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Seinfeld: "The Raincoats, Parts 1 & 2"

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“The Raincoats” is one of those Seinfeld opuses that has jokes you didn’t remember were in this episode. Sure, everyone remembers Jerry making out while seeing Schindler’s List, and everyone remembers Judge Reinhold playing the close talker, and everyone remembers the long ballad of “The Executive,” the beltless trench coat invented by Morty Seinfeld (note: when I say everyone, I don’t really mean it). But that all that was crammed into this one episode, and that all the plots flow so beautifully in and out of each other… well, it’s just a beautiful experience. Watching a great episode of this show can be very existentially enlightening, as you see how everything is connected, however tangentially, and also you laugh a bunch at Frank Costanza, who keeps shrieking when he thinks he sees a mouse.

You know how shows like The Office and its contemporaries would sometimes do “super-sized” episodes for whatever promotional reasons, and it always felt waaaay too long, padded out with meandering, unrelated jokes? Or, it’d just be like they took two completely separate episodes and squashed them together because NBC asked “can you guys do an hour for us this week?” Well Seinfeld ain’t like that, especially not in this episode. They throw in a lot of plots, for sure, but they manage to tie every string to something else to make it that much more satisfying. As we approach the end of season five (just one more post, and then it’s forward we go!) it's clear that it's almost equal to last season in terms of having only a handful of episodes that aren't completely bulletproof. I prefer season four because it has a stronger season arc (although there are arcs to season five, and I'll talk about that as it relates to George more next week) but it's a debate I'm willing to have.


So, let's get into the episode, right? It all whirls around a guest appearance by Morty and Helen, in town on their way to Paris. They disrupt Jerry's sex life; they become friends with Elaine's new boyfriend, Aaron (an Emmy-nominated Reinhold, who is just wonderful in this role); they irritate the Costanzas by implying (truthfully) that they don’t like them; and Morty and Kramer get entangled in a deal to offload three boxes of "The Executive," an Edsel-esque flop on release that has acquired a cult cachet at a vintage store operated by Rudy (Mike Hagerty, one of those guys you see in everything). The plots all spin off in different directions, but as I mentioned, they all intersect at one time or another to give you that nice warm feeling in your toes.

I'll start with my singular obsession, the Costanzas, back in full force after a too-long absence. This week George demonstrates a phenomenon that I've definitely experienced and I'm sure everyone else has too: that desire to defend something you know is awful. George sticking up for his parents against the obvious disdain the elderly Seinfelds have for them is almost honorable. Almost. I would probably feel the same way as Helen does about trekking out to Queens to endure Frank and Estelle's unique brand of hatred for each other. "My parents happen to be two perfectly wonderful people!" he protests to Jerry. "These the same people you're currently living with?"

Even better, the Seinfelds' rejection spurs Frank and Estelle to unite together for once, which is sort of a beautiful sight. "He's an idiot altogether," Estelle proclaims. George even gets in on it a little bit, but as usual, his dishonorable intentions are quickly revealed. This time, he schemed to make a quick buck on some of Frank's vintage clothes by pretending his parents had died and turning them in to Rudy. Kramer immediately buys them (it's never made clear how Kramer fits into Frank's clothes, given that he's almost a foot taller than him, but given Kramer's general magic properties it's easy to let that slide), and the confrontation he has with the Costanzas when they seem him in that "cruisewear" is just wonderful. Estelle reveals a side we never see, as she's reminded of Frank at a young age and obviously very excited. Frank, obviously, quickly turns to violence, and he's a great pair with Michael Richards in terms of physical comedy because their body types are so different.

On the Seinfeld side of things, there's less anger and resentment in the air, but Jerry definitely makes a pretty huge faux pas by making out with his girlfriend Rachel (Melanie Smith) for the entire 195-minute running time of Schindler's List (which had come out about five months before this show aired). This joke is just… so exquisite. I love that they took on the overwhelming chorus of praise for the film not by challenging its quality (which would have been quite an audacious and unpopular thing to do, I'm sure) but just with some very amusing, juvenile humor that nicely undercuts any kind of seriousness. Just imagine if Jerry went to see Schindler's List and he was very moved by it in an extremely unfunny way. God, it sounds awful! I love it when Seinfeld approaches a tricky topic like this and just pulls a fantastic gag out of the hat. And they got some nice Newman jokes—Helen greets him the same way her son does, and Jerry silently cursing him under his breath works even better the second time—out of the bargain too. Jerry describing himself as sexually "backed up" is an image I probably could have done without, but whaddaya gonna do?


How 'bout Elaine and her close talker boyfriend? This is one of those scenarios where Aaron's weird interest in the Seinfelds would have been perfectly funny enough, but when they include the close-talker character trait, every scene just becomes a joy. Judge Reinhold is that perfect mix of friendly with just a hiiiiint of something weirder, and the role fits him like a glove. Sidenote: I miss Judge Reinhold. Obviously "Mock Trial With J. Reinhold" on Arrested Development will live on forever and ever, but he needs a new project, a TV pilot or something. Anyway, the only unfortunate thing about this plot is that Elaine doesn't get much to do except looked pained. But the whole thing gets elevated to a whole other level at the end with Aaron quoting Liam Neeson-as-Schindler and saying he could have done more for the Seinfelds. You don't see it coming at all; it's the opposite of the kind of joke (that Seinfeld does often) where the comparison is underlined heavily with each gag. But once it drops, you immediately get it, and it's all the better for having snuck up on you.

That brings us back to the raincoats. I love the idea of "The Executive," especially how Morty conceived it: "I came home one night, and I tripped over one of Jerry's toys. So I took out my belt just to threaten him, and I got a glimpse of myself in the mirror." It's hard to believe they weren't a hit cause they look so damn good (especially on Kramer's slim figure), but I like the idea of them as a sort of Edsel, a curiosity gathering dust in the garage. It'd almost have been a sad ending had Morty sold them to Rudy, because they'd be too threatened there—moths, or fire, or thieves, could get to them! Obviously they've got some kind of magical halo, because Jack Klompus' idiocy (great to have him back) means everything else the Seinfelds own is stolen. But the raincoats survive!


Stray observations:

  • God, I didn't even get to George and the Big Brother program, which is just a great "George spins a web of lies" plot although it ends a little too abruptly, with George getting butter in the face. You almost wish it had gotten more play in another episode somewhere.
  • "Maybe baldness will catch on; things will all turn your way!" Jerry mocks. George says it'll happen when the aliens come.
  • "This is like the meeting of Smith & Wesson," Jerry notes of Kramer and Morty.
  • "He also got the idea for a brimless rain hat, but that never materialized."
  • Frank doesn't like mice. "I won't tolerate infestation."
  • George gets Rudy to give him $225 for his dad's clothes because "That was his high game in bowling."
  • I like how the Seinfelds try to excuse themselves when they realize Jerry is trying to get some. Morty offers to drive around. "You don't have a car." "We'll take a bus!"
  • "What about the ending, with the list?" "Yeah, that was some list."
  • "So, where are the clothes." "I burned them." "Oh. That's good."
  • Elaine complains to Jerry about Aaron's behavior. "It is a tad askew," Jerry agrees.
  • Newman is just so wonderfully twisted. "He was moving on her like the stormtroopers into Poland… AND A MORE OFFENSIVE SPECTACLE I CANNOT RECALL!"
  • Kramer tells Morty the paella was magnificent. "It's an orgiastic feast for the senses."