"The Race" (Season 6, Episode 11, originally aired December 15, 1994)
This is a fine episode with a uniquely funny theme to build around (the naming of names and blacklisted American Communists) that doesn't quite have enough in common between the plots to really be a great. Kramer's Santa plot is especially shoehorned in and goes nowhere; the resolution of Elaine's Communist boyfriend plot seems like it's going to go one way (she's obsessed with introducing him as a Communist) and then goes another (she "names" him to a Chinese delivery store). And George ending up in Cuba with a Steinbrenner-esque Fidel Castro is maybe a little too wacky for my tastes. But Jerry's central plot is funny enough to carry the whole thing off.
It's especially fitting that Jerry's physical mettle is tested while he's dating a girl called Lois, a longtime dream for any Superman fan. Lois' boss is Duncan Meyer, a high school-mate of Jerry's who always suspected (correctly) that he'd won a foot race by getting a head start, but has never been able to prove it since Jerry refused to run ever again. Of course, this all leads to a climactic footrace (implausibly on the road of an Upper West Side street, which, no) that Jerry wins again as Kramer's backfiring car gives him another head start.
What I thought watching this (and all the various plot machinations that get us to the finale, including Jerry's repeated Superman references) was -- imagine if this was happening to George. It would all go horribly wrong! We'd have the same climax, but it'd be some kind of spectacular, humiliating failure! But with Jerry, things just tend to tip his way. Of course we never see Lois again (as far as I remember). But it doesn't matter. There'll be more women, more Superman references, more everything. Hell, in the next episode, he gets free Super Bowl tickets!
Anyway, the rest of the plots sort of putter alongside this one but never really come into their own. Elaine's commie boyfriend is impressively shrill and irritating (and sort of cute, in a way) but the scenes with the Chinese restaurant owner are a little uncomfortable to sit through. Plus, the whole "Elaine named names" joke doesn't really come off as a perfect comparison … but maybe I'm over-thinking this. I like Elaine's weird pride in having a Communist for a boyfriend. And I like where he admits that now the Soviet Union is done, he doesn't have much to gloat about anymore. I just wish there was a little more meat on this bone.
Especially since it contributes to the other plots. Kramer's thing, apart from the welcome return of Mickey and his discussion of class divisions in sandwich meat, is not too good. On the George end, I like that Vicki Lewis crops back up again (this is her last appearance) to turn him in as a dirty Commie. And Steinbrenner's reaction is, as usual, unexpected. But the whole thing's a tag joke at best, and they know it.
The episode is basically made by George's masquerade as a successful architect when he runs into Jerry, Duncan and Lois at Monk's, and he and Jerry subtly dig at each other while pretending not to have met in 20 years. "What do you do, a lot of that 'did you ever notice' stuff? Strikes me a lot of guys are doing that kind of humor." ""Boy, you really went bald there!" George is a millionaire who designed an addition to the Guggenheim and bedded his hot high school homeroom teacher by the time he's done. Sure, it's sad fiction, but it's beautiful to see.
"The Label Maker" (Season 6, Episode 12, originally aired January 19, 1995)
The return of the devious Tim Whatley (who Bryan Cranston plays at just the right balance between cordial jerk and creepy jerk) makes for a superbly intricate episode of de-gifting and re-gifting, an epic Risk game between Kramer and Newman, and the return of George's "ménage à trois" technique (and its spectacular failure). The plots weave together very nicely and the equally desired/scorned Super Bowl tickets make for a nice locus to build everything around. Well, George is mostly off to the side with his new girlfriend and her creepy George-clone roommate, but everything else is in the mix.
Tim's constant off-screen scheming is all the better since it's kept off-screen. Like his last appearance, we don't actually have primary information that he's an evil douchebag. There's just something so transactional about the re-gifting and the distribution of his extra ticket (first to Newman, then to Elaine, then to Jerry). Plus his scenes with Elaine are hilariously creepy, especially him describing the Miami hotel as being "right downtown." As good as Cranston is, however, all the props go to Julia Louis-Dreyfus for that final scene where they get together. For such a silly little throwaway joke about Elaine crying over the label maker, well, man does she sell that shit. She won her only Emmy for the show next year. But she's just the best!
So, the whole thing revolves around a pair of Super Bowl tickets Jerry can't use because of The Drake's wedding (hate The Drake!) that he gives to Tim (he quickly refuses dinner at Mendy's as payment). Jerry instead gets a label maker as thanks, which Elaine realizes she gave to Tim as thanks for free dental work. Meanwhile, George tries to figure out just how much chemistry his girlfriend has with her male roommate, and Kramer tries to stop Newman from cheating at Risk (which, it seems, is like trying to turn back the tide).
George's plot, apart from the appearance of the faulty label-maker at the episode's end (slightly shoehorned in), stands alone, sort of a sad mirror image of Jerry's roommate drama in "The Switch" (which, quite smartly, was bumped up to air before this episode even though it was made earlier). While Jerry wrestled with two roommates who were attracted to him, George tries to rid himself of the internal competition of Bonnie's Costanza-esque friend. In the end, he decides the best way is to employ the plan that he cooked up for Jerry -- suggest a threesome. Of course, it fails even worse for him, since they are indeed both into it (which really raises a lot of questions as to just what they were up to when George wasn't around). As the episode closes, George's face becomes a silent scream, a death mask of horror, which as we all know, is very funny.
Kramer's game with Newman is high on the slapstick but that works perfectly, and the whole thing is tied in rather well since Newman becomes part of the ticket dance (and, of course, ends up as Jerry's date in Miami, a horrifying spectacle of food who Jerry can't stand to sit next to). Things come out of left-field time and again -- Kramer's car gets towed for some reason, and the appearance of the angry Ukrainian (who thumps the Risk board when Kramer insults the territory) is extremely ridiculous, but extremely amusing. Gruff, scary eastern Europeans are pretty much always good for one joke.
So, at the end, we have Jerry with Newman, Tim with Elaine and George with a bizarre sexual situation he initiated. Considering how much sense it makes for them all to be in those positions, I'd call this episode a job well done.
The Super Bowl Jerry and Newman attend (number XXIX) was a pretty boring big 49ers win over the Chargers at the end of their dynastic period.
Jerry shoving Elaine out of the way in slow-motion to get to Lois: priceless.
Jerry's standup bit in "The Label Maker" about cheering for uniforms was recently mentioned in the latest Sklarbro Country podcast. HENDERSON!
The Daily Worker is the first sign Ned is a commie. "He reads everything, he's very well-read." "Maybe he's just very well...red."
Jerry attempts a rueful sip of alcohol as he tells the story of the race. "Man, that's some tart cider!"
Kramer thinks one of the reindeer is called Donna. Mickey is derisive. "Yeah, sure. I'm Prancer, I'm Dancer, I'm Ethel, I'm Harriet."
"So you can't get any corned beef?" "Well, maybe if you're in the politburo or something."
"You're like Switzerland." "I don't wanna be Switzerland!"
George's obsession with velvet is in line with his way of thinking. "I would wrap myself in velvet if it was socially acceptable!"
George thinks Jerry can just take the tickets back from Tim. "He's gotta give you a grace period!" George says. "Are you even vaguely familiar with the concept of giving?" Jerry asks.
"Who goes anywhere with Newman?" "Well, he's merry." "He is merry, I'll give him that."
"I'm taking the Congo as a penalty!"
"UKRAINE IS GAME TO YOU?"