11. ‘The Ticket’ (Season 4, episode 44)

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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. Continue reading

14. ‘The Hamptons’ (Season 5, episode 85)

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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?
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15. ‘The Fusilli Jerry’ (Season 6, episode 107)

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I mean, this move is no good, Jerry. It’s just taking up a lot of my time. And I…will not stand by and allow him to perform this move on me, when a perfectly good move is just sitting in the barn doing nothing!

Not wanting to turn today’s posting into a complete reprisal of the last one, but it would seem to me that in the ways I described ‘The Implant’ at number sixteen, I could begin to broach ‘The Fusilli Jerry’ at number fifteen. It too feels like a cultural sexual history, and if ‘The Implant’ seemed to be specifically about the history of sex with regards to people interacting within social groups, ‘The Fusilli Jerry’ would seem to be the slightly larger political subtext of such an examination. Outside psychoanalysis and/or the heads of those being examined, the history becomes one impacted by gender, class, and economics onto civilization at large. It seems ‘The Implant’s linking double feature partner; it the macro-history yin to the micro-history dynamics of ‘The Implant’s yang, or if you wanted to be accurate with the idea of the double bill sequence, you could see ‘The Fusilli Jerry’ as the evolution of ‘The Implant’ thematically. It’s my outlined evolution seen in ‘The Implant’ continued, akin, to how Malick’s The New World unfolds; ‘The Implant’ being the world of primitives (European settlers and Native Americans) rolling towards conflict from the baggage of misconceptions and incommunicable misunderstandings, while the ‘The Fusilli Jerry’ presents the next, final reel (as seen in The New World when the action returns to the manicured halls and gardens of Europe). We could continue further via technological advantage, but it’d be essentially the social era of advanced civilization where primitive urges and concepts start being impacted by institutionalized and politically motivated acts. ‘The Fusilli Jerry’ is great because it is all this, this post-history to ‘The Impant’s pretext history, but it also does manage touching the pretext too, in the past, so that it sits not in some post-modern world outside of everything but rather broaching a little of everything, seeing everything and having a hell of a laugh about it all. Continue reading

16. ‘The Implant’ (Season 4, episode 59)

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No! I’m lefty, can’t go right. What about women? Do they go left or right?
Nah, we just play defense.

When you look at virtually the entirety of conversation about Season 4’s ‘The Implant’ you see that it appears almost purely centered on the (supposed) outrageousness of mainstream TV dealing with the titular ‘implants’ of Teri Hatcher’s Sidra and her triumphantly, if arrogantly, delivered “…and they’re spectacular!” at the episodes close. This is a genuinely iconic Seinfeldian moment, as is the other oft-quoted moment; where George is seen, then involved in a physical altercation for, ‘double-dipping’ a tortilla chip (Doritos Cool Ranch it would appear to be) in a buffet style served dip at a wake for a family member of his girlfriend. But, as I’d say with virtually every Seinfeld moment with a real culture capturing iconic moment (‘No Soup for You!’, ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that’, ‘Master of his Domain’, etc. are just a few off the top of my head) what is elsewhere in the episode is the real substance of the episode. Whether it be the important meat of the episode which builds all the dynamic theatrical forward thrust, or it be the more interesting stuff bubbling underneath—but everywhere and at all times—, or it’s the other multitude of jokes and conflicts that are infinitely more humorous, and in ‘The Implant’ we’re treated to each of these three, they’re the moments that actually make these episodes the brilliant ones that they are. In doing these essays for this countdown it was perhaps the idea that occurred to me most often, and the one I returned to in my spare thoughts when beginning to write.

In ‘The Implant’ it is hard to avoid Sidra, not necessarily because she’s a remarkably memorable character (no, Teri Hatcher isn’t asked to do that much more than any typical Jerry girlfriend) but because the 4 regular characters are split into two pairs and the Jerry and Elaine pairing—whose story has nothing else to do but talk and obsess over Sidra—has a little more screen time then the Kramer and George one (who, by the way, are embroiled in a scheme to score cheap airline tickets that is highly comical). Since it is the dominate plot line of the episode, you’d expect the most glaring piece of brilliance to be at its core. I’d argue it does, but it does it in such a sly way that it almost always sneaked by.
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17. ‘The Friar’s Club’ (Season 7, episode 128)

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Oh, I’m percolating, Jerry. I’m telling you, I have never felt so fertile. I’m mossy, Jerry. My brain is mossy. Listen to this idea…

Upon recently watching ‘The Friar’s Club’ I came to the conclusion that though Kramer is the series main punchline creator, a character able to turn any situation into a comedic one by mere body tick or spasm (or similarly given his eccentric nature able to frame an otherwise droll conversation uniquely, see “Fungi”) and thus fills virtually every episode with several hilarious moments, that Season 7’s ‘The Friar’s Club’ is my definitive Cosmo Kramer episode. If one needed to distill the essence of Michael Richards’ wonderful creation to a scant 22 minutes, this is the episode I’d reach for as it contains, at least once, each of Kramer’s common laugh inducing devices. (It’s extra important when one considers the episodes’ other plot lines too; Elaine is stuck in the tedium of a coworker who may or may not be deaf to skirt work responsibility while Jerry and George are attempting to become “the Gatsby’s” by successfully having their relationships sync up so they can double date the rest of their lives and thus maximize their time together as best friends. Without Kramer’s herculean comedic high jinks, the episode would be in the bottom forty or so of the show.)

18. ‘The Engagement’ (Season 7, episode 111)

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They’re prisons! Man-made prisons. You’re doing time! You get up in the morning, she’s there. You go to sleep at night, she’s there. It’s like you gotta ask permission to use the bathroom. “Is it all right if I use the bathroom now?”

‘The Engagement’ opens on an interesting if overly ham fisted note, George seated in this apartment playing chess with his girlfriend. He’s overly arrogant at a recent move he’s made to which she almost immediately counters for the winning check mate. This deflating action prompts George to instantly begin break-up proceedings. It’s a strange line of characterization—even for George—as while he had shown severe emotional handicaps in previous seasons, most of them were the result of deficiencies in him and thus mostly sad in nature. The joke always ended with pie on George’s face, and was never this nasty (let alone blatantly misogynistic). Perhaps it’s a sign of things to come (Season 7 was the season that began the changes to all the characters that Seasons 8 and 9 would fully embrace), or perhaps it’s just a means to get Jerry and George contemplating the short-comings in their social lives in the episodes coming key scene. Whatever the reason, it sparks the entire season off in a manner not familiar to anyone who’d previously watched the show with an astute eye.
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19. ‘The Watch’ (Season 4, episode 46)

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Two exact same watches. He tells you a week, and him a day. How could that be? Something’s fishy about this.

‘The Watch’, like ‘The Ticket’, is an episode that works wonderfully as itself, but also as a central piece within Season 4’s ongoing story line involving the creation of the Jerry pilot by Jerry and George for NBC (my pick for number eleven in this countdown contains a more thorough articulation of my thoughts on this dynamic, specifically how the affected episodes—more than a half-a-dozen—could form an almost ‘Seinfeld film’ if strung together in correct sequence), but another thought that I have while watching these particular episodes is the idea of attempting a formation of the aesthetics of Seinfeld.

Contemplating the art of Seinfeld has appeared to me up to now to be a completely ideological affair; I can only see artful gestures in what Seinfeld is saying, and sometimes how they are saying it (here I’m purely speaking about actor performance). But what then of how Seinfeld looks or how Seinfeld moves in relation to art. That’s become a much different, and more difficult proposition for me. Mainstream television of this type (most generically specified as ‘sitcom’) is pretty bland visually, what with its lighting being little more than the high-key lightning technique and the blocking usually being the most simplistic of two dimensional space. Characters face each other seated, they walk side by side in straight shots, no choice of filmic grammar other than what produces the most consistent shot in the quickest of time to set up on set. The choice of lightning previously mentioned is a decision in a likewise, time efficient manner; you rig the lights in your most common sets once (in this case Jerry’s apartment and the coffee shot) and conceivably nothing needs to change for the entire duration of the Series except a switching out of a bulb when one inevitably sputters out. Even in the comedy television era that Seinfeld certainly birthed that has had some growth in camera movement and other filmic expressions (Arrested Development and all the faux-documentary style of, say, The Office would be the most readily identifiable examples) often has less to do with artistic decision than the readily affordable nature of handheld digital high quality cameras (FX’s Wilfred, used much handheld work in its wonderful first two seasons, via a digital video camera that retails for under four grand). Even the production aesthetic offers similar common sense decisions which lead us down dead ends in this sort of contemplation; the sets are meant to look as standard as possible (apartments are to offer very little detail other than the surface level, restaurants and bars are totally utilitarian, etc.) while costuming, while offering a bit more and interesting in its authentic everyman way (George is wonderfully costumed; his clothes were selected to fit slightly small in many scenes to accentuate his discomfort and overweight nature, as Elaine often is too; her floral dresses paired with denim jackets and two-tones brogues are an understated comment on her masculine/feminist interplay, while Kramer is an originator all his own. Vintage lounge wear meets poverty, as he wears pants that are hemmed to short and coats in serious need of a cleaning. He’s as factitious as his means allow.), is more used to create an atmosphere of character rather than specific pointed aesthetic wholeness.

But thinking more, specifically after studying Season 4’s ‘The Watch’ again recently, I do think there is something of a cohesive aesthetic vantage point that can be explored. First, there is the generic sameness at the foundation as I just discussed. This consciously puts it next to everything else, makes it not glaringly stick out and lose credibility. Its values outwardly seem pedestrian even if its arguments are rooted in shaking bedrock. ‘The Watch’ does this most interestingly with an acute sense of mirrored duality, seen through its interesting use of juxtaposed cut story-telling device. Everything about the episode is a transposed mirror of what came before or after it, making the episode one long undulating dream of connected points akin to a stand up comedians one hour HBO special. The episode starts in exploration on this theme, even if in just subtle hinting, as the Seinfeld’s—complete with the great Uncle Leo in tow—eat at a nice, what appears to be Italian, restaurant. The conversation ping-pongs between Helen’s exclaiming the attractiveness of the waitress and Morty and Leo’s interjections merely when their convenience allows. Then, as if adding the thesis to which we’re set to explore, Morty offers the earlier quoted, “Two exact same watches. He tells you a week, and him a day. How could that be? Something’s fishy about this.” Continue reading

20. ‘The Red Dot’ (Season 3, episode 29)

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You want me to take an overview?
Please.
I see a very cheap man holding a sweater trying to get away with something. That’s my overview.

As I discussed in my essay for ‘The Bizarro Jerry’ two places down at #22, Elaine often articulated her frustrations about her friends and how their existence didn’t wholly jive with how she viewed herself and her possible existence. While Elaine was singular is this complaint (at least in asking the audience to take it seriously, as Jerry often acted superior to the group as well but this could never be read as anything other that vain egoism), George also often purported a strain in his personality that showed he sought more positives from his social relationships as well. He, unlike Elaine, was the root of his own demise, so these yearnings often found themselves as the butt of the jokes or, on a larger scale, the source of the initial domino toppling with which the entire episodes string of dominos followed suit in cascading around him and the group. Likewise, Kramer existed with an unseen, but often referenced, whole other social network of characters to which he could escape into whenever he felt the main three person Seinfeld universe of Jerry, George, and Elaine to be lacking (plus the characters like the Maestro, aka Bob Cobb, or Stan the Caddy shared more an affinity to hanging out with Kramer than anyone else). It consisted of men seemingly as strange as Cosmo himself; wild stories abound about Lomez and Bob Sacamano and that’s just naming two when several more exist (Doug the cop buddy from ‘The Frogger’, Jay Riemenschneider, Corky Ramirez, Len Nicademo, etc.). (To take a slight detour in fact, I’ve always argued that the Seinfeld spin off lay right here; Kramer’s unseen world was ripe for investigation, and its unknown quality meant that it would be defined as it deemed fit [plus it had the known entities of Newman and Kramer should you need the initial familiarity when in development stage], and not in need of the radical environment change that spin offs so often use [see how Frasier Crane’s relocation to Seattle from the Boston of Cheers for example]).

What all this says is that Seinfeld often explored the deficiencies that each saw the others possess within the group dynamic, a topic supremely explored in Season 3’s wonderful Holiday themed ‘The Red Dot’. Continue reading

21. ‘The Pie’ (Season 5, episode 79)

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I don’t think that’s the kind of thing you wanna hear about your father. But I’ll tell you when he came out of that bathroom and he was kneading that dough, it was a wild scene.

One thing I’ve always liked about Seinfeld is its ability to not only comment on the mundane, everyday object, but to repurpose the idea of that object into a fresh perspective onto which a wonderfully comedic point is made. Meaning that the fulcrum of an entire episode’s genesis might be a piece of clothing, or food, or a place where a very specific social function occurs. The jump from most television is then that the action is therefor based more on human spontaneity and individuality, in essence because it’s showing how several rather idiosyncratic people are reacting to (and then conversationally processing) events happening to and because of them. The tie to an object, or, in this case objects sharing the same name but different (a piece of dessert pie and a pizza pie) potential roles, is not only a means to show scriptwriting creativity (though it does that in spades) it’s also a tie to just how much control we have over our worlds; the world as a collection of objects that could seemingly be the source of any unwritten Seinfeld episode, and in each of those potentialities, we’d see our characters scraping out a present (and therefor future) entirely of their own making.
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22. ‘The Bizarro Jerry’ (Season 8, episode 137)

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Well! I can’t spend the rest of my life coming into this stinking apartment every ten minutes to pour over the excruciating minutia of every single daily event…

The central plot thread running through Season 8’s ‘The Bizarro Jerry’ is one of the Series most philosophically and personally complex ones. It centers around Elaine Benes finding herself severing ties with a boyfriend who surprisingly accepts the usually off-the-cuff “let’s be friends” parting with enthusiastically open arms. This on itself isn’t that out of the ordinary; Seinfeld had dealt humorously with the diner/dinner break-up on several occasions, even finding multiple uses for the “it’s not you it’s me…” routine, but here there was somewhat of a twist. Rather than having the scene end there, or even having the episode centered around the revengeful fallout of the breakup (see Season three’s ‘The Truth’ for example), this episode decided upon a more wildly inventive turn.
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