I like this episode a lot, but something about it has always bugged me. How the hell does Poppie pee on the couch and make that perfect little stain, in so little time? He just sits down, full clothed, exhales a little, and then gets up to reveal the stain. Would none of it run down his legs? Does he have some sort of special pee delivery system invented solely to ruin Jerry’s couch? And why the hell does he do that, no matter how much trouble Jerry might have caused him? I usually am fine with the stranger twists in a Seinfeld plot but Poppie’s behavior is just too much for me to take here.
“The Couch” is a funny episode, though, especially considering that its main topic of humor is the raging abortion debate going on in America (and this was at the height of the so-called “Culture Wars,” airing just a week or so before the 1994 elections). OK, the show doesn’t really take on the debate, rather mocks the heated nature of the debaters and the intense divisions it can create where divisions did not exist at all – Elaine thinks she’s falling for her simple mover boyfriend until he reveals his feelings; similarly, she is excited to eat Poppie’s duck until Jerry forces her to ask him what he thinks about abortion.
The joke is a good one when it comes to Poppie – it’s ridiculous to expect everyone you interact with in your life to hold your political beliefs, and Jerry gleefully proves that point by prodding Elaine. With the boyfriend, Elaine’s reaction is more understandable, although I don’t know if the show knows that. Jerry certainly doesn’t: he’s baffled by Elaine proclaiming that she loves the guy because there are no games with him. “No games? What is the point of dating without games? You never know who’s winning or losing!” Perhaps correctly, it’s Jerry who reminds Elaine she had better check in with the guy about his abortion beliefs, because to him, conflict seems to be the essence of relationships.
The abortion debate joke is loosely, and not entirely successfully, carried over to Kramer’s subplot where he’s creating the make-your-own-pizza place with Poppie and wants to put cucumbers on his pie (which, gross). Poppie is outraged and says such a thing is not pizza, leading to debate about when exactly pizza is pizza. It’s cute, but it doesn’t line up quite as well as Larry David, who wrote the episode, seems to think it does. And Poppie’s other plot, with his ranting about his mother and the Communists and his inability to eat chili (just where is he supposed to be from, exactly?) is kind of ridiculous. The first time he brings up his mother (who died on the boat to America after enduring years in a commie labor camp), it’s pretty great, but the joke does not endure. And again: how the hell does he pee on that sofa? I appreciate Jerry’s horrified reaction to it (Seinfeld does very well to not overact when he first notices the stain) but it defies the laws of soiling oneself.
Leave it to George to really save the day here. In an almost completely unconnected plot, he joins a book group at the behest of new girlfriend Lindsay (Jessica Hecht, best known for being Susan on Friends but she’s been in lots of other things like Breaking Bad and Bored to Death) who we’ll see more of next week. The assignment is Truman Capote’s 90-page novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s but even that is too much of a struggle for George, who attempts to rent the movie instead from a very dry, very young Patton Oswalt and instead ends up at some nice family’s house to intrude on a father-daughter viewing.
It’s comedy gold to watch George, an unsettling figure at any time, insinuate himself into this situation (it’s an insane stretch that they’d allow this to happen, but it’s the kind of sitcom stretch I’m fine with) and then immediately behave like a passive-aggressive jerk. “So anything to, uh, nosh?” he asks, suggesting they give popcorn a try sometime; later he makes a stink when the guy’s wife comes home and delivers news of an ill family friend. “It’s just very hard to follow with all this talking!” The minute he gets a glass of grape juice, we know what’s coming, and how the plot ties in with the theme of the episode, but it’s still quite a stain he makes on that white couch. His real comeuppance comes in the tag, when he mentions Holly ending up with George Peppard, or Fred. “George, Fred’s gay.” At least he didn’t mention Mickey Rooney, right?
This is one of those Seinfeld episodes that disguises just how callous Jerry is being towards a woman through script innuendo that you have to imagine was insisted on by the network. But essentially, the plot of this episode is that Jerry has sex with a Romanian gymnast he has nothing in common with, hoping for some sort of pleasure explosion, and when he doesn’t get it, literally whines about having to run out the clock for the next few weeks with her just because they had sex. At one point in the episode, Jerry lectures Kramer that he has to consider people’s feelings, unlike the me-minded Kramer. But really, that’s quite a stretch. Jerry cares less about people’s feelings and more about his own feelings, which are impacted when he’s mean to someone.
If that read like a lecture, it really isn’t – I love that about Jerry’s character and I think there’s more honesty to it than there are to most sitcom characters. Of course, that’s Seinfeld’s great gift, but it doesn’t hurt to point it out every so often. “The Gymnast” is pretty unconnected, following Jerry and Katya, George carrying on with Lindsay, Elaine attempting to get Mr. Pitt to approve a takeover of Poland Spring, and Kramer trying to pass a kidney stone. As a young man who’s aware of the coming trials of age, I have to say, Kramer’s description of the kidney stone early on in the episode is just chilling. I don’t know if we’re even supposed to laugh at that shit.
The kidney stone is so horrifying, Kramer’s blood-curdling screams in a circus bathroom compel animals to roar and Katya’s friend, a tightrope walker, to fall to his doom – again, I know there’s a laugh track to some of this stuff, but I just stared on in cold-eyed silence at that stuff. I also like the callback to Kramer’s fear of clowns – he’s in a very vulnerable place this episode!
George’s plot feeds in nicely from last week, which was like a prelude to the imbecility on show this week. He inexplicably keeps getting chances with Lindsay despite ridiculous behavior like eating out of the trash and looking like a squeegee man, as if his ability to explain his way out of situations is messing with the universe’s attempts to end the relationship. On the squeegee man thing: ok, that is a genuine misunderstanding by Lindsay’s mother, but George still deserves it for casually tossing coffee on some guy’s car window. How bad does your peripheral vision have to be that you don’t see that car?
Eventually, mesmerized by a piece of 3-D art, George commits an unforgivable sin by walking out of the bathroom shirtless as if nothing is unusual. George’s habit of removing his shirt during his business is a new one, and although it fits with his character, I wonder if the show remembers to keep up with that concept (I honestly don’t remember). Jerry’s horror at the idea, even though there’s nothing that unhygienic about it, is understandable…there’s just something unsettling about the concept. George, when he realizes his error, acknowledges (to his credit) that he’s finally cooked when it comes to Lindsay, claps his hands together, and bids farewell. Even he can’t talk his way out of that one.
Elaine’s plot with Mr. Pitt involves some very healthy overacting by Ian Abercrombie as he tries to see the image in the 3-D painting (his wide-eyed commitment to the bit is extremely hilarious). The whole thing seems to be going nowhere (OK, the “Moland Spring” thing is funny) until all the bitty jokes unite for one big great silly joke at the end of the episode. A daub of ink, a mention of taking over Poland, a brown riding outfit and a forceful speech all come to a head and suddenly Mr. Pitt is Hitler and you’re amazed you didn’t see it coming sooner. The “guy looks like a dictator when he gives his speech” is an oldie but a goodie in my eyes, and this sight gag is no exception.
"I got a feeling I'm gonna be much smarter than you pretty soon." "That statement alone reflects your burgeoning intelligence."
Elaine's sure the mover is pro-choice. "How do you know?" "Because he...he's just so good looking!"
"If I could talk to the mothers, then have sex with the daughters, then I'd really have something going."
"Think of the flexibility! That sex'll melt your face."
"She's Romanian, what am I going to talk about, Ceausescu?" Jerry moans about Katya.
Their subsequent conversation is great. "He must have been some dictator." "Oh yes, he was not shy about dictating."
"In my family, we used to eat out of the garbage all the time, it was no big thing."
Jerry admires the tightrope guy's cape, thinks they're really coming back.
The resolution to the Katya story is excellent, holding up a mirror to Jerry's behavior. "In my country, they speak of a man so virile, so potent, that to spend a night with such a man is to enter a world of such sensual delights most women dare not dream of. This man is known as The Comedian. You may tell jokes, Mr. Jerry Seinfeld, but you are no Comedian."