“The Butter Shave” (season 9, episode 1, originally aired 09/25/1997)
Good God, I can’t believe we’ve made it this far. Here we are at the last season of Seinfeld, which is notorious for a lot of reasons. In my mind, it’s a lot less muddled than season eight—the more surreal, fast-paced tone is still there, but it’s better-established and thus feels less jarring. That’s not for everyone, of course, and I know there are a lot of very heightened episodes in season nine (such as “The Merv Griffin Show” and “The Betrayal”) that people have very strong love/hate feelings about. I’m sure I’ll have strong feelings too!
“The Butter Shave” throws down the marker for how heightened things are gonna be, particularly with the “Newman thinks Kramer is a delicious edible turkey” and “Elaine and Puddy break up and get back together over and over again” plots. Kramer’s buttered head on a turkey and Elaine and Puddy bickering on a plane are definitely the most memorable images of the episode, but it’s actually a pretty varied half-hour, with fun plots for Jerry and George too, and nothing really dominating.
The return of Kenny Bania, who is killing at clubs because he’s following Jerry’s act, prompts a rare stance from our hero: one of principle. Yes, even though NBC dangled the prospect of another TV deal in front of him (one which George will assuredly not be involved in, Jerry notes), he throws his big showcase, putting on rainbow suspenders and bombing hard, just so Kenny won’t benefit and get his own show. One wonders which comedians Jerry equates to Bania—you can’t help but detect that edge to this storyline. Anyway, Jerry’s decision doesn’t so much backfire—Kenny does badly—but NBC loves his hacky comedy about Ovaltine and broken shopping cart wheels so much that they sign him anyway. No matter: It’s nice to see Jerry stand up for what he believes in and try to sabotage Bania any way he can.
George’s new job (following a summer spent wearing mustaches with Jerry and Kramer, which he promised would be a “vacation” from themselves) is more of a setup for the next episode, but it’s classic Costanza—he gets mistakenly hired by a playground-equipment supply company because they think he’s handicapped (he’s walking with a cane) and he immediately takes advantage of the situation as much as he possibly can. This is the most forgettable storyline of the bunch (George getting in a fight with senior citizens on Rascals feels like something from a lesser sitcom), but I forgive it because it leads to a much stronger story on “The Voice.”
Elaine’s on/off relationship with Puddy is basically established here. Sure, we remember the character from his two appearances in season six, but Elaine’s flaky attitude toward dating him wasn’t really part of that. So Puddy’s appearance, and immediately combative relationship with Elaine, must have been a little strange for audiences, although Jerry sets it up a little bit when he says “She’s batted around and I guess she’s back at the top of the order.” Their argument on the plane is fun, but the little details really sell it—Patrick Warburton’s blank, contented stare once he’s back with Elaine, and the miserable Swedish man nicknamed “Vegetable Lasagna” who gets no end of misery from both of them. Much like George’s plot, the Elaine-Puddy story continues into the next episode, making for a loose two-parter.
That is not true, however, of Kramer’s butter aftershave, which when combined with a suntan makes him a delicious walking turkey that Newman can’t help but think of devouring. This is really a nothing subplot that is highly silly—the image of Kramer rubbing his face with butter gets a laugh, but that’s about it. But it succeeds nonetheless, by embracing its ridiculousness and treating us to that bonkers image I used for the article. The idea that Newman wants to eat Kramer is ridiculous even for him, but if you’re gonna go nuts, why not go nuts?
“The Voice” (season 9, episode 2, originally aired 10/2/1997)
I really like this episode, and I think that’s mostly because I find the voice Jerry and company do delightful. It’s mostly the joy everyone derives from it (“Oh hellooooo! La la la!”) even though it makes no sense. I like seeing pointless camaraderie among Jerry, Kramer, and George that isn’t really driven by the plot. The explanation for “the voice” is thin—apparently it’s what they imagine Jerry’s girlfriend’s stomach does at night, but how they came to that fantasy is beyond me. Does her stomach actually rumble at night? Is there something else that’s funny about it? Who knows, or cares.
According to Wikipedia, the idea came from Spike Feresten, except it was his girlfriend’s talking anus, and Seinfeld changed it to stomach to keep it from being a “body joke,” a decision he regretted. But I actually think he made the right call. It’s somehow funnier that that thin, pretty blonde girl would have a talking tummy.
The voice (and the big smile on Jerry’s face when he does it) is so enjoyable, when George and Kramer and Elaine say they’re sick of it, I felt as crestfallen as Jerry looks. He rejects his girlfriend just so he can continue doing the voice (his rejection consists of an “Oh hellloooo!”) but it doesn’t seem like a strange call. Why hang on to someone who won’t let you have so much fun? The return of the voice, and Jerry’s beaming smile, at the end of the episode is a true triumph.
The only other new plotline this week is the return of Kramerica Industries, which involves Kramer hiring a go-getter intern and successfully indoctrinating him into the cult of Kramer. It’s really all a setup for one of the more mean-spirited gags of the episode, where he and the intern drop a ball filled with oil on top of Jerry’s bummer of a girlfriend. The episode doesn’t go into whether she sustained any injuries, but that’s some toxic material to be drenched with, and apparently Kramer’s protégé goes directly to jail, which is remarked upon briefly then forgotten. Good times!
The continued ballad of Elaine and Puddy wears a little thin by the end of the episode (We get it already: She can’t decide whether to sleep with him or break up with him!) but Warburton always manages to keep even the weaker Puddy stories afloat. The finest moment finds Elaine deciding to call him because of the “funny story” of her thinking he has her gloves—which leads to a callback later on when he declares it a very funny story indeed. It’s also important to note that last season’s theme of Elaine growing ever more pathetic is being stuck to, but at least she asserts herself a fair amount here (even as she pays out bigger and bigger bets to Jerry every time she backslides and sleeps with Puddy again).
George’s “siege” at the playground-equipment office is a great example of how Seinfeld could be strange and still remain within the realm of reality in the later seasons. The pitched battle between George and his boss, who essentially tries to smoke him out of his office with construction work, asbestos, and the removal of his private bathroom, is a wonderfully ridiculous situation, but it never gets completely surreal, and George’s utter stubbornness is obviously completely within character for him. One of the best running gags is the fact that he’s often in Jerry’s bathroom to witness the bets between Jerry and Elaine, probably because the company is putting something disgusting in his food.
There’s a lot of collateral damage by the episode’s end, though. Darren’s in prison, Jerry’s girlfriend is covered in oil, and the playground company bankrupt. Even for this gang, that’s quite the body count.
- That’s Chris Parnell as one of the NBC execs in “The Butter Shave.”
- Kramer heard Kenny Bania was a hit on the Internet. Seinfeld mentioning the Internet… shiver.
- Puddy is fascinated with the different kinds of Swedish kroner.
- We get the same great Jerry joke two episodes in a row: First he snips a shoelace, then trashes a belt, all because they touched the floor and stall, respectively, of a public bathroom.
- “Damn you, Seinfeld. You useless pustule!”
- “I’m like a weed, Jerry.” “I thought you were Hitler’s bunker.” “I’m a weed in Hitler’s bunker.” “Getting a little uncomfortable with the Hitler stuff.”
- George thinks Iron Man is naked under his armor.
- NYU considers Kramerica Industries to be “a solitary man in a messy apartment that may or may not contain a chicken.” Kramer’s response: “And with Darren’s help, we’ll find that chicken.”