Seinfeld: "The Face Painter"/"The Understudy"
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Seinfeld: "The Face Painter"/"The Understudy"

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Seinfeld

"The Face Painter"/"The Understudy"

Season 6, Episode 23
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Seinfeld

"The Face Painter"/"The Understudy"

Season 6, Episode 24

"The Face Painter" (Season 6, Episode 23, originally aired May 11, 1995)

Seinfeld season six has its ups and downs. Its main problem is that it doesn't have a strong enough through-line like seasons four (the pilot) or five (George's fall and rise). There's really strong episodes and there are some season-long plots (well, one -- Mr. Pitt). But the whole thing just doesn't hang together quite as beautifully. That's an extremely roundabout way of me saying I really like the last two episodes of season six.

"The Face Painter" is an absolute classic. I say that mostly because it's the episode that really introduced us to David Puddy (who promptly disappears for two whole seasons). Sure, we saw him first back in "The Fusilli Jerry," but this man, alternating between being scarily even-keeled and a titanic font of primal rage, is the man we all know and love. The Puddy plot is distractingly simple: it turns out he's a New Jersey Devils fan, and when he gets to go to a game, he gets excited.

I don't know if Larry David wrote this script and it just turned out that Patrick Warburton was good at that kind of material. I have a feeling it's more along the lines of: he realized that aligning Patrick Warburton, sports-fan taunting and screaming, and a camera was like combining peanut butter and chocolate. It just had to happen. The fact that such "Patrick Warburton yells loudly" material crops up on Family Guy and the like these days hasn't diminished the initial shock of Puddy yelling at the priest who almost hits him with his car, or standing with Jerry and George in his D-E-V-I-L-S shirtless dude line in the crowd.

Of course, that's only half of the gag, and the even better half is Puddy's completely dry replies to Elaine's questions about his fandom. "Oh, you know. Support the team." And as we see with his musings on having dip for dinner, that's just how he normally talks (in "The Fusilli Jerry," he's a little more close to a normal human being) and, at least to me, every word out of his mouth is hilarious. I think there are some people out there who don't really love Puddy, but I am not one of them. He's probably my favorite recurring character in the whole show after Frank.

"The Face Painter" is also just a very nicely-constructed episode, although it does hinge on a bit of anti-social behavior from Jerry that is kind of difficult to believe. He refuses to call jerkbag Alec Berg who gave him Rangers tickets to thank him after the game, which I think is etiquette most people could agree upon. Sure, it's obvious Jerry just doesn't want to do it because he hates the guy, but still, I'm on Kramer's side here. Luckily, Kramer's emoting carries off all of those scenes so well you don't really care about Jerry's obstinate behavior.

There's a couple of weird dangling plots that end amusingly, but abruptly. George falling in love with a girl called Sienna ("yeah, he's dating a crayon," Jerry says), then telling her he loves her and getting the response "wanna get some food?" should be an A-plot, really. Instead, it's a very funny, but surprisingly slight B-plot that has a red herring about her being hard-of-hearing that is callously, and brilliantly, dismissed near the end of the episode. The abruptness is what makes the joke really land, but it's funny that it never gets picked up again.

Kramer's thing with the monkey is what it is. Monkey humor has never done it for me, but I have a weird admiration for it. Obviously, if you're going to pair a TV character with a monkey, Kramer's a pretty good one.

"The Understudy" (Season 6, Episode 24, originally aired May 18, 1995)

This is an incredibly broad episode with a lot of fun callbacks (Rochelle Rochelle, Frank's "stop short" move, Kramer's key ring, a black and white cookie, Macaroni Midler) and a guest appearance by the lovely Bette Midler who isn't afraid to send herself up as kind of a mean diva lady (although she gets a nice looong applause line after singing the Rochelle Rochelle: The Musical song). It doesn't have the same awesome impact as the last two finales ("The Pilot" and "The Opposite," in case you forgot) but by all accounts it's still a good episode.

It does, however, introduce the J. Peterman character, a character based on a joke that really suffers with age. A lot of Seinfeld's pop culture references still work, but that's one that really doesn't unless you're a Seinfeld fan. J. Peterman gets a lot of quirks as he goes on, but in this episode, you really just have to know that the catalogue is full of long ridiculous rambling descriptions of their raincoats. Which, these days, you probably don't. His first lines (dressed in that white coat, talking to Elaine from under an umbrella) are admittedly very impressive, and John O'Hurley has that beautiful radio voice that sells it brilliantly. "Perfect for jumping in a gondola." But by the end of the episode, I'm already sick of the gag, as is Jerry, backing away out of boredom in a nice bit of meta-humor.

The main Midler plot nicely gets everyone involved -- Kramer as an admirer, Jerry and George as unwitting enemies in a softball game, Elaine as…well, OK, Elaine's not involved. I like the setpiece of the softball game (The Improv vs. Rochelle Rochelle: The Musical) but wish they could have involved some more recurring characters and really made a meal out of it. As it is, the sight of George barreling through Bette at home is very welcome, but the rest of Bette's material is a little flat when she isn't singing, since she's just confined to a hospital bed.

Elaine's story, though, is what carries this episode off magnificently. Bringing in Frank is rarely a bad idea, but bringing him on and having him speak Korean is just at another level. I really think the scene where the Korean manicure ladies are being mean to him and insulting his sweater is kinda sweet and sad and upsetting. It's something about how Jerry Stiller carries himself even when he's wearing those wacky clothes (and that crazy collar). Frank just isn't supposed to be talked to that way. Sure, he's weird and annoying and crazy and a bad father, but badly dressed? Come on, ladies.

The great twist in that scene is that this plot is no longer about Elaine, who is banished to go walk in the rain crying. No, it's Frank's tale now, as he's reunited with his long-lost Korean love, whose father he offended years ago by not removing his shoes in the house (he has a foot odor problem). You don't even see the twist coming, despite how obvious it is. It just seems normal that Frank would ramble on to Elaine about the affair and all that, simply because… who the hell do you think he talks to in his day to day life?

Of course, the plot ends as quickly as it begins, with a shocking gag much like George's girlfriend last episode. Frank tries his trusted move of stopping short, but she doesn't stand for that kind of behavior and that's the end of the affair before it ever got started again. I almost wish they had carried it on, because nothing interests me more than Frank's weird personal life, but I'll admit, as a joke for the sake of a joke, it's a pretty good one.

So, that's the end of season 6! We move on to a much more structured year, Larry David's last, after I take my customary one-week break. I'll see all you fools then!

Stray observations:

George's thoughts on toilet paper never changing are endlessly fascinating to Sienna. "Because really, what else can they do?"

Gary Fogel, Jon Lovitz's character, is now dead -- car accident while adjusting his toupee.

Jerry complains about people who get on plane with nothing to read. "These are the people who want to talk to you!" Elaine agrees. "I will never understand people!" "I know! They're the worst!"

Jerry says if a girl doesn't reply with "I love you," 'That's a pretty big matzo ball hanging out there."

Puddy yells at Messier a lot at Madison Square Garden. Of course, we Rangers fans of the 90s know that while the Devils did capture the Stanley Cup in 95, they never met the Rangers (who beat them in the 94 Eastern Conference finals) in the playoffs. The Rangers beat the Nordiques in the quarterfinals and got swept the Flyers in the semis. Fucking Flyers.

Oh, the thing with the priest in The Face Painter is funny. "EL DIABLO!" is almost always a funny line.

Kramer really freaked out Barry the chimp. "He's even curtailed his auto-erotic activities."

George realizes she never heard the I love you. "It's like the whole thing never happened, it's like when Superman reversed the rotation of the earth to save Lois Lane!" "So, are you gonna say it again?" "That's the question Jimmy!"

Kramer's line is one of my favorite New York gags in the show. "If you don't want to be part of society, why don't you just get in your car and move to the EAST SIDE."

But Puddy's kiss-off is the best line of all. "I'll be back, we'll make out."

Frank calls Reverend Sun Myung Moon a hell of a nice guy with a face like a "biiiiig apple pie."

"Wind Beneath My Wings? Give me a break!"

Jerry's crying girlfriend is a gag that works once (with the hot dog) and no more times after that.

"If I don't get a black and white cookie, I'm not going to be very pleasant to be around!"

The Rochelle Rochelle song is beautiful. Do you think Kramer and Bette had sex at his place?