“The Maid” (season 9, episode 19; originally aired 4/30/1998)
The most memorable aspect of “The Maid” is a little recurring joke in Elaine’s storyline that is among the darkest the show has ever done. Mad that Kramer is trying to send faxes to her home phone (her deleting the never-ending stream of fax noises on her answering machine, as well as George’s voice, is fantastic), she gets her number changed. As she watches the phone guy go about his business—and this is before she has any legitimate beef with him—she puts her hand on a candlestick and entertains the thought of murdering him. “If he just disappeared… would anybody notice?” she wonders.
Is this a sign that the show’s writers were trying out jokes they wouldn’t have dared pitch in earlier seasons? Now that we’re almost at the end, why not volunteer some of the weirder stuff? It’s funny that Elaine does get mad at the phone guy when he reveals that she’s getting a 646 area code—even though her murderous thoughts come before that point. As dark as the joke is, though, I don’t think there’s a larger point to it—it’s just referencing the weird thoughts that everyone has at one time or another. There is an added twist, though—the phone guy ends up disappearing while on another call. Too bad: I like his deadened outlook on semantics and customer service. “Don’t try to lure me into some maze of circular logic.”
It all makes Elaine’s main plot thread—stealing a number with a 212 area code from her dead neighbor, then having to deal with calls from that neighbor’s grandson before offing herself over the phone—seem like sweetness and light. Elaine’s completely cynical attitude to the whole thing is a joy to behold, but I wish there was one extra storyline beat to the plot, since it just ends with firemen bursting through her door, and never ties in with any of the other characters’ stories.
The main plot of “The Maid” is that Jerry hires a cleaning girl and ends up sleeping with her. Her work deteriorates and it becomes unclear what exactly he’s paying her for. The awkwardness of that situation is funny enough, but the whole thing develops into a more elaborate pimp/prostitute parody by the end of the episode, with Jerry arrested for solicitation while trying to pay her final bill, and the guy in charge of the maid service wearing sunglasses and referring to himself as an “independent contractor” for “tax purposes.” It’s all pretty well executed, but it’s not the most original concept, and the show has done pimp jokes before.
George’s final misadventure at Kruger Industrial Smoothing is funniest when the jokes focus on Kruger’s continued disdain for the rules. George is trying to get a new nickname: T-Bone, for whatever reason, strikes his fancy. Jerry proposes G-Bone, but it falls on deaf ears. “There’s no G-Bone.” “There’s a G-Spot!” “That’s a myth!” I’m a sucker for the gag of everyone watching George berate the guy who does get the T-Bone nickname and completely misinterpreting the event because it’s playing out silently. And the callback to the sign-language monkey Koko (Puddy was a fan) is cute. But for me, the biggest laugh is whatever Kruger does. “You’re just hiring new people now? That’s your job, to hire people?” “Yes?” “Okay, good enough for me, Koko.”
“The Puerto Rican Day” (season 9, episode 20; originally aired 5/7/1998)
Slight controversy! For years, this episode didn’t air in syndication because it features Kramer burning a Puerto Rican flag. Even though it’s part of a relatively harmless gag, the image of a mob of Puerto Ricans trashing Jerry’s car later on doesn’t sit particularly well these days. I’ve also seen it referenced as Seinfeld’s worst episode on this very site. It’s certainly not a strong final effort from the later seasons’ writing staff. Pretty much everyone is credited as a writer on this episode (10 in all) because Larry David took the reins for the finale. Maybe too many cooks spoiled the pot—but I don’t really mind the “The Puerto Rican Day,” despite its flaws.
It takes the concept of setting the whole plot in one location from classics like “The Chinese Restaurant” or “The Parking Garage,” but everything’s dialed-up, as was the norm for these final seasons. The characters aren’t so much in a single location as a single environment—the Puerto Rican Day Parade, which has gummed up traffic to the extent that they’re basically stationary. This all unfolds out into a series of weird vignettes: Jerry has a battle of wills with “maroon Golf,” another driver who he matched wits with on the highway before running into him again in Manhattan. (He’s also trying to follow the blowout Mets game they left early that is turning into a comeback.) George goes to see Blimp, a film about the Hindenburg disaster, so he can bust out a line that really killed with the audience the first time he saw it—“That’s gotta hurt!”—but he’s tormented by a prankster with a laser pen. Elaine gets in a cab with Charlie Utter from Deadwood, and then tries to lead a group to safety, Poseidon Adventure-style. Before setting the flag on fire, Kramer poses as industrialist H.E. Pennypacker so he can look at an apartment and use its bathroom.
It’s all very heightened, and only some of the jokes truly land. George’s pathological insistence on saying his line makes perfect sense for the character, but the laser-pointer gag grows stale quickly. Elaine’s Poseidon Adventure is a dated spoof, even for 1998, but I like the core concept of her story: No matter how hard she tries to escape the gang, she keeps ending up back where she started, usually worse off than before. The confluence of made-up characters (Pennypacker, Art Vandelay, and Jerry as Kel Varnsen) at the open house is good stuff, too, and a nice send-off for Vandelay (although that alias plays a part in final gag in “The Finale”).
Unfortunately, “The Puerto Rican Day” lacks the sense of brilliant plotting that pervades the previously referenced episodes. The parade is just a backdrop for a bunch of silly goings-on: When things do converge, like the aliases in the apartment, it’s satisfying, but more often than not, something weird happens without much explanation. Seinfeld’s best gags are all about cause and effect, and there’s not enough of that going on here.
- You think “The Puerto Rican Day” is controversial? I can’t wait to see you all next week for “The Finale.”
- George has gone as far as he can go with George Costanza: “Is this the suicide talk or the nickname talk?” “The nickname.”
- Kenny Rogers threw Jerry off a bus in Alabama: “I had that coming to me.”
- Kramer’s “downtown girlfriend” in “The Maid” is a broad, unmemorable storyline with the exception of his horror at being at 1st and 1st, the nexus of the universe.
- “Well there’s nothing more sophisticated than diddling the maid and chewing some gum.”
- Elaine gives her number to a man alarmed by the 646. “It’s the same as 212, they just multiplied it by three. And then they added one to the middle number.”
- The game of telephone at the counter is a nice, old-fashioned bit of physical comedy. “Did you hear about Newman?”
- George found Blimp morose. “Why dwell on these negative themes?”
- “Hey, I went to Tufts. It was my safety school. So you… don’t talk to me about hardship.”
- Kel promises a bidding war with Pennypacker. “But this time, advantage Varnsen!”