“The Little Jerry” (season 8, episode 11, originally aired 1/9/97)
At one point in this ridiculous episode, Jerry throws up his hands and tells George, “This is a little too much for me. Escaped convicts, fugitive sex ... I have a cock-fight to focus on.” I don’t know how knowing a nod this is to how over-the-top this episode gets, but it’s right on the money. Seinfeld can easily handle one or two outlandish plots, but you need something more observational to ground an episode -- the real flights of fancy are much harder to pull off (although writers like Larry Charles were always pretty awesome at doing that).
Here, we’ve got Jerry and Kramer entangled in cock-fighting simply because Kramer has a prize rooster that he called Little Jerry (and originally bought for the eggs). George, in his role at the “foundation” (he accidentally answered the phone) visits a prison, strikes up a relationship with a prisoner, and then unwittingly aids her escape from jail after she’s denied parole (because of his meddling). Elaine’s got the only vaguely normal plot here, dating Kurt (John Michael Higgins) a man who shaves his head and realizes he’s going bald when she encourages him to grow it back.
Higgins is always funny -- his weird appearance in this episode is jarring, to the extent that I appreciated Jerry asking “is he from the future?” But even his plot gets sucked into the weirdness, and he ends up imprisoned for fighting a cop who thinks he looks like George because of the hair loss. George’s role in aiding and abetting a kidnapping goes unmentioned after Kurt gets nabbed. Still, this is probably the strongest portion of the episode, especially George’s mentoring of Kurt, acting like a doctor giving him a year to live (with hair).
The rest of it is just madness. It’s ruined from the first scene, a dumb unconnected opening joke where Jerry tells Elaine that he waits less time the better he knows you, and the two of them decide to ditch George even though he’s not due for another ten minutes because of this rule. The social rules of conduct are very important to Seinfeld, which is why such a nonsensical quirky one like this really sticks in my craw. Sure, you get a joke at George’s expense, but you can get one a lot better than that, folks.
George’s affair with the prisoner is standard Costanza stuff -- he’s less in love with her than the idea of a woman you can only see under supervised visitation once every few days. That joke gets hammered over and over again, but there’s nothing else there, so it basically has to resort to her breakout from jail. By that point, things already feel very silly indeed, so it doesn’t really harm the episode so much as it confirms what a nutty one it is. The cock-fighting, the A-plot if “The Little Jerry” has one, is mostly just a little icky because it’s about cock-fighting. I like the seed of the idea -- Jerry wants his bounced check taken down from a bodega (remember when people used to pay for things in bodegas with checks?). But it just goes to a weird dumb place. Like everything in this episode.
“The Comeback” (season 8, episode 13, originally aired 1/30/97)
This one is also rather silly, but the stories are just grounded enough to make it work. You have to accept George’s wacky trip to Akron to deliver a comeback to someone who mocked his shrimp-eating ways at a Yankee meeting. But that’s a lot easier to do when Jerry’s story is him fighting a pathetic fake tennis pro and Elaine is romanced by the arty staff picks guy at her video store. Look, this stuff isn’t gritty realism, but it’s also not cockfights and prison break-outs. That’s all I ask.
Things are pretty disconnected in this episode, although Kramer, Jerry and Elaine all sorta come together by the end (just for a cheap, quick gag, but it’s a decent one). Jerry’s battle with Milos is the least substantial and thus the least interesting. Simple stuff: Milos is a tennis pro who runs a club, and makes Jerry buy a fancy racket, but then Jerry realizes he’s bad at tennis, and blah de blah. The whole thing doesn’t even get resolved, just tied into Kramer’s fear of comas. We never find out who wins the Jerry vs. Milos tennis game, and we don’t really care either.
Elaine’s romance with Vincent (played, oh so briefly, by a young Danny Strong) is more fun, although as a Phantom of the Opera spoof it feels very stale now and probably even felt stale in 1997. But I like the communication that goes on between them through the video aisles and Vincent’s battle for artistic supremacy with the more middle-of-the-road Stu (whose recommendation of Weekend at Bernie’s 2 doesn’t go over well with Elaine). It turns out, of course, that Vincent is a teenager leveraging Elaine to buy him vodka, fireworks and cigarettes.
The connection between these episodes, actually, is how pitiful Elaine’s romantic prospects have become (while the boys continue to date increasingly beautiful specimens). In “The Little Jerry,” she seriously considers marrying Kurt, deadpanning to Jerry, “It's 3:30 in the morning. I'm at a cock fight. What am I clinging to?” Here, her soul mate turns out not only to be underage, but also not even really interested in her. Poor Elaine. It’s not like the boys don’t date their share of wackos, but the dichotomy is increasingly obvious.
Oh, this week we also have Kramer’s developing fear of a coma, which plays out largely as a background plot but does give us one great scene where he contemplates the various possibilities a DNR might cover and Elaine gives him increasingly blunt advice. That is my favorite role for her – it’s best when she keeps it amoral and badass. Also, you get a funny guest spot for Ben Stein and we all get to think about how creepy and weird he is.
George’s comeback plot gets a lot of play in the episode, and the audience eats it up, as he clings to his “jerk store” joke premise that everyone else pokes holes in, saying it’s a matter of artistic integrity. If there’s some analogy at work here, I don’t understand it, but what I do understand is that George eating shrimp from ever-larger bowls is funny. The episode would be even better if he did it in every scene.
George is lofty about his baldness. “These are not scraps. These are historic remains of a once-great society of hair.”
He doesn’t like that Kurt shaves his magnificent head of hair. “That's like using a wheelchair for the fun of it!”
Best moment of “The Little Jerry” is George ordering a tamale in slow motion.
“Trust me, Kramer. Given the legal opportunity, I will kill you.”
Milos tries to silence Jerry in some weird ways. “He chose to offer you his wife as some sort of medieval sexual payola?” “He’s new around here.”
Of course, Jerry didn’t sleep with the wife. “Because of society, right?” “Yes George, because of society.”
Kramer didn’t know people could come out of comas. “I didn’t know it wasn’t possible to know that,” Jerry replies.
George hates that Kramer spoiled the movie. “How was Eric Roberts as the husband?” “Unforgettable!”
The Comeback does tie George’s plot to everything else in one way – when he goes to his plan B comeback, “I had sex with your wife!” it turns out his nemesis’ wife is in a coma.