“The Apology” (season 9, episode 9; originally aired 12/11/1997)
If nothing else, this is a great Puddy episode. I can’t remember if there’s another episode that gives us a glimpse at Puddy’s life on his own. It’s a brief moment, but I love that shot of him sitting by the phone on Elaine’s couch, a slightly pained expression on his face, him seemingly doing absolutely nothing. Then Kramer calls to ask for help installing a garbage disposal. What a phone manner this guy has. “Puddy.” “Is David Puddy there?” “This is Puddy.” “It’s Kramer.” “I know.”
Puddy is the hero of “The Apology”—and that’s in an episode where James Spader guest stars. Spader is a funny actor for Seinfeld to feature in its ninth season, but his turn here comes at the start of his fallow period, after he was in Crash and then basically never appeared in a commercial movie again, but well before his career revival in The Practice and Boston Legal. He’s actually perfect casting for the role of sarcastic recovering alcoholic Jason Hanky—it’s never hard to buy Spader as a jerk, and his recovery clearly hasn’t quite cured him of his jerkdom.
So we’re sort of on George’s side, even though his problem with Hanky is pretty dumb, and (surprisingly for season nine) very Larry David—it revolves around his rejected request for a cashmere sweater years ago, George’s bulbous head, and the mockery that ensued. He believes he’s owed an apology as Hanky goes through Alcoholics Anonymous, but doesn’t get one. I like Spader’s barely disguised disgust for George, but the story gets lost. I think more could have been made of George going to Rageaholics Anonymous, while Hanky’s final freakout at the Baskin-Robbins is too over-the-top. Or, conversely, the buildup to it isn’t over-the-top enough.
Meanwhile, Kramer decides to live in his shower because it’s Kramer and he does silly things like live in the shower. I do like the setup he creates for himself—it reminded me of George’s under-desk paradise when he worked for the Yankees—and the way it ties in with Elaine’s co-worker Peggy and her germophobia (as well as Puddy’s) isn’t bad at all. I think the only reason Peggy (who was integral to “The Susie”) is back in this episode is that actress Megan Cole is very good at looking freaked-out by Elaine, and this is an episode where Elaine behaves strangely. Both “The Apology” and “The Strike” stick to my theory that the last seasons of Seinfeld are a chronicle of Elaine’s decline—here, she’s rubbing a keyboard on her butt and being considered filthy by a coworker because she sleeps with so many men.
The only real misfire in “The Apology” is Jerry’s naked girlfriend of the week who is naked so much that Jerry becomes desensitized to it. This is just a concept that never gets going, as right as Elaine may be about how male nudity is always “bad naked.” I think it’s something about the girl (Melissa, played by Kathleen McClellan) and how devoid of personality she is, even for one of Jerry’s girlfriends. She’s not really a character outside of her naked back.
“The Strike” (season 9, episode 10; originally aired 12/18/97)
I’ve said it before—it’s amazing how stacked classic episodes of Seinfeld are. “The Strike” is probably the last example of a classic Seinfeld, but it’s one of the most enduring. Of course, everyone remembers Festivus, Frank’s made-up holiday that answers the commercialization of Christmas with an aluminum pole, the “airing of grievances,” and the “feats of strength,” where he challenges George to try and pin him to end the holiday. The idea is based in reality—writer Dan O’Keefe, who got his first credit in season eight and then was a story editor in season nine, based it on his father’s own made-up holiday.
But really, Festivus isn’t even the A-plot of this episode, and only features in a few scenes. The first has Frank describing the holiday to Kramer, and the dialogue is so perfect that I’m just going to have to quote it below (there’s something about Frank describing himself raining blows down upon someone—it gets me every time).
Frank: Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.
Kramer: What happened to the doll?
Frank: It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born: a Festivus for the rest of us!
Kramer: That must have been some kind of doll.
Frank: She was.
Anyway, the story makes perfect sense transplanted into the Costanza household—Frank is exactly the kind of paranoid, self-important, fanciful man to invent such a holiday and force his son to celebrate by physically fighting him every year. As Elaine says upon being told of Festivus, “another piece of the puzzle falls into place.”
It also makes perfect sense that Kramer would fall in love with the holiday, at least briefly, since he’s a man given to admiring fads. He adopts the holiday just as he returns to work at H&H Bagels, where he’s been on strike waiting for the state minimum wage to inch up to his demanded salary. Much like the flashback at the end of “The Betrayal,” I don’t know how I feel about this bit of Kramer “backstory.” I don’t really need to know why he’s been out of work, I’m happy with them preserving the mystique of how his life actually functions. But it is a pretty funny concept for a story, I guess, especially the importance of his being able to use the store’s bathroom, which strikes me as something Kramer would take seriously.
Another memorable aspect of “The Strike” is George’s made-up charity, the Human Fund, to which he donates imaginary Christmas gifts for people in a form of pseudo-revenge/imitation of the evil Tim Whatley, who we see all-too-briefly here. No doubt the best thing about the Human Fund is its slogan (“money for people”) but I also like how things play out in Kruger Industrial Smoothing, which really is a much funnier work environment for George than the Yankees ever were. Kruger is basically disinterested in the gift, but he decides to give $20,000 of the company’s money to the Human Fund since it has to go somewhere. Surprisingly, the episode then adds the plausible twist of the company realizing the charity doesn’t exist, but that’s just an excuse to get Kruger to attend Frank’s Festivus meal. I love Frank’s completely unwarranted hostility towards Kruger (“You couldn’t smooth a silk sheet if you had a hot date with a babe… I lost my train of thought”) and Kruger’s mostly indifferent reaction to everything.
“The Strike” also features Jerry’s “two-faced” girlfriend Gwen, who’s beautiful under some light and hideous (or, more accurately, washed out and tired-looking) under others. The only flaw in this storyline is that you’d figure Jerry would dump her right away—he’s kicked girls to the curb for way less. But I guess his interest is piqued enough for the storyline to make sense. There’s another low for Elaine as well, as she attempts to recover a free sub card from a guy she wrote a fake number for and ends up getting rejected even by that guy (and he’s wearing a denim vest).
“The Strike” isn’t a masterclass in plotting like other classic Seinfelds, but I do like how things come together at the Festivus dinner. Elaine, her hair flat and makeup running because of an H&H steam bath, is mistaken for Jerry’s “ugly” girlfriend by Gwen, who doesn’t realize that she is the ugly girlfriend. George manages to prove Festivus is real so Kruger won’t fire him, but has to endure an off-screen wrestling match with his father as penance. And there’s the cute little nod of Kruger recognizing Kramer as “Dr. Van Nostrand” that always makes me giggle. “The Strike” works because it’s a consistently laugh-out-loud episode, but it’s not just the concepts behind it that make it season nine’s true highlight.
- I don’t love how Jerry’s totally fine with the rubber band in the Monk’s soup (Paco is cooking) considering what a neat-freak/germ psycho he is. But the joke’s good enough that it works.
- Elaine’s back with Puddy. “His apartment was being fumigated, so we thought we’d give it another shot.”
- Kramer arrives at Jerry’s with a black eye. Jerry gives him a steak. “You got any A1? I’m cooking a steak. A different one!”
- George doesn't like how Jason treats him. “Instead of an apology, he was be-bopping and scatting all over me!”
- Jerry asks Elaine what’s wrong with his body. “Chicken wing shoulder-blades.”
- Elaine's fake number spells NO-ELAINE. “The extra E is for ‘eugh.’””
- Another sign of Seinfeld’s age: H&H Bagels closed up shop last year.
- “She’s a two-face.” “Like the Batman villain?” “If that helps you.”
- Elaine wants that sub card. “I have spent a lot of time and I have eaten a lot of crap to get where I am today.” “Is there a captain’s hat involved in this?” “Maybe.”
- Frank is thrilled to revive Festivus. “I’ll get the pole out of the crawlspace!”