Seinfeld: "The Suicide"/"The Subway"/"The Pez Dispenser"
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Seinfeld: "The Suicide"/"The Subway"/"The Pez Dispenser"

"The Suicide"

This episode is probably most notable for being the first appearance of Wayne Knight as Newman, apartment gossip, Kramer co-conspirator, and possible agent of Satan--Seinfeld's most common recurring character outside of Jerry and George's parents. Perhaps befitting Newman's introduction, "The Suicide" is quite a weird one, amusingly dark, although the generally light tone of the show hides it well whenever Seinfeld gets too dark.

Still, this is an episode where in his comedy act, usually the blandest part of the show, Jerry kids, "The thing I don’t understand about the suicidal person is the people who try and commit suicide for some reason they don’t die and that’s it. They stop trying. Why? Why don’t they just keep trying? What has changed? Is their life any better now? No. In fact it’s worse because now they’ve found out one more thing you stink at." At another point in the episode, he says of Jack Kevorkian's euthanasia machine, "I don’t get that whole suicide machine. There’s no tall buildings where these people live? They can’t wrap their lips around a revolver like a normal person?"

Suicide! It is pretty funny, though, especially since the guy who tries to off himself is Jerry's large, scary, sunglasses-wearing neighbor who has an inexplicably hot neighbor, Gina, and what sets him off is Jerry flirting with her. He's a big baby underneath it all! This is not a Seinfeld episode that poses a question most of us will encounter in our day-to-day lives, since it asks to what extent is it okay to make out with/sleep with a coma patient's girlfriend? And how okay is it to do it in front of him? "The Suicide" is maybe a little too wacky, but it's funny to see Jerry out of his depth with the scarily demanding Gina.

George's plot, involving seeing a psychic because he's had weird dreams, is equally out of left field and less amusing, even if it does play up George's neuroses when he gets a half-completed warning of danger about his upcoming vacation. "A plane crash? A heart attack? Lupus? Is it lupus?" I seem to remember lupus being a recurring fear of George's for the rest of the show. Elaine, paired with him for most of the episode, is going wild with hunger as she fasts for an ulcer test. One of Julia Louis-Dreyfus' gifts as an actress, one most female comedians need to have I feel, is that she can be really pretty and really awful looking, even in the same episode. It's something about how her hair is dressed up -- by the end of the episode, they frizz it up a little, she makes a funny face and she looks crazy as hell.

The standout of the episode is Newman's appearance (featuring his and Jerry's usual opening gambit: an arrogant "Hello, Jerry," followed by a seething "Hello, Newman," one of the best recurring lines in TV history) and the establishment of his never-ending feud with Jerry and strange friendship with Kramer. Newman's best moments are the ones with Kramer, where it feels like we're getting an insight into the weird alternate universe they occupy. "Fruit makes me incontinent!" he protests at one point. "I don't care much for the beach. I freckle," he says later. Along with Jurassic Park, Newman's presence in Seinfeld basically made him the epitome of evil in my childhood and nothing Wayne Knight does will ever really change that.

Grade: A-

"The Subway"

It's really just lame New York snobbery, but I'm a major subway nerd, and the sets for this episode (and most TV episodes set on the subway) bug the shit out of me. But I won't harp on it, because I understand the professional realities of shooting television and it's not like people all over the world aren't bugged by TV and movies getting their cities wrong. Plus, "The Subway" is a very funny episode, and it's un-Seinfeldian in nature, splitting all four characters up, where each of their plots have nothing to do with each other. Compare that to "The Suicide" and its overarching Drake's coffee cake plot.

But it's a relief to see an episode that just puts each character on a different subway car and lets them do their own funny thing. Elaine, who is often the character I feel I resemble closest in personality, does something that I have done a million times on a crowded subway that inexplicably stops in the tunnel: starts twitching on the outside, maybe rolling her eyes or raising her eyebrows, which is just code for internal screaming. I don't know if Louis-Drefyus timed her voice-over screaming (including bleeped swear words, which seems risqué for Seinfeld) with her body language, but it definitely feels like she did, because it all matches so perfectly.

Jerry falls asleep on the subway car and awakes to find it empty -- everyone's cleared out of the way because the guy opposite him (Ernie Sabella, Pumbaa from The Lion King!) has decided to disrobe. Where most people would just get up and get as far away as possible, Jerry is someone who is (wearily) interested in what makes people tick, so he engages the guy in conversation. "You realize, of course, that you're naked," he sighs. "Naked, dressed, I don't see the difference," the guy replies. "You oughta sit here." Their progression into friendship, culminating in the guy riding the Cyclone (the best rollercoaster in the world, bar none) with Jerry, is maybe a little too cutesy for its own good, but Seinfeld doesn't play their interactions too over-the-top, so it works.

George, wearing the only suit he owns to go to a job interview, charms a woman with his knowledge of the stock market, where he pretends to work. "Yeah, I'm in the market…the big market, the big board. Bull market, bear market, you name the market, I'm there." But not a big brokerage house, because they killed his father. "Well, they hurt him bad. Really hurt his feelings."

Of course, George's seeming success, going to a hotel room with the woman, is only because of his skill at falsehoods, not his sexual magnetism, because the woman ends up tying him to a bed and robbing him for the eight dollars in his pocket. It's a testimony to how charming a liar he is that he managed to convince her he was rich, really. Still, sexual humiliation, public nudity, the theft of his only suit: it's a pretty low day for George, I definitely felt sorry for him, especially his heart-rending pleas as she makes off with his suit.

Where George attracts misery, Kramer stumbles into luck, overhearing a horse tip after some truly spectacular bouncing around the subway car as he looks for a seat. Michael Richards is so skilled at exaggerating mundane activities without losing sight of their realism. He's just as physical, and just as funny, in the OTB hall where first he thinks he's lost it all, and then his pick rallies back to win. And, because this is Kramer, even though his antics attract the attention of a crazy thief, he's rescued by an undercover cop posing as a hobo that we saw at the start of the episode, a clever way for Larry Charles to tie the plot up with a big bow even though the stories never intersected.

Grade: A

"The Pez Dispenser"

I really liked all three of these episodes but "The Pez Dispenser," written by Larry David, has to be the real classic of the bunch. It really does well to weave together the disparate plots (George is dating a pianist out of his league, Jerry and Elaine hold an intervention, Kramer joins the polar bears) using repeated gags (Elaine can't stop laughing, George has "no hand," Kramer's "the beach" cologne, the titular candy dispenser) that work in each setting. Hell, "The Beach" story comes back in a later episode; it's one of my favorite recurring plots, both for how vociferously Kramer sells the concept and how much I think it'd be a great cologne.

The catalyst for everything, though, is the Pez dispenser, a Tweety Bird model, that Kramer gives to Jerry. I used to have a shoebox full of the things (including a Tweety!) before this episode aired in 1992, but from what I understand Seinfeld brought the things back into fashion. It's an item that definitely suits Jerry's brand of humor: harmless and childish, but kinda peculiar, and also kinda fussy (in how difficult it is to load). At the start of the episode, Jerry puts it on Elaine's lap during George's girlfriend's recital, which causes her to uncontrollably laugh. I would have had the same reaction. It's something about how daintily Jerry puts it down, and then of course its sole occupation of the seat after Elaine leaves.

George's girlfriend Noel is distraught by the laughter, but George is distraught because he has "no hand," no control, in the relationship. Of all the problems he'll have with the bevy of gorgeous women he'll date over the years, this has to be one of the all-time worst. He sings her praises as an intellectual, an impressive woman who he likes doing the crossword puzzle with, but he's basically mad because she's that much more awesome than him. His brilliant solution is to break up with her, which has her offering herself to him but things can't get too sexy because this is network TV. So George just demands that she think about him all the time. I guess that means anal? Anyway, I think David just wrote the "no hand" stuff so he could write Noel's great kiss-off line, with George protesting "I've got hand!" and Noel retorting, "and you're gonna need it."

Meanwhile, Jerry is such an enigmatic figure that whacked-out comedian Richie Appel will listen only to him at an intervention for his drug use. What is it about Jerry that would inspire such reverence? His status as a teetotaler? Or just his generally sunny comedian? I have a feeling this is more David's invention, since he's equally resentful of being put-upon in Curb Your Enthusiasm, and he's a scary, authoritative dude. I bet he was in a scenario like this once. The intervention, and Richie's Pez-spurred epiphany  happens off-screen as it should, but the setup is great, especially Kramer's polar bear friends, who know an intervention when they see one. "Sure, we used to do that when one of our polar bears stopped coming. We would go to his house and say, 'What, you don't want to be a polar bear anymore? It's too cold for you?' "

I like the chief polar bear's major effort to make Elaine laugh at his kvetchy kangaroo joke, and it's good that he succeeds, even if it spurs Noel breaking up with George. For one, the joke is funny, but it's more that he isn't aggressive about it, he just gently nudges her into it, which makes her building laughter more natural-feeling. I don't know what else to say about "The Pez Dispenser" other than that it's a episode I remembered as good, that turned out to be really great. I love it when that happens.

Grade: A

Stray observations:

Jerry's attempt to make George take out the garbage for free, and George's negotiation for $2, is hilarious in and of itself, and gets even funnier when you realize it won't be referenced again in an episode. I guess the writers just needed a silly reason to have them out in the hallway.

An equally good stall-for-time joke in the same episode is Jerry trying to decide whether to rescue his suicidal neighbor in pajamas, or put on a robe.

"The Subway" introduces another favorite recurring gag of mine, Jerry sunnily referring to George as Biff from Death of a Salesman, the most sad-sack character in American literature.

In the next episode, he makes fun of George's confusion about flea markets. "You think they have fleas there, don't you? Yes you do, Biff!"

Jerry and the naked dude discuss the upcoming 1992 Mets, and they both have hope. They shouldn't have, that was right in the middle of their "Worst Team Money Could Buy" era.

Nothing to say about Elaine attending a lesbian wedding because that gag is just pretty tired now. But back then, and in Friends' first season as well, it was probably quite a fashionable thing to be joking about.

The little aside about how Richie got hooked on drugs (it involves Gatorade and is too complicated to summarize) is a hilarious mini-episode in and of itself, all told through Jerry's little narration. "Richie was never the same." "What about Kramer?" "He's the same."

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