“The Maestro” (Season 7, Episode 3, originally aired October 5, 1995)
After the breakneck plot advancement of the season opener, Seinfeld throttles back a little and gives us a nice, broad episode that has moments that are up with the best of ’em, but is probably most famous for introducing recurring character Jackie Chiles (Phil Morris), a broad parody of Johnnie Cochran (if you don’t know who that is, then suddenly I feel really old) who likes to say things like “It’s outrageous, egregious, preposterous!”
Jackie Chiles is a one-note character, but he’s a very funny one, and like most Seinfeld recurring characters, he’s not overused to the point of exhaustion (he pops up in two or three episodes per season, maybe, but that’s about it). Obviously, Phil Morris’ staccato delivery and self-assuredness are what’s brilliant about Mr. Chiles. But for me, I’m hooked just by his eyes when you see him for the first time. I love the way he stares at Kramer. He’d convince me I could win millions in a caffè latte lawsuit with a stare like that one.
Kramer’s coffee litigation is a carryover from last week’s episode; George also references last week’s rabbi; both episodes were written by Larry David. Since the “hot coffee lawsuit” was a much-discussed topic in the mid-’90s, when you bump that together with a Johnnie Cochran spoof this is a surprisingly topical episode of Seinfeld, with topics that may not resonate as well with today’s syndication audience. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s funny stuff. Jackie Chiles works even if you don’t know who Johnnie Cochran is; and the concept of Kramer suing over spilled coffee seems ridiculous enough for him to do, as does the concept of him taking a lifetime of free drinks as reward.
The Mark Metcalf (who later played The Master on Buffy!) character of “the maestro” is more problematic. He’s just so despicable, at least to me, and I think to Jerry as well. That’s gotta be why Jerry is moved to go to Tuscany just to prove this guy wrong (although Mafia pressure also plays a part): because he’s a major-league asshole. Metcalf sells it well, especially in that scene where he insists Leonard Bernstein called himself “the maestro” and so he should get the same honor. What doesn’t make sense is what Elaine sees in him—sure, he has a Tuscan villa, but god, the guy’s a creep.
Still, an effective creep, and his irritating air-conducting to symphonies in the car is hilariously despicable. His insistence that Tuscany is “booked solid” is even better in how awful it is. But I wish there had been more of a payoff at the end of the episode. He just seems a bit miffed that Jerry showed up in Italy after he took Elaine there. But, I suppose the actual end of the episode is pretty cute: George’s high-and-mighty scheme to give the security guard at Susan’s uncle’s store a chair backfires when it rocks him to sleep and the place gets robbed. I think that could have been the post-credits tag, and the maestro in Tuscany the real ending, but I guess I’m nitpicking at this point. In all, it’s a funny episode, but really just a cute collection of plots jumbled together with a couple great new characters.
“The Wink” (Season 7, Episode 4, originally aired October 12, 1995)
Here’s another one that’s very funny, but lacks some of the emotion and dynamism of those amazing first two season 7 episodes. I think “The Wink” is best known for predicting, in advance, Buck Showalter’s firing from the Yankees—it’d be Joe Torre and World Series victories after this year. That closing George Steinbrenner monologue certainly is very funny for any Yankees fan (or anyone who hates George Steinbrenner) who suffered through his itchy trigger finger for so many years.
“The Wink” does have a great central premise, though: Jerry squirts some grapefruit pulp into George’s eye, and it means he keeps involuntarily winking, suggesting things at work (and with Kramer) that don’t actually exist. Here’s why I like this plot: Number one, it actually leads to success for George (he gets a promotion and praise from Steinbrenner) and it’s through no work of his own. He actively tries to stop it from happening but he can’t. If George is going to succeed, it has to be through something like that—it’s not quite “The Opposite”-esque, but it’s similar enough. George’s personality is essentially being taken out of the equation.
Number two, I like that Jerry eating the grapefruit leads to all the stories of the episode. George winks, which means Kramer sells the Yankee-signed birthday card and has to get it back from a sick kid. Jerry eats healthy food, which means he turns off Elaine’s cousin whom he’s dating, and in turn ruins her new boyfriend because he stuffs the cousin’s mutton meat in his jacket pocket which Elaine borrows (attracting the attention of many a dog). It’s great when Seinfeld extracts so much plot movement from so little.
Number three, it’s funny when George winks like that. It’s just funny!
The problem with the episode is that, even with all that said, it’s not really a side-splitting episode. Elaine’s growing fear of dogs is pretty good. Kramer dealing with a paraplegic kid is nice and dark. And I like how the show disposes of poor Mr. Morgan through a series of misunderstandings. But the episode isn’t that laugh-out-loud funny. That’s the only thing that keeps it from being a classic. The set-up’s great, it’s well plotted, and there are plenty of good ideas, but it didn’t totally click for me. It might be that both of the one-shot characters (Elaine’s cousin and her wake-up call boyfriend) aren’t particularly interesting, so the stakes in those stories are unusually low.
- “Why would anyone eat canned fruit. I mean, can anyone answer that?” asks Jerry. “Fresh fruit is available! It’s there! It’s two aisles over!” George: “Scintillating as always.”
- “You give me one coffee drinker on that jury, you’re going to walk out of there a rich man.”
- Susan knows where her bread is buttered with George. “There’s a lot of women who’d love to be in your position right now,” he claims. “Name one,” she retorts.
- George: “I can sense the slightest human suffering.” Jerry: “Are you sensing anything right now?”
- “No one can tell what a balm’s going to do! They’re unpredictable!”
- “I can’t get a sublet? A guest room? A cot? Nothing?” “It’s booked solid!”
- I like the scene with Jerry and the mobster, even though it’s ridiculous. “2 millione lire!”
- Elaine says her date sounds good-looking. “You’re going by sound? What are we, whales?”
- “Pulp couldn’t make it across the table!” “Pulp can MOVE, baby!”
- Kramer gets called “Jughead” by Jerry, so he christens Jerry Archie, Elaine Veronica and George Mr. Weatherbee (the most accurate of them all).
- “Women don’t respect salad-eaters!”
- “Thanks for mutton!”
- Elaine explains sleeping head-to-toe to Jerry. “So what, your genitals are still lined up.”