It seems like all the stories are intertwining by the end of “The Pie,” but really, they stay completely separate, linked instead by a common trope: in Jerry and George’s case, their furious shaking of the head when being offered food, and in Kramer and Elaine’s case, their fascination with the mannequin. So while, plot-wise, it’s not quite as masterful as Seinfeld’s best, it’s still a hell of lot of fun, particularly if you like jokes about Jerry’s obsession with cleanliness like I do.
Like a lot of Seinfeld episodes, “The Pie” never answers the central mystery of why Jerry’s girlfriend of the week Audrey (Suzanne Snyder) won’t eat the apple pie at Monk’s. She likes pie, she wasn’t full, and she even walks around with donuts in her purse. (“You’re not averse to pastry!”) So why does she just flatly refuse to take the pie? Apparently this was inspired by something that actually happened to Jerry and got him really mad, and he’s almost quietly intense in that first scene. I kept willing Audrey to just eat the fucking pie, because Jerry’s obviously just so freaked out that she isn’t. Instead of inventing a convoluted reason why Audrey doesn’t eat the pie, Seinfeld looks at why Jerry or George might refuse food, which I think is the right move, because those are the characters they and we know much better, and Audrey’s reasons would be rooted more in circumstance and would be a lot less funny.
For Jerry, it’s obviously his general germophobia. Now, that’s not to say most of us wouldn’t be grossed out at the sight of the chef at a restaurant exiting a bathroom stall and not washing his hands as he goes to prepare food. But honestly? I bet in that situation I would have just rationalized it somehow: Maybe he washes his hands in the kitchen! Maybe the pizza getting cooked makes the whole thing pointless, right? But Jerry, on a date with Audrey to her father’s restaurant, is never going to be anything but horrified by the sight of chef Poppie kneading pizza dough with his unwashed hands. As he tells George later, “At least pretend, for my benefit; turn the water on; do something!” “Yeah, like I do,” George says, prompting an even more pained look from Jerry that is just utterly priceless.
So, in George’s case, why does he reject the food, on a job interview where he’s been told to be a ‘team player,’ no less? Well, the immediate answer is that the food has been poisoned or sabotaged in some way, but the real answer is because George is an awful guy who can’t just be happy with a little victory. The B-plot (nicely tied to Elaine’s mannequin) of George trying to get a suit for half off in a secret sale is fun, and watching him revel in victory, newspaper in hand, is always good. But like George gloating over getting Time magazine before the serial killer in “The Airport,” we know a comeuppance is coming, and that it’ll be juicy. It’s almost harder to watch George refuse the cake (that he knows his doppelganger has tainted) than it would be to watch him eat it and throw up or what have you. I got close to saying, “Christ, just eat the cake already!” and Seinfeld rarely provokes that kind of a reaction from me.
Elaine’s creepy mannequin is the perfect kind of Seinfeld B-plot, in that while the A-plot concentrates on such a minute detail of manners, the B-plot is self-consciously wacky, with the imperious store clerk, the bizarre tableau of the mannequin being spanked by another, Kramer’s sexual use of the mannequin to break up with his long-nailed fling, and finally, the revelation that Sam Lloyd from “The Cigar Store Indian” created the doll in Elaine’s image. The whole thing is just the right amount of madcap, and yet it’s integrated very well with the other plot so it doesn’t feel like we’re just jumping, jarringly, from world to world.
Oh and Kramer’s C-plot of his back itching is a nice marriage of the two concepts. On the one hand, it’s got to be the most mundane plot idea ever: Kramer has a scratchy pillow with no case at home, and it makes his back itch. On the other hand, with Michael Richards delivering these lines and jerking around spastically at the Monk’s hostess scratching him with her long nails, the whole thing is even zanier than Elaine stealing a mannequin that looks like her from a clothing store. At the end, when he fondles Elaine’s mannequin to scare off the Monk’s hostess, you feel like the writers just needed a punchline to close the episode, and that sight gag made the most sense, even though the scenario makes so little sense. But Richards, unsurprisingly, makes that work.
Here's an episode I didn't remember at all, even though it's the introduction of Kramer's little person friend, Mickey (Danny Woodburn), who will show up a few more times on the series, and it has a wonderfully daring bit of awkwardness about Elaine going on a date with someone who "takes it out." It's such a delightfully creepy move. It'd be one thing if he'd tried that out in the room, but somehow, him taking it out in the front seat of the car makes it feel like he's just picked up Elaine on the side of the road. "The Stand-In" is not a great episode, especially considering Larry David wrote it, but it's got some very impressive touches, and Phil Tutola's dick move (pardon the pun) is one of them.
The stuff with Kramer and Mickey doesn't fly as well. Woodburn is perfectly funny, and he and Kramer have comedic chemistry along with the obvious visual humor of the two of them standing together. The show does well to steer away from really easy "little person" humor, concentrating just on the fact that he considers using lifts to keep up with the kid he stands in for on All My Children. OK, that shot of the group of little people closing in on him near the end of the episode is maybe a little too much, but mostly I liked the matter-of-fact way Jerry treated Mickey.
But the plot itself is a little too silly to have so much time devoted to it, and it's padded out with lazier humor like Kramer and Mickey constantly throwing the "unbeatable" rock in rock paper scissors (Arrested Development did a better version of the same joke years later). I like the idea of Kramer as a stand-in (and that he commits to his "character" by bringing a pipe to smoke), and I like his chemistry with Mickey, but the main story just never breaks out.
Similarly, I love the horrible date Elaine goes on (and Julia Louis-Dreyfus does a splendid postmortem with Jerry), but it's set up very lazily. The recurring story about a guy called "Pachyderm" is never that funny past the fact that it's repeated over and over, because who the hell is "Pachyderm?" Jerry's attempts to get a rise out of his ill friend are alright (it's fun to see him sweat!), but the punchline is just a little too obvious and really works only on mild shock value. (Jerry just launches into his act and literally "kills"). The only story that's good is George's (Larry David just can't write a bad George story), in which he's pushed to consider marrying a bore of a woman just because a friend told her George can't commit. That's the exact kind of thing he'd do, but even that concept doesn't get milked quite enough.
Don't get me wrong; it's still funny. But season five is such a run of great episodes, it's hard not to think of this one as a bit of a speed bump.
- Jerry wants moving walkways all over the city; George loves it. “They could at least try it.” “Nobody tries anything!”
- But it ruins walking around for George, who will constantly dream of flat escalators lining the streets from now on.
- I love it when Elaine gets in people’s faces. "If there's anyone that should be rolling their eyes, it's me, at him, about you."
- Kramer really needs Elaine to scratch his back. “Come on, it’ll be a funky adventure.”
- The set for Poppie’s looks like the same place where Russell had the pasta primavera last season.
- Jerry’s corny jokes are the best, like when he has Elaine and the mannequin in the car. "I don't know about you, but I'm gettin' a hankerin' for some doublemint gum!"
- George says he and his girlfriend "communicate with deep and soulful looks." Jerry: "Like Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower."
- The kid Mickey is standing in for is played by Thomas Dekker, later of Heroes and the Terminator show.
- "Alright, I'm canceling the father/son picnic! I don't know what he's going to do with all that potato salad!"
- Kramer defends Elaine's penis date. "Maybe it needed some air! Sometimes they need air! They can't breathe in there, it's inhuman!"
- "Rock flies right through paper!"
- "I'm Mickey Abbot. I stood in for Punky Brewster when all of you was nothing!"
- I like that Jerry kills with a joke about the Justice League. "You mean to tell me Superman can't cover everything? For crying out loud, he's Superman!"