“The Wig Master” (season 7, episode 19, originally aired April 4, 1996)
At this point, it feels like Seinfeld is killing time a little, waiting for its big resolution to the whole “George’s marriage” arc. This Spike Feresten-penned episode (his other this season was “The Soup Nazi”) is good fun and dovetails nicely but is mostly just a big conflagration of silliness. You’ve got the ponytailed sales clerk, the gay wig master, hookers turning tricks in George and Kramer’s cars and the (these days, somewhat unfortunate) sight of Kramer as a pimp in Joseph’s amazing Technicolor dreamcoat.
Really, the most inspired joke in the episode is how Kramer’s pimp costume comes together, even though the “pimp costume” is a somewhat lazy gag even for the mid-’90s. But since it’s not remotely hinted at—just a weird combination of the dreamcoat, Elaine’s J. Peterman walking stick and a lady’s hat—it all works, especially when your next scene is going to be Kramer confronting a hooker.
The hooker subplot is great and probably should have been the primary focus of the episode, since Jerry’s wrangling with the annoying sales guy Craig is not that much fun. It feels like George dealing with prostitutes is a deep well of humor, waiting to be plumbed, but it all gets cut off rather quickly when Susan finds him doing it. Now, that’s a perfectly good joke in itself, but it’s not really explored. Instead Feresten just wrings a laugh out of the fact that George suddenly has another way out of his engagement, but doesn’t have the guts to take it because he’s such an inveterate schemer.
The weird parking lot is funny all around, particularly the laid-back employees who barely bother to cover their obvious lies—“You’ve got hookers turning tricks in my car.” “That’s all hearsay,” or, “It’s all the way in the back, it’s going to take a couple of days.” “This is a parking lot, people are supposed to be able to get their cars!” “Ideally!” But apart from that final interaction with Kramer, it’s a B-plot at best, barely affecting the story at large.
Jerry’s jealousy over being thought of as a platonic companion to both Elaine and the wig master is funny, especially the second time (especially since he’s wearing an unusually fashionable outfit in that scene). But Craig (Harry Van Gorkum) is only funny in his seriousness, and that gets old pretty quickly. The episode seems to know the whole thing is going nowhere, and just peters out as Elaine decides to steal his hair from his ridiculous ponytail, but really, the whole thing seems like a lot of effort for not very much on the laughter side of things.
Again, we’re killing time here, but it matters less because this is a classic Steinbrenner episode, right up there with “The Opposite” and “The Caddy” in relying on Larry David’s ranting delivery to get most of the laughs. Once again, George and Kramer’s loosely connected plots are the winners here, with Jerry and Elaine in a repeat of last week where Jerry keeps telling Elaine she’s being mistreated by her dude and she doesn’t get it until the last minute. At least in this episode, her dude has a funny name—Todd Gack—and the show rightfully gets every laugh it can out of it.
But George’s magnificent calzones, which get him on the inside with Steinbrenner, are the centerpiece here. We’re actually watching George fail to manipulate two other people here—Steinbrenner is only in his thrall because of the food, and once that gets cut off because of George’s vanity about tipping, all his power is gone. And, even better, he tries to negotiate with Newman to get the calzones for him, a rare interaction between the two of them without Jerry or Kramer around. But even George is no match for Newman’s irrationality and evil, so that blows up in his face, too. It’s rare to have a sub-plot, or even a scene, where George is the voice of reason, but his blow-up at Newman for not going to work in the rain is a fine moment.
Steinbrenner’s rants are spectacular, from “the pita pocket protects it from dripping! The pita pocket!” to his objection to Chinese food—“too many containers, too messy, too messy!” But it’s that final scene where he goes on the hunt for calzones that really got me, maybe because it’s so rare to have Steinbrenner move around at all, which makes it all the funnier. “Big Stein’s onto something! I smell a pennant!”
Kramer’s plot has the two elements usually necessary—something idiosyncratic, here his idea that he will only wear dryer- (or oven-)warm clothes; and a nice bit of physical comedy, here his insistence on paying for things in change, walking down the street in cargo pants overflowing with pennies. None of it is too complicated, but it works very well. I only wish he could have interacted with Steinbrenner while wearing the calzone-scented clothes.
Jerry and Elaine are a little lackluster once again, though. There’s some funny elements—Jerry’s sarcastic demeanor around the cop after he was speeding, or Elaine dealing with Todd Gack’s undeniably powerful poker face. But both plots sputter out without any grand comedic resolution, and Elaine’s discovery of Gack hitting on Jerry’s girl is particularly lame when it shouldn’t be. Could this show have finally run out of interested in its procession of girlfriends/boyfriends of the week?
- Jerry likes a blazer with antelope horn buttons. “It’ll match my sneakers.”
- Jerry says Craig is dangling a free dress in front of Elaine “like a shark fisherman with a bucket of chum!”
- Craig’s friend from England is called Ian. Pronounced “EEN.”
- Kramer sleeping at Jerry’s place is pretty good. “I don’t argue with the body, Jerry. That’s an argument you can’t win.”
- Trust is key to a relationship, Kramer says. “Then, and only then, will there be a free exchange of sex and discounts… and now, if you’ll excuse us, we need to get to bed.”
- “Everybody out! I got eggplant on my mind!”
- George awkwardly bantering with the pizza guy is great. “I always take care of my paisanos.”
- “Oh. You must have gotten me when I slowed down to take that curve ’cuz for a while there, I was going well over 100!”
- One of Gack’s big flaws: shitty cigars. “I paid $300 for these! I could have got a house in Peru for $300!”
- “What kind of pie are you cooking?” “Huckleberry.”
- Newman is a great negotiator. “And three times a week I shall require a cannoli!”
- “I don’t work in the rain!” “Neither rain nor sleet… it’s the first one!”