Seinfeld: "The Dog"/"The Library"/"The Pen"
A

Seinfeld: "The Dog"/"The Library"/"The Pen"

"The Dog"

Season 3 starts to settle nicely into its groove this week but I think "The Dog" is the weakest of the three episodes I'm reviewing today. Still, it's an amusingly over-the-top one, with not one but two unseen, horrible characters, and it's the first episode with those great fake Seinfeld movie names.

The setup of "The Dog" is a drunken Englishman (named Gavin Polone, who would go on to be Conan O'Brien's manager and a producer on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Gilmore Girls) who Jerry sits next to on a plane has a fit of the vapors, so Jerry needs to take his dog, Farfel. We never see the dog, and since he's a satanic hound that barks constantly and chews everything he sees, it's all the funnier that we don't. The "evil dog" joke gets old quickly but it works just enough because Jerry's OCD tendencies are so profoundly disturbed by having the dog in his bedroom. "Do you pick it up?" Elaine asks about Jerry walking the dog. "Yes, I pick it up," he sighs. "Oh, boy, would I love to see that," she crows. It is hard to imagine Jerry picking up shit.

Kramer's storyline is an amusing mirror image, as he breaks up, then re-unites, with a horrible girlfriend we only see the back of. Michael Richards dials it up to eleven in both monologues: first his disgust ("You contribute nothing to society! You're just taking up space!") then his pleading (which mostly involves him shrieking and crying). It's not much plot-wise, just letting Richards do his thing, but I do like his exaggerated "breakup" ritual with Jerry after they insult the girl and he gets back with her. He goes to get a pot hidden under the sink somewhere and stalks away. "From now on, when we pass each other in the hall, I don't know you, you don't know me." Their reconciliation five minutes later is even cuter.

The best thing about "The Dog" though is the exploration of Elaine and George as a duo, which they haven't been up til now; rather they're just acquaintances united by a mutual friend. When Jerry has to cancel on them because of the dog they're stuck with nothing to talk about, except for their only common ground: Jerry. "Have you ever seen him throw up?" they giggle. It's giddily exciting to see people mocking Seinfeld, seeing as he's usually the chief mocker and George is the chief mockee. It's also very true to life that often the best way to bond with someone you only sort-of know is through gossiping about mutual friends.

Plus, this is the episode where George announces "PROGNOSIS...NEGATIVE" through the intercom not once but twice. Which movie sounds better to you guys, Prognosis Negative or Ponce De Leon? I heard Prognosis Negative was really bad.

Grade: B+

"The Library"

 This episode made an amazing impression on me the first time I watched it, which must have been years and years ago. Philip Baker Hall, surely one of the finest men America ever produced, gives an absolutely riotous performance here as throwback cop Lt. Bookman, except he isn't a cop, he's a library investigator, who tracks down unreturned books, a real straight-arrow fella, too. Hall spits out monologue after monologue about everything that's wrong with Jerry and his generation, and not only is Seinfeld clearly doing everything he can not to laugh, even Hall (who has the stoniest face I've ever seen) looks like he's having trouble once. Needless to say, this episode was written by Larry Charles.

The monologue that made the most impact on me was Bookman's rant about Jerry not having any instant coffee in the house. "Who doesn't have instant coffee? You buy a jar of Folger's Crystals, you put it in the cupboard, you forget about it. Then later on when you need it, it's there. It lasts forever. It's freeze-dried. Freeze-dried crystals." Something about the inherent courtesy in keeping a jar of instant coffee in your house spoke to me and I've done it for years, even though no one I know drinks the stuff (I now live with a coffee drinker, so it's less of an issue).

I'm not sure what exactly Charles makes of Bookman -- whether there's something admirable in his wistfulness for a forgotten era, or if he's just nuts. He comes off as a little nuts by the end of it but I love him anyway. If I made a list of my top 10 New Yorkers, fictional or real, he'd be on it. "'71. That was my first year on the job. Bad year for libraries. Bad year for America. Hippies burning library cards, Abby Hoffman telling everybody to steal books. I don't judge a man by the length of his hair or the kind of music he listens to. Rock was never my bag. But you put on a pair of shoes when you walk into the New York Public Library, fella," he recalls.

It's something about his unerring respect for the New York Public Library, an institution I hold in similar awe. "Y'know that little stamp, the one that says 'New York Public Library?' Well that may not mean anything to you, but that means a lot to me. One whole hell of a lot." He's awesome. But he is a little crazy in his search for Tropic of Cancer, which Jerry remembers returning because he was with a cute girl wearing a sexy orange dress when he returned it. But his memory is rosier than reality, he learns upon meeting the cute girl (now kind of house-marmy) that it was Tropic of Capricorn he returned, while giving Cancer to George.

This episode has some flashbacks (just the one, really, seen from a few different angles) to Jerry and George in high school, both with silly hair. It seems kinda cheap to have the flashback and reminds me of Friends' worst indulgences in its later seasons, although of course this aired years before Friends was even on the air. With Hall dominating proceedings for so long, the tale of George's crazy gym teacher gets a little lost in the shuffle, so the coda that he has the book doesn't get the big laugh that maybe it should.

I think it's a recurring problem of Charles' so far, that he's cramming a lot of weird ideas into his scripts, which blunts the impact of some of the gags. Kramer and Elaine's stories are also only vaguely connected and tied together lazily at the end; Elaine's neuroses are particularly uninteresting, while Kramer at least gets to snare a sexy librarian (who writes bad poetry). But none of the flaws on the side diminish from that hilarious central concept.

Grade: A

"The Pen"

I remembered not liking this episode because it's kind of horrible: it's an insight into the world of New York retirement communities  in Florida (something I feel like episode writer Larry David knows a lot about) and how petty and tense and unnatural they are. But "The Pen" is brilliant in laying that out for the eye to see and it's a great showcase for Jerry's parents being passive aggressive (in Helen's case) and aggressive aggressive (in Morty's case).

This is the only episode of Seinfeld not to feature George; Kramer also doesn't show up (he wasn't in "The Chinese Restaurant" either) which makes sense, because it would have been too crowded, comedy-wise, to have all four of them in the house with Jerry's parents. This episode barely ever leaves the set of the house, only for the final scene, a dinner in Morty's honor, which adds to the claustrophobia of it all.

Jerry and Elaine have come down to pay tribute to Morty but are tying it in with some snorkeling; but Elaine ruins her back sleeping on the pull-out couch the first night (an injury that recurs throughout the show, as I remember) so Jerry is forced to go out alone while Elaine recuperates. We don’t even see him scuba, he just comes back with burst capillaries to the hot, evil condo. There's a creeping sense that both Jerry and Elaine, as well as the viewers, are never going to get out of the house, and the plot device that Helen refuses to turn on the air conditioning makes it even more uncomfortable.

Helen is hilariously cruel with the kindness here, finally relenting to turn on the AC and then wrapping herself in the blanket; or when she tries to insist that Elaine take her bed, saying "we don't even sleep!" Morty, on the other hand, really displays the man-of-honor quality that I love about him. Irritating neighbor Jack Klompus (who returns a few more times) shows Jerry his astronaut pen and offers it to him, but when Jerry accepts, gossip spreads like wildfire that Jack really loved the pen, and Jerry gives it back. Only Morty is outraged that one social convention is wrongly trumping another. "Tell them about when you gave my son's pen back, tell them about that!" he rages at his dinner, while Jack is roasting him. Morty, even more than his son, can't stand to see the rules of the world (such as he sees them) broken.

Grade: A

Stray observations:

Speaking of Elaine being sexy, it's pretty awesome to watch her make chocolate egg creams at Jerry's, using U-Bet syrup and all, even if she does it wrong.

George and Jerry convincing themselves that it's OK to ditch Elaine in line for the movies is a conversation I've definitely had before. What does it add to have someone sitting next to you, right? Also harks back to the days of twin cinemas in Manhattan. I don't know that any remain (there's still one or two in Brooklyn that I know of).

I like how Jerry tugs at the lame red shirt he's wearing after Bookman accuses him of flaunting convention. Jerry's a lot of things, but he's not really a radical.

A couple other choice Bookman lines: "I remember when the librarian was a much older woman: Kindly, discreet, unattractive. We didn't know anything about her private life. We didn't want to know anything about her private life. She didn't have a private life."

And: "Hard feelings? What do you know about hard feelings? Y'ever have a man die in your arms? Y'ever kill somebody?" That is one tough monkey!

When I reviewed "The Deal" last week I noted that Elaine and Jerry's rekindled romance never gets mentioned again -- in the comments, Serenity Now noted that it gets mentioned again in "The Pen." Well-remembered, and I'm sorry for the error. Jerry does indeed mention the multiple arrangements he's tried with Elaine to his mother, a nice way for David to acknowledge the episode.

I have to mention just how sexy Elaine is in "The Pen," what with the heaving chest and the sweat etc. This may just be me imagining things, but I feel like Jerry has definitely gotten over whatever attraction to her he had, because he definitely doesn't seem fazed by the sight of her in this episode.

Elaine is also hilarious on muscle relaxants, shouting "STELLA" to Jack's wife over and over.

More TV Club