I’ll tell you, if you wanna get something wild goin’ on in your life, you get a girl
and bring her to one of these things. Just like 4 shots a wild turkey.
‘The Hot Tub’ is an episode more than any other before it that showed the eventual direction a post-Larry David Seinfeld would go; one where plot lines suddenly became more insular to themselves and the characters (both reoccurring and episode specific) more akin to caricature. Likewise the humor was drawn more from the absurd and the outlandish where previously it had favored realism and the subverting of the everyday commonplace arrangement. How Season 7 begins is a remarkable articulation of this eventual shift (I politely say ‘shift’ where I may want to actually say ‘degradation’), opening with the pseudo existential crisis born from seemingly meaningless Diner chit chat of ‘The Engagement’ that skewers engagement rituals as maddeningly soul crushing (the look of utter disgust on George’s face as he and Susan watch the end credits of an unseen Mad About You episode is sublime) is this very seriousness to which just four episodes later we’re watching the same George heckle Houston Astros execs in ‘The Hot Tub’ (as funny as it may be, the substance isn’t the same). ‘The Hot Tub’ does have its bit of subversion (George’s trick to act pissed at the office so everyone thinks he’s overly busy is one such bit of commentary), but the point remains, ‘The Hot Tub’ (and the previous weeks’ ‘The Wink’ is its partner in crime here) set the stage for a Seinfeld that was overly ironic and counter to the original thesis of a show about nothing (and thus seemingly everything).
Since this is the case, Kramer’s role is immediately seen as widening to the point of actual driver of plot whereas he was primarily used as counter-punch in the previous 6 Seasons. This makes sense; a show with something on its mind uses the most absurd characters to smooth over any rough patches—an injection of quick humor when the more complex characters are hashing out the delicate nuance to keep the episode humming along. Suddenly Kramer is thrust into the role of a legitimate main character that when it works—and it often does in Season 7—it’s a remarkably high ceiling (his calm demeanor as he tells Jerry he needs to ‘take a soak’ to relieve his tension is one of his greatest line reads, just as the strange plot line of the heavy drinkers from the Houston Astros front office is hilariously unique). But when it wholly doesn’t—and this became a norm the final two Seasons—the episodes offer little more than hilarious throwaway lines working in the service of a once great show turned now to highly eccentric network television. Quotable yes, but no longer culturally rich and defining.
All this being said, ‘The Hot Tub’ is still my number 4 rated episode as of right now (hell, if I rethought the list it might be closer to 20 right now, but, alas no regrets!), so while the future for the once brilliant show might have been dimming, we certainly did have quite a flash before the darkness!