This is kind of an odd one. On the one hand, it has a plot that is really memorable and hilarious—George insisting Jerry not be funny so that he can maintain his reputation for humor with a new girlfriend. Sure, it's sitcommy, as is the inevitable switcheroo of the girl falling for dark Jerry, but it's still great to watch Seinfeld be serious, and the payoff with George is wonderful (more on that later). But on the other hand, this episode features not one but two ethnic characters speaking in "ethnic" English (Chinese deliveryman Ping (Ping Wu) and Pakistani restaurateur Babu Bhatt (Brian George)) to the point that it's almost uncomfortable.
Of course, both Ping and Babu have appeared before, and I might just be a stick-in-the-mud, but the combination of them both in the episode just highlights the problem, I guess. The joke with Babu is Jerry's self-satisfaction at doing a good deed for a lowly immigrant. Last time, he gave him restaurant advice, this time, he gets him a job and apartment. But quickly it blows up in his face, even worse this time, as poor Babu is deported because Jerry accidentally got his mail. Brian George is a funny dude, and I love how quickly he turns on Jerry (and rightly so!) when he realizes he's to blame. But I think the Babu joke was fully worn down by the end of "The Café," so it's really done by the end here.
Let's get to the good stuff. George's amazing luck in getting a lady to think he's funny (even with lame jokes about toasting toast!) means he's instantly paranoid about Jerry's abilities, and rightly so. "Am I being funny now? Is this funny, I'm being funny?" Jerry protests, flinging his arms around and hitting that falsetto tone. "IT'S FUNNY," George shouts, furious. It is funny! Jerry just can't not be funny! Even his throwaway lines like "Biff…" are fantastic. Even better is George's fantasy of Jerry at some sort of apex of hilarity, screaming "HE NEVER HEARD OF CORDUROY!" while the rest of the dinner table rolls on the floor.
Of course, the one thing funnier than Jerry being funny is Jerry being serious, and the show gets the most out of that, especially in his conversation with Cheryl at Monk's where he admits he laughs sometimes in the tub, and she tells him the milk in his coffee is curdled. "I don't care," he sighs. That Cheryl falls for Jerry is inevitable, and it's not because of his dashingly dark personality; it's just the general rules of the universe George tried to bend. Things go good for Jerry, and badly for George. The more George tries to get around that, the worse it gets.
George's real coup is trying to turn even that into a reason for Cheryl to stay with him, confessing to the plot. "You think sickness like that grows on trees? No one is sicker than me, nobody!" Even as he stares defeat in the face, he's willing to try the most humiliating tactics to keep the girl. But even though George's little arc here is a joy to watch, the plots of "The Visa" don't ever really click (Kramer's fantasy baseball camp tales are an amusing diversion) which keeps it from being a real standout.
Here's one where every plot clicks together magnificently. "The Movie" is a very slight episode, but it's the introduction of one of Seinfeld's best recurring gags (pseudo-arty European nudie movie Rochelle, Rochelle) and a great plot-about-nothing that doesn't dwell on any gag for too long. Russell Dalrymple might not approve, but I certainly do.
Much like "The Airport" and many others, "The Movie" is packed to the gills with observational humor about moviegoing, from the weird sizing of popcorn to saving people's seats to different lines for ticket-holders and ticket-buyers. That's all very well and good, but it's not really what I'm here for. Gags about movie conventions that now seem hilariously out of date (there are maybe one or two surviving twin cinemas in New York) are funnier just for their antiquity.
But it's just the madcap nature of everything, with each character bumping the last from the movie theater until they all end up seeing Rochelle, Rochelle (except for Kramer, who'd probably enjoy it the most) that makes "The Movie" so much fun to watch. Of course, there's the obvious point that a sitcom plot like this just wouldn't work anymore cause everyone has cell phones. But that's sort of a sad point! Will we need to write period sitcoms in the future, so characters won't have to invent excuses for why they don't know where their friends are at all times? I'm glad Seinfeld reruns will exist for eternity, either way.
Every character gets a great bit to play in this episode, very aligned with their characters. My favorite is probably Jerry's never-ending odyssey between comedy clubs with the detestable Buckles (Barry Diamond, who never returned despite being hilariously awful) pitching bits to him the whole time. It's a perfect set-up: We get to see Jerry be mercilessly sarcastic and awful to this guy, and yet Buckles doesn't seem to give a shit about it, making Jerry even more withering and the whole thing funnier and funnier. Every time it seems like Buckles is getting too pathetic for Jerry to pick on, he does something bizarre, like ask Jerry to store a coat in his closet and makes it OK again.
Elaine is given the task of somehow saving three seats for the whole gang while they all go out for their madcap adventures. Julia Louis-Dreyfus builds the joke well, starting with a confident Elaine blocking everyone who comes close and ending with a shattered Elaine ceding all of her ground. Just as George is at his best when frustrated (in this episode, with the ticket-ripper and trying to get $7.50 from everyone), Elaine is best when harried beyond belief.
"The Movie" is a lot like "The Airport," now that I write about it. It's picking an easy target for satire but doing so with a plot so deft and a lot of great recurring jokes that it doesn't really matter. Not only is there the hilarious background dialogue of Checkmate and Rochelle, Rochelle ("the king is always in jeopardy!") but there's the wildly different yet all dead-on physical descriptions of the characters everyone attempts, which I'll chronicle in the stray observations. My favorite thing about the episode is that once it builds to its crescendo, with George, Jerry and Elaine all in the movie, there's no big payoff. They all just realize what happened, get out of the dumb movie, and leave.
Another big one, meme-wise, is "The Outing." Much like "master of my domain" from "The Contest," the line that got seared into the public consciousness here was "not that there's anything wrong with that," and it's so clever in its simplicity, I love it every time they say it. It'd work for an episode that wasn't about mistaken outings; really, it could work for any issue that straight white guys might feel guiltily uptight about. While the central gag of "The Outing"—someone mistakenly thinks Jerry and George are a gay couple—is now such a hoary old sitcom cliché, it's something that definitely had to be done.
The weakest gags of "The Outing" are the "ooh, they're gay!" mannerisms Jerry and George (mostly George) pick up accidentally just as sexy NYU journalist Sharon (a young and extremely hot Paula Marshall) enters the room. George fussing over a shirt and Guys and Dolls tickets is funny, don't get me wrong. And like I said, it needed to happen, because they do have such a symbiotic relationship. George being gay, though, just doesn't make enough sense. He'd probably be more comfortable hitting on men than women, and George can never be comfortable. But as Jerry notes, he's often considered gay because he's thin, neat, and gets along with women.
Hell, he's so good with women he even almost lands Sharon by the end of the episode, even though she thinks he's gay the whole time. Let's not discuss the age difference between the two of them (I'm assuming she's a grad student, which makes it OK) because Paula Marshall in her quasi-grungy flannel shirts and washed-out jeans was a big turn on for 12-year-old me watching "The Outing" for the first time. But each comedy-of-errors turn that further convinces her of the gayness (George arguing with Jerry about the pear, Elaine not taking off her coat, the two-tone phone) is more amusing than the last.
The show also gets a lot of laughs out of everyone's reactions, including Kramer's anger that he wasn't told, Helen fretting about buying Jerry culottes when he was five years old, and George's mother in traction again. Even better than George's mother in traction? George's premonition that such an event would occur. "OH MY GOD…MY MOTHER!" he yells, and that's all we need. Honestly, they probably could have spared the on-screen appearance by Estelle (not that she isn't funny); it's almost better to imagine that confrontation in our heads.
Larry Charles' script, like so much of his writing, is a great example of how to wring maximum effectiveness from a limited joke through a mix of deft plotting and throwaway gags. Stuff like George blurting out "my father's gay!" is just priceless, then there are more drawn-out jokes like George's nutty, one-episode girlfriend (seriously, where the hell did she come from?) and his attempt to use one wrong to right another wrong. "I'm very, very gay! Extraordinarily gay! Steeped in gayness!" he protests, later trying to bring Jerry round by rubbing his hair.
"The Outing" was not as groundbreaking as Seinfeld episodes like "The Chinese Restaurant" or "The Contest," because it relies on such standard (if classic) sitcom tropes like the mistakenly overheard conversations and George's fussy, kvetchy behavior suddenly seeming feminine, but it's still a sterling example of how to make those traditions work. Because it's not like there's anything wrong with that. Am I right? *dodges fruit*
- The guy playing Babu's friend ("Show me Babu!") at the end of the episode is Gerry Bednob, who's played many an outrageous Asian in his time in movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
- I love that the supposedly trendy restaurant Isabella's looks like every other restaurant the gang goes to.
- "I'm disturbed; I'm depressed; I'm inadequate! I've got it all!"
- Kramer's whole life is a fantasy camp. "Do nothing, fall ass-backwards into money, mooch off your neighbors, and have sex without dating," George grumbles.
- "Then Hank Bauer, he's screaming, 'Mickey, Mickey, what have you done with Mickey, you killed Mickey!'"
- Kramer is obsessed with Papaya King in this episode, but for New York City hot dogs, I've always been more of a Grey's Papaya fan. But it's all good.
- I think that's Seinfeld and Larry David doing the Checkmate dialogue. Not as sure about Rochelle, Rochelle.
- Kramer describes Jerry as having "a big head with flared nostrils." George describes Kramer as having "a horse face, big teeth and a pointed nose." The cashier says George looked like "Humpty Dumpty with a melon head." George calls Elaine "a pretty woman, kinda short, big wall of hair, face like a frying pan." Elaine says Kramer is "a tall lanky doofus with a bird face and hair like the Bride of Frankenstein."
- The discussion about ugly world leaders never fails to crack me up. "It begins and ends with Brezhnev," Jerry insists. "You ever get a good look at De Gaulle?" asks Elaine. "Lyndon Johnson was uglier than De Gaulle," says George. "Golda Meir could make them all run up a tree."
- Morty was particularly disgusted with the culottes. "Looked like he was wearing a skoit, fer cryin' out loud!"
- "I'm out, baby! I'm out!"