst through…

 

_ _ _ _ _

Since we are entering the Top 5, I thought it’d be fun to see quickly how we landed here. Here are my picks, 76 to 5. I landed at 76 when I made an unranked list of Seinfeld episodes that I consider to be “very good, to great”, in other words, the crème de la crème.

5.    ‘The Pilot’ (part 1 and 2) (Season 4, episodes 63, 64)
6.    ‘The Sniffing Accountant’ (Season 5, episode 68)
7.    ‘The Bris’ (Season 5, episode 69)
8.    ‘The Note’ (Season 3, episode 18)
9.    ‘The Gymnast’ (Season 6, episode 92)
10.    ‘The Wig Master’ (Season 7, episode 129)
11.    ‘The Ticket’ (Season 4, episode 44)
12.    ‘The Marine Biologist’ (Season 5, episode 78)
13.    ‘The Doorman’ (Season 6, episode 104)
14.    ‘The Hamptons’ (Season 5, episode 85)
15.    ‘The Fusilli Jerry’ (Season 6, episode 107)
16.    ‘The Implant’ (Season 4, episode 59)
17.    ‘The Friar’s Club’ (Season 7, episode 128)
18.    ‘The Engagement’ (Season 7, episode 111)
19.    ‘The Watch’ (Season 4, episode 46)
20.    ‘The Red Dot’ (Season 3, episode 29)
21.    ‘The Pie’ (Season 5, episode 79)
22.    ‘The Bizarro Jerry’ (Season 8, episode 137)
23.    ‘The Doodle’ (Season 6, episode 106)
24.    ‘The Library’ (Season 3, episode 22)
25.    ‘The Bubble Boy’ (Season 4, episode 47)
26.    ‘The Keys’ (Season 3, episode 40)
27.    ‘The Couch’ (Season 6, episode 91)
28.    ‘The Contest’ (Season 4, episode 51)
29.    ‘The Trip’ (part 1 and 2) (Season 4, episodes 41, 42)
30.    ‘The Switch’ (Season 6, episode 97)
31.    ‘The Jimmy’ (Season 6, episode 105)
32.    ‘The Nose Job’ (Season 3, episode 26)
33.    ‘The Opposite’ (Season 5, episode 86)
34.    ‘The Puffy Shirt’ (Season 5, episode 66)
35.    ‘The Pez Dispenser’ (Season 3, episode 31)
36.    ‘The Scofflaw’ (Season 6, episode 99)
37.    ‘The Tape’ (Season 3, episode 25)
38.    ‘The Face Painter’ (Season 6, episode 109)
39.    ‘The Pitch’ (Season 4, episode 43)
40.    ‘The Shoes’ (Season 4, episode 56)
41.    ‘The Smelly Car’ (Season 4, episode 61)
42.    ‘The Boyfriend’ (part 1 and 2) (Season 3, episodes 34, 35)
43.    ‘The Letter’ (Season 3, episode 38)
44.    ‘The Caddy’ (Season 7, episode 122)
45.    ‘The Airport’ (Season 4, episode 52)
46.    ‘The Pool Guy’ (Season 7, episode 118)
47.    ‘The Non-Fat Yogurt’ (Season 5, episode 71)
48.    ‘The Visa’ (Season 4, episode 55)
49.    ‘The Statue’ (Season 2, episode 11)
50.    ‘The Junior Mint’ (Season 4, episode 60)
51.    ‘The Strike’ (Season 9, episode 166)
52.    ‘The Opera’ (Season 4, episode 49)
53.    ‘The Stall’ (Season 5, episode 76)
54.    ‘The Wife’ (Season 5, episode 81)
55.    ‘The Fire’ (Season 5, episode 84)
56.    ‘The Chicken Roaster’ (Season 8, episode 142)
57.    ‘The Cigar Store Indian’ (Season 5, episode 74)
58.    ‘The Mom & Pop Store’ (Season 6, episode 94)
59.    ‘The Chinese Woman’ (Season 6, episode 90)
60.    ‘The Wallet’ (Season 4, episode 45)
61.    ‘The Phone Message’ (Season 2, episode 9) (this episode was written to replace the only unfilmed Seinfeld script called ‘The Bet’. I’ve always wished The Bet’ was done as its premise sounds darkly wonderful and subversive)
62.    ‘The Maestro’ (Season 7, episode 113)
63.    ‘The Wallet’ (Season 4, episode 45)
64.    ‘The Pledge Drive’ (Season 6, episode 89)
65.    ‘The Label Maker’ (Season 6, episode 98)
66.    ‘The Heart Attack’ (Season 2, episode 13)
67.    ‘The Raincoats’ (Part 2) (Season 5, episode 83) (love this factoid, even if I hate Spielberg: Jerry Seinfeld commented that the references to Schindler’s List were included after learning that Steven Spielberg got so depressed while filming the movie that he would watch tapes of Seinfeld episodes to cheer himself up.)
68.    ‘The Merv Griffin Show’ (Season 9, episode 162)
69.    ‘The Revenge’ (Season 2, episode 12)
70.    ‘The Little Jerry’ (Season 8, episode 145)
71.    ‘The Burning’ (Season 9, episode 172)
72.    ‘The Virgin’ (Season 4, episode 50)
73.    ‘The Mango’ (Season 5, episode 65)
74.    ‘The Parking Garage’ (Season 3, episode 23)
75.    ‘The Deal’ (Season 2, episode 14)
76.    ‘The Apartment’ (Season 2, episode 10)

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