“The Doll” (season 7, episode 17, originally aired Feb. 22, 1996)
This is an aggressively weird episode, one where not just one plot element is strange, but just about all of them are. The centerpiece, of course, is Susan’s creepy doll that strongly resembles Estelle Costanza and eventually begins speaking to (or should I say yelling at) both George and Frank, upsetting the former’s sex life in a delightfully sick twist. But there’s also Frank and Kramer playing pool in George’s tiny childhood bedroom; the return of the Maestro, now consistently pantsless; a guest appearance by Kathy Griffin and a bafflingly surreal side-plot about Frank’s Tuscan cousin Carlo that really has nothing to do with anything.
Apparently, this episode originally centered around the “Costanzas” doormat that Sally (Griffin) buys for George and Susan, before the doll became the focus instead. That makes sense, because the doormat plot feels discarded—you expect it to come back around and it doesn’t, making the point of Sally’s appearance just that she makes Jerry’s life very miserable, over and over again (mostly because he keeps relying on her to do stuff, so it’s his fault really). Not to say Griffin’s wacky shtick is unfunny, but it definitely feels like there’s a dangling plot thread based around her encounter with George that was never finished.
Most of the plots in this episode end up dangling, although the end result is usually funny. Elaine’s quest to get a Three Tenors poster signed by “the other guy” is weird and silly, especially since this is the first we’ve heard of the Maestro since their trip to Italy at the beginning of the season. Why does Jerry give her that big box with an electric toothbrush in it? Just for the mild physical comedy of Elaine carrying it? I’d say it was product placement, but for that to be true, Oro-Dent would have to be a real company. But I won’t deny that Elaine spilling the wine on the poster after all that made me laugh, especially considering how much the Maestro sucks.
Jerry’s trials and tribulations are equally fun/pointless. We don’t even see his appearance on The Charles Grodin Show (which was on CNBC and was more of an opinion show, from what I remember) although maybe that’s better left to our imagination. His fury at Sally is great to behold but he never really exacts any kind of revenge or gets any closure; she’s just a pain in his ass, and we won’t hear of her again (at least, not until season nine).
Meanwhile, Kramer and Frank play an extended, Laurel And Hardy-esque game of pool in a too-small room in a scene that’s funny, but goes on so long, it feels like it’s filling space (although it does have a fine resolution when Kramer uses the Maestro’s baton and cleans up). Frank’s subplot about searching for his dear cousin should be a major part of the episode, but instead it’s a crazy sidenote that is inexplicably “resolved” when Frank goes to Tuscany in the tag and talks to an identical dude who says his name is Giuseppe. What? What does it all mean? Oh, what a mess. But a funny one!
And hell, George being tormented by that horrifying doll is enough to save any episode from mediocrity. I only wish there’d been more of it, that the build-up to it talking had been slower and more creepy. As it is, the closing gag where Frank rips its head off is a little too sudden and doesn’t get across the impact correctly (i.e. Frank finally being given an opportunity to release his pent-up rage). But the doll is great, and George talking to it at Monk’s (with the brief return of Deena and Ruthie from “The Gum”) is a nutty spectacle.
“The Friars Club” (season 7, episode 18, originally aired March 7, 1996)
While “The Doll” is madcap and fantastical in its depiction of George losing his mind, “The Friars Club” is much more down-to-earth and depressing on the Costanza front (there’s plenty of wackiness elsewhere) as George, once again, profoundly confronts just how monotonous his life is going to be once he’s married to Susan. He’s overjoyed at the beginning of the episode because the wedding caterers screwed up, pushing the wedding back until June. Callous as it may seem, we get the point after the comparison between his and Jerry’s double date with Susan and her friend Hallie (Samantha Smith, later of Supernatural) and George and Susan eating alone at Monk’s, discussing shoelaces.
Now, I’m sure Susan’s a cool enough person and this is all a projection of George’s horrifying insecurities more than anything else, but it’s clear he shouldn’t be marrying this woman, and the ways he tries to ignore that knowledge (like having Jerry date Susan’s friend) are pretty sad. Much like in the first episode of the season, he takes Jerry’s initial enthusiasm (this time, he says Hallie “could be an it”) for metaphysical certainty, when he should know that when it comes to Jerry, the certainty is always that he’ll get bored and revert back to being alone. It’s partly Jerry’s fault for leading him along, but particularly in this case, George is fueling it.
The hunt for the jacket and the tale of The Sandos Brothers (played by real-life vaudevillian act The Flying Karamazov Brothers) is the madcap plot all this gets implanted on top of, and the two things don’t really gel, especially in the final minutes when it’s revealed that Hallie is some sort of superwoman who’s been on her own adventure and has successfully tracked down Jerry’s missing jacket. It should be a big laugh and it isn’t—too much excitement beforehand, maybe.
Kramer and Elaine are off on their own reservations this week, with Elaine in a very tiresome subplot about a possibly deaf co-worker (played by Rob Schneider, just coming off his SNL stint) who Peterman thinks she has a crush on, and Kramer getting tossed into the Hudson River by a bunch of mobsters. Both of these plots are very weirdly stunted and feel like they’re missing a good five minutes that would help explain what the fuck is going on. Elaine’s thing just ends after Schneider makes a pass at her and she rebuffs him, making the whole thing feel like a waste of time. Kramer’s plot is at least exciting, but just what is up with his girlfriend—other than the Mafia being somehow involved—is never explained. It’s a weird bunch of time-fillers at best, gelling particularly badly with George’s spectacularly depressing A-plot.
- “Believe me, you’re very funny.” “I believe you.”
- “So you weren’t born here?” “No. That’s why I could never be president. It always hurt me! That’s why even at an early age, I had no interest in politics. I refused to vote. THEY DON’T WANT ME, I DON’T WANT THEM!”
- Kramer thinks Jerry should do a bit on packing foam. “Why do they make it so small?” “What’s the punchline?” “It’s all attitude.”
- “We call it, the, uh… the… ” “The place to be!” Jerry Stiller and Michael Richards make a great team.
- “Still wearing that shirt? You’ve had it for five years already! WHY DON’T YOU BUY A NEW SHIRT!”
- “If I live to be 80, I will have lived the equivalent of 105 years.” “Not to mention all the things you’ll accomplish.”
- Jerry’s banter with Hallie is appropriately curt. “How embarrassing this must be for you.” “You just bought your own dinner.”
- “I’m mossy, Jerry. My brain is mossy.”
- “Oh, the gypsies took it! Of course, New York has a lot of gypsies!”
- Cute little cameo by Jackie Chiles at the end of “The Friars Club.” Last time we’ll see him this season.