“The Hot Tub” (Season 7, Episode 5, originally aired October 19, 1995)
Ugh, I know, get to “The Soup Nazi.” In time, folks, in time! Before then, “The Hot Tub” is a perfectly enjoyable bit of nonsense that counts as an entry in the “Kramer gets a weird incongruous thing installed in his apartment” series of episodes (of which there are more and more as this show goes on). It’s nice how his ridiculous hot tub influences the rest of the show and the big power surge is an interesting way to get to the inevitable finale, where Jerry fails in achieving his goal—helping marathoner Jean-Paul wake up in time for the New York City marathon.
The most interesting thing about this episode, to me, is that Jerry has that goal. It’s so rare that he’d expend such effort to help another person, but really he just wants to get one over Elaine. Still, even for Jerry, it’s pretty altruistic—he rents a hotel for the guy, then, out of concern that he annoyed the wake-up call guy, he bundles him out of there and puts him on his couch. The wake-up call argument is particularly amusing, although it feels more like something that would happen to George. But maybe Jerry is just so focused on achieving this goal that he’s being thrown out of balance.
This episode is actually very well connected, but some of the connections are just flat-out weird. George picking up the habit of calling people “bastards” somehow transmits to Jean-Paul, who calls Elaine’s neighbor’s baby a bastard… what is this, Game of Thrones? The joke lands, but it requires quite a stretch of the imagination (the Jean-Paul character, much like the scary gays of “The Soup Nazi,” is one of those heavily accented Seinfeld characters that isn’t exactly offensive, but probably wouldn’t make it on TV these days).
But I like George’s night out with the Houston Astros boys, because it’s also a bit of a weird reversal and it’s the rare Costanza plot that doesn’t end up with him screwing something up. Instead it’s just a series of cute little misunderstandings by his boss, who thinks George is really frustrated (George’s “busy” act is a sight to behold). Elaine’s J. Peterman thing is a little less inspired in that you’re waiting for the inevitable reveal where she realizes she’s writing the copy in her head, and the episode plays the moment a little too triumphantly; really, it’s a very obvious story note. But maybe I’m just biased against the whole “J. Peterman catalogues are funny!” joke.
Kramer’s the star of “The Hot Tub,” though, with a great stream of physical gags and his general effusiveness about the hot tub, which has to be 120 degrees and requires an industrial-strength heater. “Isn’t that the same temperature of the coffee that scalded you?” Jerry asks sarcastically. “It’s a little cooler.” I love it when Kramer isn’t in on the joke that he’s created.
“The Soup Nazi” (Season 7, Episode 6, originally aired November 2, 1995)
Man, I had forgotten how good this episode is. Here’s what works best about “The Soup Nazi,” and what I think made it such a zeitgeisty success. You get into the whole package—Larry Thomas’ performance, the catchphrases, the characters’ horror and shame at being denied their soup, the general effusiveness about the soup—even without knowing about all the fuss over the episode. Obviously, I can’t back that up but I really think it’s true. Spike Feresten’s script (his first for the show, amazingly) succeeds so well in that opening five minutes where the legend of The Soup Nazi is explained and the meticulousness of his rules (and the quality of his product) is laid out.
So by the time you first see the guy (and what an impressive, Stalin-esque figure Larry Thomas is), just within one moment you’re sold on the whole concept of Jerry and George’s trembling fear. And then the stakes get raised again when George complains about not getting bread and the cashier takes his soup away from him. For some reason, that’s the most shocking bit of the episode to me! That The Soup Nazi bans you is one thing, that he yells at you I can understand. All of that is plausible to me. But it just feels like some unwritten part of the restaurant code that once your food has been given to you, they’re not going to take it away. Anyway, it always makes me laugh when the soup gets snatched out of George’s hands. Everything in the soup place makes me laugh: the characters’ awkward shuffle to the left, the way they hold out their money like 10-year-olds buying candy, and Larry Thomas’ terrifying gaze.
The rest of the episode isn’t actually as strong. The sight of Jerry calling his new girlfriend “shmoopy” is funny once, but wears thin, and the way George ends up catching the PDA disease with Susan and is unable to shake it is really just a retread of the first two episodes where Jerry’s serial-dater quality means he’s always going to extricate himself from whatever shit George is now committed to.
And, as previously mentioned, the gay armoire thieves just kinda make me uncomfortable. I know they’re recurring characters (and I should shout out Yul Vazquez for his wonderful performance in the season two opener of Louie), but they’re just so goddamn lisp-y. The joke itself is funny, and it works because Kramer doesn’t end up getting mocked for being mugged by a couple of gay gentlemen with good eyes for antiques. They are genuinely scary dudes. But still, there’s just something that feels off. Am I wrong? I’m willing to admit that I may be wrong here.
Back to The Soup Nazi himself, bless his terrifying heart. To me, the villain of this piece is Elaine. Sure, maybe her year-long ban is excessive, but she is pretty much the worst customer alive, and if I was in one of those New York holes in the wall where you wait forever to get great cheap food (God knows there’s plenty of ‘em) I’d hate her whole “umm”-ing and “aah”-ing routine. The Al Pacino impersonation counts as pointless small talk, which I guess some restaurant owners would indulge. But The Soup Nazi is too good for that shit. He won’t let it stand. Guys, The Soup Nazi is a goddamn hero.
I’m totally on Kramer’s side in this episode (and his scene where he commiserates with the Nazi is great). The Nazi is not evil, and is not deserving of that silly name. In my eyes he’s more of a Soup Picasso or something: a great artist whose ridiculous foibles and thorny personality you just had to tolerate to enjoy the genius. Sure, he left a path of people in his wake, but you can’t fuck with art. So when Elaine triumphantly shuts him down at the end of the episode by publicizing his recipes, and exclaims “NO SOUP FOR YOU!,” I get the personal triumph. I get that Elaine was wronged. But the whole thing feels tragic to me. It’s not just the recipe, it’s the chef, and Seinfeld’s New York will now be forever lacking (although its loss is Argentina’s gain).
I think the episode agrees with me, because in the post-credits tag, Jerry does something he rarely does: He copies Newman, running to get a big pot so he can claim some of the remaining soup before the place closes. It’s not his finest hour (although it’s not quite as bad as when he pretends not to know his rule-breaking girlfriend), but it’s a sign of the great loss he knows he’s about to face.
- “He’s Trinidadian and Tobagan.”
- George wonders if Kramer has running water. “I don’t ask those questions anymore,” says Jerry.
- “Why separate knob, WHY SEPARATE KNOB!” “Some people like to have the radio alarm louder than the radio.”
- Steinbrenner has some great lines in “The Hot Tub.” I like “She’ll think you’re Hopalong Cassidy!” and “It’s terrible about that Mickey Mantle.”
- I like how Jerry’s apologies for The Soup Nazi are equated to life under the regime.
- “Your top priority is soup.” “Have you tasted the soup?” “Yeah, alright, you made the right decision.”
- George references the pact again. “All I did was shake your hand!” “A-HA!”
- A guy asks for gazpacho “por favor.” Soup Nazi doesn’t like that. “ADIOS MUCHACHO!”
- “If I knew it was for you I never would have given it to him in the first place! I would have taken a hatchet and smashed it to pieces! Now! WHO WANTS SOUP? NEXT! SPEAK UP!”
- Ana Gasteyer is one of the people the Soup Nazi yells at.
- “NO SOUP FOR YOU!” is a catchphrase that always gets me. Some other Seinfeld repeated-phrases start to grate after a while, and I’m sure some get sick of “NO SOUP FOR YOU”—but not me.