"The Nose Job"
This is the first episode I remember watching where Kramer's wackiness really made an impression on me. "The Nose Job" is alright, but the two main stories pale in comparison to the B-plot, which resolves the little mini-arc we've seen unfold over the past three episodes about Kramer's sexually magnetic jacket.
I'm not watching the supplementary materials on the DVD for my reviews because there's only so much time in the day and I want to evaluate the episodes just on their merit. Still, I vaguely remember that in the inside look on this episode, Julia Louis-Dreyfus recalls how she kept cracking up at Kramer in character as "Professor von Nostrand," banging his pipe on the door frame and contending that Shakespeare is an impostor. Richards was apparently furious that she kept messing everything up by laughing, which shows just how intense a guy he is, but his furious commitment to the bit is what makes it work.
We don't meet Kramer's mother Babs for years (I think it's season six) but she's a better character off-screen than on, especially considering the landlord's description of her: "The woman used to walk around here half naked, sucking Colt 45 from a can. Her big fat stomach hanging out, orthopedic hose up to her knees, screaming down the hall, 'Come back to bed, Albert, you big hairy ape, and bring back that box of Danish!'" Kramer's quick to defend his mother, which is sweet, although you definitely wonder about their relationship after this episode. Is his happy-go-lucky, nakedly emotional nature some sort of evolutionary response to being raised by a crazy drunk lady?
Kramer's bluntness spurs on the main plot, after he tells George's big-nosed girlfriend she should have a nose job, externalizing George's anxiety about the issue and prompting her to go for it. The plot would work better if Audrey's "big nose" wasn't so obviously fake and Cyrano-esque. I guess they had to hire a small-nosed woman and add makeup because of the before-and-after nature of the episode, but I wish her nose wasn't so damn pointy. Better is George complaining to Jerry about the nose, before we actually see it. "You won't think I'm a bad person?" he asks, broaching the topic. "It's too late for that," says Jerry.
The concept of Jerry dating a hot, but otherwise repulsive woman being externalized as Jerry's penis and brain playing a chess game sounds cuter than it is. I don't know what it is, but Seinfeld is really annoying as Jerry's brain. Maybe it's the lame English accent. I was definitely rooting for the penis, but I admired just how penile he became as he shrank into his seat after admitting defeat. That's pretty risqué for Seinfeld. Also, it's not like this is the last time Jerry's going to date an incredibly attractive woman.
One of the most interesting things about this episode is that the woman playing Jerry's squeeze, Tawny Kitaen, was married to BOTH David Cloverdale of Whitesnake and California Angels pitcher Chuck Finley, and she was convicted of domestic violence for the second marriage! Jerry was probably right to get out when he did.
"The Alternate Side"
"These pretzels are making me thirsty!" is one of those TV quotes that's applicable to almost any life situation. Now, it was specifically designed that way by Larry David and Bill Masters for this episode, but that doesn't make it any less genius. Each character says the line, Kramer's piece of dialog in a Woody Allen movie he's shooting, at some point, and each time it perfectly lines up with their problems in life.
For George, who definitely has the best use of the line, it just sums up how generally miserable his life has become. It's interesting how the writers of the show decided to take his life apart after two seasons of him being neurotic, but well-employed. You could argue that George is funny enough without the added wretchedness of joblessness, but you'd be wrong, because just look at how well Alexander plays George's desperate anger and sadness when he fails even at the simple-seeming task of alternate side-parking. "Do you know anything about this pretzel guy?! Maybe he's been in the bar a really long time and he's really depressed because he has no job and no woman and he's parking cars for a living!"
For Jerry, his problems are much simpler. Sure, it might put him out a few thousand dollars, but there's nothing really wrong with the foundations of his life. Barring some sort of collapse in his comedy career, there never will be anything wrong. So what gets to Jerry most is inconvenience, represented here by the rental car place. I don't really like it when Jerry delivers that rant, almost directly to the audience, about the meaning of reservations, because it sounds like something straight out of the comedy club. But his and Elaine's friend-chemistry is never better than here, like when they mimic the fake conversation the rental car lady is having with her "supervisor."
For Elaine, it's that she's just so damn pretty. She's dating 66-year-old author Owen March and even though he's plenty vibrant, it's a two-subway journey to his house. There are worse reasons to date someone, but it's harder if that guy just had a stroke. Louis-Dreyfus expertly manners Elaine's switch from sing-song nursemaiding to whiny breakup so that you barely notice the change in tone. She gets off lightly, though: by the end of the episode, we learn Owen was just dating her for the sex. George gets off not-so-lightly: not only does he fail in another career, but his delay of the ambulance with his car pile-ups could have affected George's brain, and the chaos has Woody Allen considering not shooting movies in Manhattan ever again.
Kramer's problem, of course, is that he's too awesome. After getting a part in Woody's movie (out of the clear blue sky!) and then getting upgraded to having a line, he delivers it so damn well that he breaks his beer glass and injures Mr. Allen. The joke of Kramer putting on movie-star airs once he lands the part is a tired one, but his commitment to (and pride in) the pretzel line makes up for it. Even with all the insanity, "I really nailed that scene," he said. It's nice that someone walks out of the episode happy.
The best scene of "The Alternate Side" (well, apart from George's rant) is the opener, though. I'm pretty sure that's Larry David on the other side of Jerry's car phone as a bluntly honest auto thief. "What are you going to do with it?" asks Jerry. "I dunno, drive around." "Then can I have it back?" "Nah, I'm gonna keep it." Jerry can barely begrudge the guy for stealing the car, considering the keys were in it, which makes for an entertainingly matter-of-fact confrontation between stealer and stealee.
"The Red Dot"
These episodes really are a little trilogy of George behaving badly. In "The Nose Job," it was relatively minor; we can all sympathize a little about the big nose. In "The Alternate Side," he wreaks havoc, but it's hard to be too mad at him, considering what a sad figure he's become. But in "The Red Dot," I lose all hope for Mr. Costanza. I don't know just how creepy we're supposed to find him having sex with the cleaning lady and then saying to his boss, "was that wrong?" But it comes off as pretty creepy.
George is offered redemption in "The Red Dot": Elaine gets him a job as a reader at Pendant and he takes to it quickly, even if in the interview he cites Art Vandelay as his favorite author. "He's an obscure writer, a beatnik, from the Village." "What has he written?" "Venetian Blinds." It's a job so easy, he can do it drunk on Hennigan's, Seinfeld's preferred fake brand of Scotch. But he has sex with the Panamanian cleaning lady on his desk and vomits from drinking afterwards, which is played well for laughs but sounds pretty fucked up when you think about it.
He shows just what he thinks of the cleaning lady by trying to pass off the second-hand cashmere sweater, bought for cheap because of a telltale red dot, that Elaine has already rejected. "All I see is a very cheap man holding a sweater trying to get away with something," Jerry says when George argues the case to him, and he's right on the money. Usually there's a smidgen of sympathy to George's more-desperate antics but Larry David, the episode's writer, is pretty brutal here. About the only sympathetic quality he has is the lame bobble hat he's repeatedly wearing. But even his desperate pleas to Elaine that note how sad his clothing is starting to look ring false.
Kramer gets another fine showcase with his drinking of Hennigan's, a scene that's always stood out for me considering how the characters of Seinfeld so rarely drink. Even Jerry takes a swig at one point. Kramer's drunken hugging of George is run-of-the-mill drunkard writing but his imaginary TV ads for Hennigan's are genius. "Say you got a big job interview, and you're a little nervous. Well, throw back a couple shots of Hennigan's and you'll be as loose as a goose and ready to roll in no time. And because it's odorless, why, it will be our little secret!" It's right out of Mad Men.
Another interesting thing about "The Red Dot" is that it integrates a small plot into Jerry's comedy club scenes, something I can't remember the show ever doing again (but my memory has been wrong in the past, correct me if I'm wrong, commenters). Elaine's boyfriend, a recovering alcoholic, falls off the wagon when Jerry accidentally hands him a drink and then shows up as a drunken heckler midway through the show. By the end, he's all better again. I like the backgrounded style of this little plot, something Seinfeld does from time to time, because it lets them throw in as many jokes as they possibly can while leaving us to fill in the boring parts.
In "The Nose Job," Jerry's comedy club is really smoky. What a bygone age! (In New York, at least).
George is at least honorable enough to admit he's more physically repulsive than Audrey, which earned him a little bit of my sympathy.
I assume there's alternate-side parking all over America, right? Before the housing got prohibitively expensive, it was usually cited as Manhattan's biggest flaw.
Kramer is not taken with Jerry's delivery of the pretzel line. "No, no, that's no good. See, you don't know how to act."
Elaine thinks Jerry would like Owen. "Why do people always say that? I hate everyone, why would I like him?"
Sid the parking guy is outraged at George's incompetence. "My question to you is, who's putting your pants on?"
George's attraction to cleaning women is pretty kinky, even for him. "She starts vacuuming, back and forth, back and forth, her hips swiveling, her breasts…" "…convulsing?" Jerry offers.
I could swear Seinfeld loses it again in the scene where George's cheapness is revealed. Breaking character is something he never quite stops doing, and something Larry David occasionally seems to do in Curb Your Enthusiasm. I like it myself, but I know it brings some people out of the scene.