Seinfeld: "The Kiss Hello"/"The Doorman"
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Seinfeld: "The Kiss Hello"/"The Doorman"

 “The Kiss Hello” (Season 6, Episode 17; originally aired February 16, 1995)

This is an odd one that never really comes together for me. I like the upshot—Jerry, who hates being kissed hello by people he hardly knows in the lobby, rejects Kramer’s concept of having pictures in the building so that everyone knows his name. But once the rejection becomes public knowledge and everyone gets mad at him, Jerry is perturbed and tries to get back in everyone’s good graces. It works because Jerry is no George. He likes to be liked (he’s a comedian after all) and would take his anti-social commitments only so far.

But the episode itself is a little flat, which is especially surprising since Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld wrote it. One theme really works: George’s excellent hearing, referenced in a hilarious non sequitur at the start of the episode, comes into play when he overhears Wendy (Wendie Malick in a huge wig) talking about her ski trip. It’s such a Superman-like skill but employed in the lamest way possible, and George’s pride over it is just tremendous. The Wendy plotline, with her ridiculous hair and her irritating medical office practices, is resolved very satisfactorily, but nothing else really goes anywhere.

There’s the return of Jerry’s kindly nana, who is bundled off into an old folks’ home because, in her dementia, she gives away a secret about $50 Leo never gave to Helen when they were kids. This plot not only underuses Leo, which is a crime, but also never gets resolved. Morty’s just going to keep typing away calculating interest rates and calling Leo a crook, I guess. The nonchalance with which Jerry’s grandmother is put into a home would be funny if more attention was paid to it (nobody really seems too alarmed, even though Jerry is sure the whole thing happened over $50), but instead it’s just a dark little detail. Jerry confirms the $50 theft at the end of the episode, but that’s all we find out. Maybe this comes up again later, and I forgot about it?

Other stuff like Kramer meeting Wendy is all set-up. They go out off-screen and break up when she changes her hair, again a bit of an afterthought. Elaine and Wendy randomly go on a skiing day-trip from New York, and god knows where that happened. There’s great bits here and there—Elaine stumbling down the street in her ski gear is a great bit of physical comedy—but this is an episode that feels underinflated and overstuffed at the same time, in that none of the stories get enough time to breathe, and at the same time, they all feel pretty lame. Oh well. Larry David would perfect his hatred of the “stop-and-chat” in Curb Your Enthusiasm, which the “kiss hello” plot kept reminding me of.

“The Doorman” (Season 6, Episode 18, originally aired February 23, 1995)

I don’t know if this is quite at the level of a famous episode, but Larry Miller’s portrayal of the surly, threatening doorman in Mr. Pitt’s building is seared in my memory for whatever reason and was one of his calling cards to appearing as grumpy dudes in films for years to come. “The Doorman” (written by Tom Gammill and Max Pross) has a couple of jokes that fall flat, but Miller’s unnerving attitude and Jerry’s almost childish fear of him makes the whole thing very worthwhile. Plus, this is the episode with “the bro,” Kramer’s male bra invention, giving us the welcome return of Frank and Estelle Costanza.

It’s been so long since the Costanzas’ last appearance on the show in “The Chinese Woman,” right at the start of the season, that you forget about the concept that Frank is living with George while separated from Estelle. It certainly caught me off-guard and left me wondering why the comic genius of this plot wasn’t used more this season. I can buy the argument that Frank and Estelle should be parceled out carefully, lest they overwhelm the show, but still, episode 4 to episode 18? That’s a big gap.

Plus, as we see here, the simple visual of Frank in George’s apartment (which still looks like a 12-year-old’s bedroom) is automatically hilarious. That closing shot of him climbing into bed with his son is simultaneously funny, sad, creepy, and pathetic, and that’s before he offers him kasha. The main plot of his unseen, horrifying man-boobs is a little more stale in the present day but is handled correctly, especially once Kramer’s business venture is factored in and Frank starts offering helpful suggestions. “Bro’s no good. Too ethnic. How about…the manssiere?”

We’re also treated to a great George/Estelle scene (where he asks just how “bosomy” his grandmother was) and a patented Frank freakout at the bra sales guy who now wants to date Estelle. Sure, that freakout is maybe a little too sense-making for Frank (who usually bugs out about the weirdest shit) but any time he flies off the handle, it’s guaranteed to be funny.

Frank’s plot ties in very well with Jerry and Elaine’s plot, in which Jerry fails at filling in for the scary doorman and has to get a new couch for Mr. Pitt’s building’s lobby, with leads George to try and get rid of Frank by ridding himself of his couch. In an even better call-back, since that couch is the one Poppie pee-stained back in “The Couch,” we get to see Poppie again, and he even tosses in an abortion reference for good measure.

What makes Miller so good as the scary doorman is that he’s genuinely unpredictable, to the point where you’re not sure when to laugh. He’s so mad at Jerry, to the extent that you feel Jerry must have done something wrong, but he’s obviously also horrendous at his job and a generally evil human being. The gag where Jerry puts on the doorman hat and becomes surly himself, because of the menial nature of the job, makes sense, but I almost would have preferred to keep Miller’s character as an unexplained malevolent force that just disturbs Jerry so profoundly.

All that said, the one element of this episode that really doesn’t work is the spoofy, noir-y stuff where Jerry and Elaine try and keep their stories straight and act like they’ve been framed. It almost feels like we lost more scenes of that, since it only crops up at the end and really makes no sense. Likewise, Kramer’s sub-plot about pretending to mug Jerry is too nonsensical and ends with an easy movie parody (Marathon Man) for the sake of a quick laugh and nothing else.

Stray observations:

  • “The Kiss Hello” is Seinfeld’s real 100th episode, in that it was the hundredth produced, although the 103rd aired.
  • Re: Frank eating kasha: We’re really supposed to believe he’s Italian?
  • George wishes the flamenco was popular again; he'd do it. "You have an affinity for it because it's the dance of a very proud people," Jerry says.
  • George's protests about doctors not looking at stuff outside of office hours is great, vintage Larry David material. "They're so mentally gifted that we mustn't disturb their delicate genius unless it's within the confines of their office! With huge sums of money involved, then the delicate genius can be disturbed!"
  • "If you could say, touch a breast as part of the kiss hello, then I could see the value in it."
  • Wendy wants to date Kramer. Elaine is confused. "Is there anything wrong with him?" "I'm just thinking about the question."
  • Miller's opening line is so terrifically creepy. "What are you, the boyfriend? Here for a quickie?"
  • Frank is a big fan of cha-cha music.
  • "I was throwing up all night! It's like my own personal Crying Game."
  • "You had me lying in urine!"

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