Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Seinfeld: "The Bris"/"The Lip Reader"

Image for article titled Seinfeld: "The Bris"/"The Lip Reader"

"The Bris" (season 5, episode 5)

This episode, to me, is a funny little jaunt capped by a great guest performance by Charles Levin at the end of the episode as the jittery mohel. But according to the DVD, this is Jason Alexander's least favorite episode because he doesn't like how the mohel hates children. What a weirdo! To me, that's hilarious! Who knew Jason Alexander cared so much about the kids? Aside from the child-hating circumciser, this episode mostly centers around the gang's repeated visits to a hospital, first to visit a newborn baby and then to deal with the after-effects of a suicidal jumper landing on George's car and Kramer spotting a Pigman.

The Pigman story was the one I remembered the best, because it's brilliantly simple and cleverly taps into Kramer's penchant for conspiracy theories. One of Seinfeld's great qualities (a quality many of its writers have ascribed to Larry David in interviews) is its ability to recognize a funny word or phrase and repeat it just enough times. This applies to so many examples, from the famous ones like "shrinkage" or "spongeworthy" to the weirder ones like "PIGMAN!" And Michael Richards really loves saying "Pigman," or at least it feels like he does. "Pigman, baby, Pigman!" They successfully keep from driving the joke into the ground and the payoff, I feel, is beautiful: Pigman steals George's car (he describes the perp: "hairless, pink complexion, well, he looks like a pig…"), and Kramer realizes his fears of government experiments on Americans were unfounded. Turns out he was "just a fat little mental patient." Is it mean-spirited just how hard I laugh at that line? I think it's more Kramer's disappointment than anything else, but also just how wonderful his imagination is that he would look at a fat little guy and think, "PIGMAN!"

In the A-plot you've got Jerry and Elaine fretting over their duties as godparents to their friends' newborn kid, meaning Elaine has to find a mohel and Jerry has to hold the baby while the deed of the bris is done. Jerry's task is obviously more nerve-wracking (and if I had a kid and decided to opt for the bris, I definitely would insist on holding the poor sucker myself), but Elaine's turns out to be even scarier when she books the absolute worst mohel in the universe. The gag of him reacting to something dropping to the ground by jerking wildly and going "My GOD, I almost had a HEART ATTACK!" pretty much encapsulates the character, but Levin does a good job with his little monologues of nervous energy about how the apartment is in such a dangerous neighborhood, or the glass being too close to the edge of the table, or how he wanted to be a kosher butcher. My favorite is the one about the glass because it's so delightfully specific:

"Darling, you see where that glass is? How that glass is near the edge of the table. You got the whole table there to put the glass, why did you choose the absolute edge, so half the glass is hanging off the table, you BREATHE and that glass falls over, then you're gonna have broken glass on the carpet, embedded in the carpet fibers, deep, deep in the shag, broken glass, bits of broken glass that you never get out. You can't get it out with a vacuum cleaner! Even on your hands and knees with a magnifying glass, you can't get all the pieces, and then you think you got it all, and two years later, you're walkin' barefoot, and you step on a piece of broken glass, and you kill yourself, is that what you want? I don't think you want that, is it? Do you?"

Apparently this, and the mohel's general disdain for his job, is what terrified Jason Alexander so about the episode. What a sensitive guy! Yet in the same episode there's that great scene where George tries to get a payment to fix his car, which had its roof caved in after a jumper landed on it. George is actually in the right on this one, such a rare occurrence for him, but because of the sensitivity of the matter, the hospital lady is able to make him look like a total jerk, and because it's George we (and he!) accept it.

But the climax is well-handled. Kramer's intervention is some nice physical comedy and the circumcision of Jerry's finger is done off-screen and recollected afterwards so we don’t know what really went down (although it's obvious Jerry flinched, that baby). The Godfather spoof is a little too obvious to really land, but it at least ties into the shitty Marlon Brando routines everyone's been doing for the whole episode. "The Bris" is really only memorable for bits and pieces, but overall, it's pretty solid.


Grade: A-

"The Lip Reader"

Here's another one that's perfectly good but just a little more forgettable than the stone cold classics season five opened with. An Emmy-nominated Marlee Matlin (who, I swear, has appeared on just about every TV show in her storied career) is typically sexy and charming as Jerry's deaf date whose lip-reading powers are exploited by George to discover the reason for his girlfriend (some chick we've never seen before or since) dumping him. Kramer's insistence on translating her signs, however, screws everything up and makes George look like a fool. He also looks like a fool several other times this episode: eating a hot fudge sundae, wearing glasses with sunglasses frames that flip off, getting offended when his girlfriend says it's not him, it's her.


George's insistence that he invented that line and now everyone's copying it is one of those situations where I wasn't actually paying attention to that kind of stuff in 1993 and don't know how off-base he's supposed to be. Did Seinfeld popularize that expression, which feels as old as time to me? Or is the gag more that George is so versed in using the lie that he considers it a personal trademark? Either way, his indignance at Gwen using it is great to watch. "No one tells me it's not me. If it's anything, it's me!" "Alright, George, it's you." "You're DAMN right it's me!"

Much like "The Bris," though, things basically just putter along in this episode and there are some very memorable moments. George's outrage is one; more subtle (and really close to home for me) is his worry that Jerry, by walking up to a girl and asking her out, will be leaving him behind to go to "the other side" where guys just do shit like that. Me and my friends, cradling beers in some bar throughout our lives, have always felt similarly toward such people, and would consider it a bit of a betrayal if one of us started behaving this way. Of course, to really buy their conversation, you'd have to ignore the countless women Jerry and George (especially Jerry) seem to acquire with ease over the years, but sure, let's ignore that.


Elaine's thing with the car service guy is cute, but no more than that. His best moment is his condemnation of her where he adds of Tom Hanks, "He, too, would be disgusted by your behavior!" Kramer's thing where he wants to be a ball man is very tacked on, and the sight gag of him bumping into Monica Seles doesn't really make any sense, but it is funny when he says he's spry and starts tumbling all over the tennis court. And then there's that championship moment, one of Newman's all-time classic lines (the one I associate most with him), which he utters as a sort-of threat when Jerry won't give him access to lip-reading. "You remember this: When you control the mail, you control… INFORMATION!"

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

  • Pendant Publishing is located in 250 Broadway (a very recognizable building across from City Hall that looks like assorted black cubes stacked on each other). In real life, that's where the City Council has its offices, along with other city and state departments.
  • George is the best parker in the universe. "I'm just WILLING these great parking spots!"
  • Elaine doesn't like uncircumcised penises. "It had no face, no personality!"
  • Kramer says they increase pleasure, but what does George care? "So how does that help me?"
  • Jerry's phone finger was the one injured, and he doesn't want stitches. "It goes against my whole personality!"
  • George wants higher than 25 SPF. "What are you, on Mercury?" Jerry asks.
  • Jerry thinks bringing a date, even J. Edgar Hoover, to a party would be no fun. "You wanna circulate, ho ho ho!"
  • George agrees that Marlee Matlin is a BL. "BL?" "Beautiful Lineswoman."
  • "I know your type, you're too good to make conversation with someone like me. GOD FORBID you could discuss the jumbles!"
  • George's plan for the night: "I was just going to wander the streets…"