This episode marks an important milestone in Seinfeld history (at least, its commercial history) -- it was the first episode to air on Thursday as part of NBC's "Must See TV" block, on at 9.30 after Cheers. The following season, with Cheers gone, it would move to 9pm and never move again. The whole thing was promoted during the Super Bowl and was the start of Seinfeld moving from semi-popular critical hit to world-invading zeitgeist water-cooler explosion. "The Outing" actually aired after "The Shoes," even though it was earlier in the original production order. I assume that's because "The Outing" was so good, NBC wanted it on Thursdays and bumped it forward. The rest is history and so on.
Honestly, for a quasi re-launch of the show, the network couldn't have done much better than "The Shoes." Every cast member gets some really fun material to play with and the plots spiral together marvelously, with Jerry at one point bemoaning Elaine for making Russell sick which caused George to look down his niece's shirt after Jerry poked him. But really, it's Kramer's fault for dating the chef at Russell's favorite restaurant, who made provocative comments about her shoes. There's nothing more marvelous than watching all these plots bump up against each other so perfectly. And who wrote this episode? Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. Damn right.
"The Shoes" jumps us back into the NBC plotline, with the meta-comedy this time mostly riffing on the idea that Jerry and George have no idea how to write women, deciding to strike Elaine from the pilot (and as we all know, there is no Elaine in the show's real pilot). "Even now I'm sitting here, I know you're going to say something, I have no idea what it is!" Jerry protests to an angry Elaine. It's a good gag, although Elaine really is a very well-written female character most of the time, I feel, particularly for a sitcom. Her behavior in this episode is supposed to typify the boys' bafflement at women's behavior, though, getting SO MAD about Kramer's current girlfriend (a sort-of ex to Jerry) remarking on her shoes while simultaneously prizing them because people talk about them all the time. Jerry, George and Kramer are confused by the whole thing, but it makes sense to me -- we all want to be envied, but we don't like people pointing it out, cause it makes us sound arrogant.
Jerry feels equally wronged by Gail, a woman he dated but never got anywhere with, because Kramer starts dating her and immediately confirms she's wild in the sack. This plot is a great dissection of male honor, or the bro code, or whatever you want to call it. Kramer first sees Gail and decides to snub her for treating Jerry badly, a fact Jerry is very pleased by, "Not that I condone it! I've never condoned snubbing in my administration!" But the minute Kramer realizes the snub is just attracting Gail, he abandons fealty to Jerry and hops into bed with her. And why not? Jerry puts up a mild fuss, but no guy is really going to object to that kinda behavior.
So Kramer dates Gail, who mentions Elaine's shoes to him. Elaine complains to Gail at her restaurant, sneezing on Russell's pasta primavera and giving him some kind of gastro-intestinal illness. Jerry and George have to thus go see Russell at home and meet his 15-year-old niece (played by a 22-year-old Denise Richards, wooden even with the two lines she has to say), with George getting in trouble for looking at her ample cleavage and Russell canceling the whole deal. To get out of it, the plot is almost reverse-engineered: Kramer gets Gail to tip off Jerry and George on Russell coming to the place, with Elaine's shoes as payoff, and then Elaine blasts Russell with some cleavage to show him George's stare was an honest mistake. Elaine even manages to get herself back in the pilot script by the last scene, after being cut out in the episode's first scene. Seinfeld episodes like this are almost like heist movies -- it's just great watching a plot come together.
"The Old Man"
This Larry Charles script is along his usual lines -- very broad, very madcap, with a lot of big laughs -- although it doesn't hang together quite as perfectly as some of his classics. It also features a big, memorable performance from the recently deceased Bill Erwin, who died on Dec. 29 at the age of 96 and got an Emmy nomination for playing the irascible Sid Fields. He kept on acting well into his 90s, and, as you can see here, he did a hell of a cranky old man.
The episode's pretty simple. Jerry, Elaine and George all sign up to volunteer with the elderly this episode, and nutty shit happens -- even for Seinfeld, it's pretty low-concept. Jerry's old dude is the spittle-heavy Sid, who mostly shouts insults at him from his chair and accuses his Senegalese maid of stealing. Erwin really goes for it, tagging an insult to everything he says. "You're really throwing this out?" Jerry asks of his pristine record collection. "I believe that's what you do with garbage, IDIOT!"
Elaine's old lady is kind of a boring joke (she has a huge unseen growth, or goiter, on her neck) until Charles tosses in the un-boring, off-the-wall gag that she once had a hot affair with Gandhi. But George's old dude is the crowning scene for me, a white-hot unleashing of his mounting fears about death and oblivion and so on, and his stunned reaction to the guy's blasé attitude. "How can you sit there and look me in the eye and tell me you're not worried? Don't you have any sense!" It's Woody Allen stuff but Jason Alexander knocks it out of the park as usual and the old guy's zen-like boredom at George's neuroses are a perfect rebuttal.
Charles also throws in a madcap Kramer/Newman plot about selling records to the death-like Bleecker Bob (Tobin Bell, the future Saw villain) that doesn't have much to do with anything but is a blast to watch. Wayne Knight gets to act hysterical and get in fights, which is the stuff he's best at, and Newman's day job as a postal worker is revealed. Why do they always go shooting up their offices, Jerry asks? "Because the mail never stops. It just keeps coming and coming and coming, there's never a let-up. It's relentless. Every day it piles up more and more and more! And you gotta get it out but the more you get it out the more it keeps coming in. And then the barcode reader breaks and it's publisher's clearing house day!" Newman screams. It's not the last time postal workers will get mocked with an extended Newman monologue, but it's the most memorable, I think.
It all comes together in a wild mish-mash that doesn't have the artful preciseness of an episode like "The Shoes" but has some nice big gags, like George's bald head rubbed in oil or the destruction of Sid's false teeth. But the standout stuff for me in this episode are in the conversations -- Newman and Kramer bantering with Bleecker Bob, or George with his old man, or best of all, Jerry and George at the start of the episode, pondering that maybe George needs to date a woman who can't understand him or speak to him. "This is what my life has come to, trying to meet a mute," George moans. As he speaks of the deep yawning chasm, or void, in his life, he asks Jerry, "what gives you pleasure?" "Listening to you," Jerry admits. It's obviously a cornerstone of their relationship -- George is there to remind Jerry (and all of us at home, really) that no matter what the problems in our lives, at least we're not as fundamentally fucked as George.
This week in Seinfeld lines that became water-cooler memes, we've got a young Ms. Teri Hatcher declaring of her breasts, "They're real, and they're spectacular." It's an excellent cap to an episode written by Peter Mehlman that basically just moves two plots forward concurrently, with not much connection between them. Jerry and Elaine's hunt to find out of Sidra (Hatcher)'s breasts are real is one; George's tribulations with Betsy (Megan Mullally -- lotta future famous faces here!) who he accompanies to a funeral is another. Kramer gets a dashed-off subplot about a Salman Rushdie lookalike that doesn't really gel, feeling more like a topical gag they decided to toss in for the heck of it.
I like the Sidra plot the best; Jerry and Elaine are always good when they team up and Elaine gets some particularly zingy lines to Jerry referencing their former relationship. "You have no breast-touching experience!" Jerry complains about Elaine grabbing Sidra's boobs. "I've touched mine!" "So have I!" "Oh right, I forgot," Elaine deadpans. Sidra doesn't know about Elaine's connection to Jerry, so the two of them can only obliquely riff on his weirdness (he's too neat, he's obsessed with Superman) but it's fun all the same. "He would have made a great Nazi," Sidra scoffs.
Jerry being upset at Sidra's boobs being possibly fake makes sense, but it is a bit of a re-hash of the fake orgasm episode ("The Mango"). Hatcher's delivery of the final line means the whole thing feels like it really worked, but it's a little flimsy outside of Elaine's great physical comedy and jabs at Jerry. Similarly, George's misadventures with Betsy work because of Alexander (I love his weary hand movements in the background when she gets the phone call about her aunt dying) and the moment with the double-dip is memorable, but since the plot doesn't really flow with the implant story at all, it ends up disrupting the rhythm of the episode more than anything else.
But then again: "They're real, and they're spectacular," the latter half of which Teri Hatcher supposedly ad-libbed (Elaine says the line earlier in the episode, which I guess is where she got the idea). Pretty much the height of Hatcher's career, I think. And not a bad height to have!
Snubbing doesn't work for George. "I snubbed for a year, nothing. Every woman I saw, I snubbed. You never saw people so pleased."
George's mother is paying for the therapy, "And she slaves to earn every penny. So that someday, I might be able to walk up to a woman and say, 'Yes, I'm bald, but I'm still a good person.'"
George's confrontation with his therapist is pretty classic. "You know what's funny to me? That diploma up on the wall. That is my idea of com-e-dy!"
"The Shoes" can't resist a final meta-joke with Elaine saying her cleavage trick could go in the pilot script. "That kind of comedy, it's a little broad for us," Jerry tuts.
Kramer thinks volunteering with the elderly is a con, or a way to bilk them out of their money. Where does he hear all this? "The alternative media, Jerry!"
Newman's confrontation with Bleecker Bob is pretty terrific, especially the lines Kramer feeds him. "I find you extremely ugly! You emit a foul and unpleasant odor! I loathe you!"
Sid Fields is named after a writer for Abbott and Costello, someone Seinfeld admired.
George on death: "Imagine how much I'll be thinking about it at your age! All I'll keep doing is thinking about it until it drives me insane!"
George already talked to Elaine about meeting a woman who speaks no English. "What, you're breaking it in with her and trying it out on me?" Jerry asks, indignant.
George can't make a left-handed move on the couch and Jerry can't make a right-handed move. "We just play defense," Elaine says.
"This chick's playing with Confederate money!"
Kramer wants to get away. "Real busy down at the office?" Jerry asks.
Elaine's internal monologue in the sauna is great. "Really sweatin'. Good sweat, beads of sweat, sweatin' bullets."
Kramer crying at the airport counter over his fake bereavement is some masterful crying from Michael Richards, it makes George's phoniness look real amateur.