"The Mom and Pop Store"
This is an odd one. There's a lot of stuff floating around in this episode, sort of organized around a Jon Voight cameo and a little Midnight Cowboy homage at the end, but it ends up being way too busy and disconnected. This is, however, a notable episode for featuring the first appearance of Tim Whatley, Jerry's dentist 'friend' played by the wonderful Bryan Cranston who cuts a fine figure in his beard here. Tim's not a frequent recurring character but I think even after years of Malcolm in the Middle it was one of Cranston's best-known roles (now we're all terrified of him because of Breaking Bad, of course).
George sets everything in motion by buying a Chrysler LeBaron supposedly formerly owned by Jon Voight. Apparently this really happened to writer Tom Gammill (who scripted, as always, with Max Pross) -- funny how the ridiculous, stupid things that happened to the writers in real life always end up assigned to George. His glee at possessing the car is cute, as are his mangled attempts to turn the song "Everybody's Talkin'" into a ballad of car ownership, concluding with "…just drivin' around in Jon Voight's car." But the whole Voight plot seems obviously geared towards a celeb cameo, and so we're just waiting for that to happen. It doesn't disappoint -- he bites Kramer on the arm, for crying out loud -- but the whole thing never incorporates well.
George is quickly paranoid that maybe the car didn't belong to Jon Voight, since the documents show it registered to JOHN Voight, and we get into a whole rigmarole about teeth marks and dentists and it plays out about as you'd expect. The side-jokes, like George's singing and his distaste for Liam Neeson (obviously he considers him some kind of flavor of the month), are great as ever. As is the Yankees boss quickly catching onto George's scheme to bring Voight to the stadium. He really pegs that quickly!
Jerry and Kramer get mixed up with a mom-and-pop cobbler that's threatened with closing as the Upper West Side continues its yuppification; Jerry's shoes get sent there and never return after Kramer puts them out of business. The gag seems to be at the expense of people suckered in by the image of the "mom and pop store," but it never plays out to completion (the fate of Jerry's shoes remain a mystery, since we get the Midnight Cowboy ending gag instead) and the mom and pop characters aren't very interesting. Hell, even Kramer's behavior is downright normal -- he tells them to call an electrician. How wacky!
Even though this episode lacks a certain cohesiveness, I did like how Tim's party goes down, with a deafened Elaine (from a big band thing with Mr. Pitt, another thread that doesn't really connect) blowing her chances with Tim, to Jerry sneaking around muttering "Dentist? Dentist?" at people while wearing silly cowboy boots. And even though Cranston is barely in the episode, he definitely makes an impression, especially when he calls Jerry a troublemaker like Woody Woodpecker. And man, I forgot about the Woody Woodpecker thing! Man, this episode is stuffed, and that's just the problem.
So maybe season 6 isn't quite up to snuff with 4 & 5, but after every so-so episode they tend to have a really great one, which is a track record most TV shows would kill for. Each story idea feels like something that's either happened to me or someone I know, and in every case it's barely exaggerated but is still hysterically funny -- more of a classic, old-school Seinfeld (the writing credit goes to Fred Stoller, mostly an actor who gets one other story credit in season six, and that's it).
Jerry is plagued by his boring, irritating comedian friend Kenny Bania, played by Steve Hytner and making his first of several appearances. Hytner nails the character -- he's someone not quite irritating enough for you to openly dislike and ignore, but he has a manner about him that makes you want to rub the bridge of your nose. Which I think Jerry does multiple times this episode. He has a sense of humor that we don't glimpse much of this time around but we later learn Jerry finds pedestrian and hacky; here he takes Jerry hostage by gifting him a suit he doesn't want and Jerry doesn't need and then demanding dinner with him.
The stunt he pulls where he goes out to dinner with Jerry and then declines food (except for soup), saying he'll get that dinner from Jerry another time, is quite brazen and wonderfully pathetic -- it's hard not to feel a little bit sorry for him, since obviously he just wants to hang out with Jerry all the time. On the other hand, he's kind of an evil little bug of a man. I tend to sympathize with Jerry the most when he's being misanthropic, and he's in fine form this episode. Kenny thinks dinner is Jerry treating him; Jerry thinks it's having to suffer through an hour of conversation -- be it in a public park or at Buckingham Palace, he only wants to do it once. We all have acquaintances like this, right?
George's woes also feel familiar -- after a long flirtation with a Monk's waitress, he gets up the courage to ask her out, spurred on by Jerry's drill sergeant lecturing. After he makes an unfortunate (and really, kinda confusing) comment about how nice the word "manure" sounds (it focuses on the syllable "nure," which makes no sense to me) the girl casually mentions a boyfriend, leading George to wonder why she didn't mention him before. The plot kind of dwindles out by the end (although watching the Monk's manager yell at the gang is always fun) but George's fury at the whole situation is understandable. Jerry's deadpan reaction to the manure thing is even better; even he can be shocked by George's behavior once in a while.
Elaine, meanwhile, takes in an Englishman who charms with his accent and decent looks, but quickly reveals himself to be a pretentious, smug, broke douchebag. We've all been bewitched by the exotic, but Elaine's no fool -- their relationship falls apart in the cab ride from the airport (where they both do some spectacular muttering). Unlike "The Mom and Pop Store," the plots don't link up too much, and there's a quasi-separate group plot about the gang leaving Monk's because of George's thing with the waitress and trying another coffee shop, which should be the same but is wrong in all these imperceptible ways. Elaine's desire for a big salad is especially thwarted: "It's a salad, only bigger, with lots of stuff in it?" "I'll bring you two small salads." "Can you put it in a big bowl?" "We don't have big bowls." "I'll just have a cup of decaf." "We have Sanka." All in all, it's an episode that's the sum of its parts rather than a whole, and it works very well on those grounds.
Elaine says Voight's career is not car-centric: Deliverance, Canoe, Midnight Cowboy, Boots, Runaway Train.
"So many sneakers!" "Well, he's got a Peter Pan complex." Kramer the psychoanalyst strikes again.
I do like the big band nerds Elaine meets at the prize thing. There should have been more of them.
"Jerry, we're talking about Joe Buck. If you can play Joe Buck, Oskar Schindler's a cakewalk."
"Oh look, there's Gregory Peck's bicycle!"
"I suppose if I'd suggested Liam Neeson day everyone would be patting me on the back!"
George is unimpressed with Woody Woodpecker. "What is he, some sort of an instigator?" "That's right, he's a troublemaker," Kramer says.
"Well, go in there and talk to her. She's not gonna put them on the glass," Jerry says of the waitress. Is that a boob joke?
George trying to get the waitress fired should have been a plot in and of itself; instead it's an afterthought.
Kramer has a fresh food thing going on in "The Soup" that falls a little flat because of the character of his girlfriend, who's like some Viking warrior, always hungry. Doesn't really work.