Seinfeld: "The Boyfriend"
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Seinfeld: "The Boyfriend"

I realized that after the epic double-parter that is "The Boyfriend," there are only six episodes left, so I'm just going to concentrate on this episode this week so I can have complete sets for the last two weeks. We're so close to the end of season three! It's very emotional!

One of the many reasons Seinfeld was the number one show of its day was its repeated ability to worm its way into the zeitgeist, with its catchphrases, the characters' little foibles, and the exaggerated, but true-to-life situations they'd find themselves in. Now, the show didn't really become a ratings juggernaut until its fifth year, but "The Boyfriend" is one of those true zeitgeist-y episodes that everyone still remembers, one of the first big ones.

It doesn't matter that Keith Hernandez was part of the 1986 World Series-winning Mets, or that he's still on TV most every day as an announcer for Met games. I bet if you stopped every New Yorker (of a certain age) on the street and asked them what they thought about when you say "Keith Hernandez," most of them would mention Seinfeld. Apparently Jerry considers this his favorite episode -- I had always liked it, but watching it again in one block, I felt it had most of the problems of a half-hour show doing an hour-long episode, although it's admirable how they seamlessly switch from one plot to the next, sometimes without resolving them, and you don't even notice.

"The Boyfriend" and its take on the "bromance" years before Brody Jenner named a TV show after it probably felt a lot, lot fresher in 1992, as, I'm sure, did its spoof of the film JFK. The bromance stuff, though, still works very well because outside of the obvious jokes (Jerry whining like a girl about whether Keith is going to call him back) a lot of rules about the progression of a male friendship are laid out. Particularly contentious is Keith's request that Jerry help him move furniture on only their second man-date. "Don't you have any pride, or self-respect?" Kramer demands when he hears the news.

Hernandez is no great comedian, but I like the deadpan quality he brings to the list of furniture he needs Jerry to help him move. There's not just one couch, there's TWO, and one has the tendency to unfold, and the other is a twelve-piece sectional, and so on. It's an oldie but a goodie to have the list of items that, with each additional detail, stretches the limits of credulity just that much more. Hernandez doesn't blink during the ever-expanding list, and Seinfeld does well to build his hysteria until they break up.

That scene is great, but his other scenes with Jerry are a bit draggy, as is Jerry's kvetching to Elaine about how Keith doesn't pay enough attention to him. "If he's calling in a month, he's got a prayer," he whines. But Keith's brief romance with Elaine, sadly discarded all-too-quickly because he's a heavy smoker, is much funnier. How funny would it have been to just keep him around as her occasional boyfriend, popping up for brief appearances now and then? He's retired, it's not like he had anything else to do.

I think his internal monologue in the car with Elaine is often cited as the episode's highlight, and even though Hernandez's delivery is flat, it's still very funny. "I'm a baseball player, dammit! I won the MVP in '79, I can do whatever I want to!" he thinks. Then, finally, once he makes the move, he reminds himself, "I'm Keith Hernandez." It's funny not only that he's patting himself on the back about this, but also that he had that moment of self-doubt we all have (and that Jerry has earlier in the episode). But while the rest of us might have to dig deeper for that boost of self-confidence, he just has to remember, hey, he's Keith Hernandez.

Everything else that the characters get up to (and there really is a lot) ties vaguely into the main Keith plot. George, seeking an extension on his unemployment, stretches his lying abilities as far as he can take them, first claiming that he was this close to a job at Vandelay Industries (what business are they in? Latex, "latex salesman, the selling of latex, and latex-related products"). That is dashed by Kramer's outrage at someone calling Jerry's apartment asking for Vandelay -- I love Kramer's incredulousness at the ruse, but George's underwear pratfall is maybe taking things a step too far. Then George attempts to woo the frumpy daughter of his unemployment officer (Carol Ann Susi, who's played this character in everything) but even she rejects him for having no prospects.

It's good that what finally defeats George is something he can plausibly deliver on. He may not be actively looking for work, and he was never going to last forever with the daughter, but with enough wheeling-and-dealing, he might convince Keith Hernandez to come see the unemployment officer, who's a big fan. Of course, this coincides with Jerry's big breakup, so no dice. But for all of George's lies, it's an (exaggerated) truth that brings him down for good. Still, watching him lie (especially where he pretends he's entranced by the picture of the daughter) is always like watching a musician compose a symphony.

Kramer is paired with Newman for most of the episode, and their plot revolves around their retelling of a spitting incident in 1987 they believe Keith perpetrated. The extended JFK spoof (a movie Wayne Knight was in!), complete with fake Zapruder film and extended monologue from Jerry about how Kramer's head went "back, and to the left" is well-done (although Seinfeld can't stop grinning) but feels a little like episode padding. Kramer's other minor plotline, where he and Jerry go to see the baby of a hen-pecked friend, is even more pointless and not particularly funny.

Elaine is the standout of "The Boyfriend," in that she adopts the Jerry role in discussing his relationship with Keith so seamlessly, and is far more classy herself when being asked to kiss and tell. "Did you two, uh, have, uh, you know…" asks Jerry. "Milk?" Elaine replies. "No!" "Cookies?" she says in a voice so ridiculously twee and cute. I like it whenever Elaine gets one over Jerry, especially when it comes to relationship neuroses, which he often pretends not to have.

Even though every character gets tied into the Keith stuff by the end of the episode, it doesn't quite click for me as an all-time classic, maybe just because it's 2010 and I Love You, Man seemed kinda tired to me last year. It sets the tone for most of Seinfeld's future two-part episodes: there's a lot of funny stuff in the mix, but the plots get stretched a little too obviously and a lot of the zanier stuff seems to come out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

In the opening scene, the three guys discuss gym nudity, with each of their reactions conforming to their characters: Jerry fixed his eyes firmly away from everyone, as he seems genuinely disinterested in having that kind of icky information; Kramer happily snuck a peek, and George snuck a peek too, but he's more torn up about it, saying he saw "a blur."

George provides "KL5-8383" as Vandelay's, and thus Jerry's, business number. That's the antiquated version of fake phone exchange "555" but I'm pretty sure letter exchanges were gone by the late 1970s. The occasional reference to the "double R" Subway train dates Larry David to the 80s, but this dates him even further back.

"Any Hennigan's around here?" Jerry asks when he's prodded about being jealous of Keith and Elaine. Nice callback to the odorless scotch. George-as-Biff is also referenced again, both by the unemployment officer's daughter, and by Jerry, who says, "so, Biff wants to become a buff!" when George expresses an interest in civil war history.

I didn't mention George's obsession with dating a giantess but I like that he shares it with Jerry out of nowhere. "This is all I think about, having sex with a giant!"

Keith's mother is one-quarter Cajun. "My father's half drunk!" Elaine ripostes.  

Filed Under: TV, Seinfeld

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