Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 9, 2007)
With Season Eight of Seinfeld, the series nears its final lap, as Season Nine would prove to be its last gasp. Season Eight presented challenges as it was the first to proceed without the input of series co-creator Larry David. Would S8 live up to the series’ prior glories? Read on to find out my thoughts. The plot synopses come from the DVD’s packaging. They’re short but good.
The Foundation: “Following the death of their daughter, the Rosses establish a foundation in Susan’s memory and ask George to sit on the board. After Peterman has a mental breakdown and moves to Burma, Elaine takes over the company and puts the Urban Sombrero on the catalog cover. Jerry gets reacquainted with Mulva. Kramer takes up karate."
I thought Season Seven ended on a flawed note, and I worried that its similar emphasis on dead Susan would create problems here. The inappropriately dark tone no longer mars things, though I won’t call “Foundation” a great episode. It’s fun to see Elaine’s promotion go to her head, and it’s a hoot – albeit a predictable one – to view Kramer as he beats up little kids. This is a spotty episode but still a fairly enjoyable one.
The Soul Mate: “Kramer falls for Jerry’s girlfriend. George suspects the foundation board thinks he killed Susan so he plants a tape recorder in his briefcase. Elaine’s boyfriend Kevin gets a vasectomy to prove he doesn’t want kids. Inspired by Kevin, Jerry, Kramer and Newman decide to get vasectomies too.”
I’ll be very happy when the series dispenses with the heavy connections to Susan and her demise. They make George seem even less likable than usual and just don’t work. Nothing else in “Mate” proves particularly memorable either. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the episode just seems a little more contrived than usual. Some laughs emerge, but it’s not a strong program.
The Bizarro Jerry: “Elaine realizes that her boyfriend Kevin and his friends are the exact opposites of Jerry, George and Kramer. Kramer starts working at a midtown Manhattan office. Jerry dates a beautiful woman with ‘man hands’. George uses a picture of Jerry’s girlfriend to infiltrate an underground model paradise.”
“Bizarro” veers toward the contrived side of the street, but it musters more than enough good amusement to make it succeed. It’s amusing to see the alternate universe of Kevin and his friends, and George’s attempts to score with babes also are good. Finally, Kramer’s move into the business world fits the character and offers nice moments. It’s a pretty positive episode, though the “man hands” part gets kind of dopey.
The Little Kicks: “Elaine horrifies her co-workers by dancing at an office party. George acts like a bad seed to impress Elaine’s secretary. Kramer’s friend Brody, a movie bootlegger, hands Jerry the camera during a film and Jerry finds himself enjoying his new role as a ‘filmmaker’”.
One of the series’ most iconic moments comes here via Elaine’s terrible dancing. Part of me thinks it’s too broadly comedic for the show, but it’s too funny for me to feel too bothered. I like George’s pathetic attempts to become a “bad boy”, and the bootlegging side has some moments, though Brody presents an abnormally dark character for the Seinfeld universe; he doesn’t fit. Overall, the show succeeds.
The Package: “George attempts to wow a woman at the photo store by having Kramer take seductive photos of him. Jerry refuses to accept a suspicious package, so Uncle Leo signs for it. Elaine learns that all of her doctors think she’s a difficult patient.”
In a season marked by an increasing tendency toward unrealistic wackiness, “Package” hews a little closer to home than usual. Of course, any show in which George poses in his skivvies to seduce a photo store clerk can’t be called “realistic”, but the episode manages to twist events to which we can relate. That helps make the program lively and amusing.
The Fatigues: “Jerry dates a protégé whose mentor is dating Kenny Banya. George goes to great lengths to avoid reading a thick book on risk management. Elaine promotes a scary war vet at the Peterman Company. Kramer enlists Frank Costanza to help him cook for a Jewish singles event.”
And here we divulge from the real world! “Fatigues” indulges in more moments of goofiness and extremes, trends that don’t work particularly well for Seinfeld. When the series works best, it provides a moderately skewed take on reality, whereas when it goes too far off-kilter, it grows less enjoyable. That’s the problem with Eddie, the “scary war vet”, and Frank’s flashbacks get silly. At least the appearance of Banya adds laughs, as do George’s attempts to get out of reading a textbook.
The Checks: “Jerry’s hand cramps after signing hundreds of royalty checks for an appearance of Japanese television. Kramer tries to help Japanese tourists. George attempts to sell the Jerry pilot to Japanese television. Elaine’s boyfriend is obsessed with the song ‘Desperado’ and Farbman furniture.”
I must admit I like a story in which George gets upset that a brainwashing cult doesn’t attempt to recruit him. Kramer’s antics with the Japanese become goofy, but they’re still funny, and Jerry’s problems with his cramped hand create nice moments. Only Elaine’s boyfriend and his affection for “Desperado” are clunkers in this otherwise solid program.
The Chicken Roaster: “Kramer boycotts the Kenny Rogers Roasters whose red neon sign glows into his apartment. Jerry switches apartments with Kramer and becomes like him in the process. Elaine enjoys her access to the Peterman expense account, springs for a sable hat for George, and gets busted for reckless spending. Newman gets Kramer hooked on the chicken.”
All four threads work well here. Kramer’s problems with the chicken store create goofy hijinks, while I like George’s methods to get additional dates. It’s fun to see Elaine’s incompetence, and Jerry’s degeneration also amuses. The four elements coalesce into a good show.
The Abstinence: “George’s girlfriend gets mono and can’t have sex. By abstaining from sex, George becomes intelligent. Elaine stops having sex, but it has the opposite effect on her. Jerry keeps getting bumped from a gig at his junior high school career day. Kramer turns his apartment into a smoking lounge and enlists Jackie Chiles to represent him in a lawsuit against the tobacco companies.”
While this initial season without Larry David started with erratic episodes, it’s getting better. The concept that George gets smarter when he loses his preoccupation with sex offers a lot of comedy, and Elaine’s desperation to date a doctor – now matter how incompetent – works. Add to that the return of both Jackie Chiles and Jerry’s annoying manager Katie and the show becomes a nice one.
The Andrea Doria: “George drums up sympathy as he battles a shipwreck survivor for an available apartment in his building. Elaine dates a ‘bad breaker-upper’. Kramer has a bad cough that sounds exactly like a dog’s cough, so he sees a vet for the remedy. Jerry helps Newman deliver mail so he can win a transfer to Hawaii.”
I hate to agree with George, but I’m on his boat here. Why should someone get a bonus just because they went through one problematic ordeal? Actually, George’s biggest complaint seems to be that the “Andrea Doria” wasn’t that big a disaster, but I’m still on board with him. Kramer’s bit is goofy but good, and I like the problems Elaine runs into with her semi-ex-boyfriend. Though “Doria” doesn’t qualify as a classic, it’s still solid.
The Little Jerry: “Jerry bounces a check at the local bodega and the storekeeper posts it for all to see. Kramer buys a chicken so he can produce his own eggs. When he discovers his chicken is really a rooster, he renames it Little Jerry Seinfeld and trains him to be a champion cockfighter. George dates a prisoner. Elaine’s boyfriend shaves his head but realizes he’s really bald when he tries to grow it back out.”
I’ve considered razing my hair in the past, but I worried that Kurt’s fate would befall me and my hair wouldn’t return in full. That thread hits closest to home, obviously, and is the only one that doesn’t drive down the silly side of the street. Cock fighting and dating convicts both milk laughs, but they’re a little more absurd than I’d like. Still, this is a generally entertaining show.
The Comeback: “George misses an opportunity to zing a co-worker and goes the distance to get him back. Elaine falls for a mysterious video store staff member because she loves the movies he recommends. Kramer picks Elaine to be the executor of his living will. Jerry buys an expensive racquet from a tennis pro who turns out to be a terrible player.”
The best Seinfeld threads reflect real-life topics, and the idea of the delayed comeback is a solid one. Who among us hasn’t been in George’s situation? I love that he pursues his revenge to such extremes. Elaine’s story is good as well, and I like Kramer’s behavior when he becomes irrationally afraid of death. Even the predictable side of Jerry’s topic remains funny.
The Money: “George discovers his parents are rich. Jerry tries to buy back the Cadillac that his father sold to Jack Klompus. Kramer can’t sleep in the same bed as his girlfriend because of her ‘jimmy legs’. Kramer moves in with the Costanzas and convinces them to spend their savings by moving to Florida. Elaine hires Morty to work at J. Peterman.”
Another subject with which I could identify: girlfriends who disrupt the sleep process. I like the “jimmy legs” thread quite a lot, but on the other hand, I can’t relate at all to Jerry’s desire to give money back to his parents. When my Old Man throws bucks my way, that’s cool with me! I’m much more in the George vein; no, I don’t want my Old Man dead, but… Anyway, all these threads coalesce well and form a funny program.
The Van Buren Boys: “Jerry’s girlfriend seems perfect but no one else likes her. George discovers a mediocre student to be the first Susan Ross Foundation Scholar. Peterman enlists Elaine to ghostwrite his autobiography. When Peteman buys the rights to Kramer’s life stories, Elaine struggles to work with him and Kramer faces a life without his own past.”
Though I didn’t like the initial uses of the Susan Ross Foundation, the concept pays off here with George’s protégé. He follows a predictable line, but it’s still very amusing. I also very much like the concept of a gang based on the eighth president, and Jerry’s desperate attempts to find something wrong with his seemingly perfect girlfriend amuse. Kramer’s problems with his loss of history work well too, and all of this makes up a fine program.
The Susie: “Elaine’s co-worker calls her Susie by mistake but Elaine pretends to be Susie to protect her reputation. Kramer sets his watch an hour ahead. George avoids his girlfriend because he suspects she’s about to break up with him and he wants her to help him make a great entrance at the Yankees Ball. Kramer places bets on Jerry’s behalf with Mike Moffet, who thinks Jerry is a murderer.”
This episode boasts a number of promising threads that fail to go much of anywhere. On the surface, all seem good except for the Jerry plot; it’s just too dopey to work. However, the other three could – and probably should – have flown. Instead, they only sporadically succeed. This makes the show fitfully amusing but not a real winner.
The Pothole: “George drops his Phil Rizzuto keychain in a pothole and goes to great lengths to dig it out. Elaine moves into a janitor’s closet to get Chinese food delivered to her. Jerry knocks his girlfriend’s toothbrush into the toilet. Kramer adopts a mile of highway. Newman’s mail truck catches fire.”
Am I the only one who would pay big bucks for a talking Phil Rizzuto head keychain? Probably not, but I do love that trinket anyway. Elaine’s problems with Chinese delivery are a minor theme of the series – we saw this previously when she dated a Communist – and the subject amuses here as well. Kramer’s attempts to keep his stretch of highway clean are fun, and I like the exploration of Jerry’s hygienic phobias. All four elements balance well for another good program.
The English Patient: “Kramer asks Jerry to bring him some Cubans from Florida so he can start his own cigar business. Elaine shocks everyone when she admits to hating the movie The English Patient. Jerry competes with octogenarian Izzy Mendelbaum. George is attracted to a woman because she confused him with her boyfriend.”
Not long after this episode aired, my then-girlfriend dragged me to a screening of English Patient. All I could think through the whole painful experience was how much I wished I’d been at Sack Lunch instead. This program captures the movie’s flaws to a “T” and entertains wildly as it does so. I also like George’s thread, as he attempts to discern the one tiny detail he needs to change to land babes. I could use that knowledge too. A fun tough guy turn from Lloyd Bridges rounds out a fine show.
The Nap: “Jerry hires a handyman who has trouble making simple decisions to redo his kitchen cabinets. George realizes he can nap under his desk at work and hires Jerry’s carpenter to redesign his under-desk area. Kramer takes up swimming in the East River. Elaine’s boyfriend gives her a mattress to help her bad back.”
Not much of “Nap” connects. The end result of the handyman’s work creates some fun visual gags when the new cabinets take over Jerry’s apartment. Otherwise… there’s not much meat here. The handyman himself seems less delightful than I’d expect, and the aspects related to George’s desk just get silly. Not much else really works in this disappointing episode.
The Yada Yada: “George’s girlfriend uses the phrase ‘yada yada’ instead of completing her sentences. Dr. Tim Whatley infuriates Jerry when he converts to Judaism for the jokes. Kramer and Mickey go on a double date. Elaine botches the chances of her friends adopting a baby.”
With its titular catchphrase, “The Yada Yada” offers one of the series’ more memorable threads. Actually, I could swear lots of people already used that term before the episode aired, but I guess the show popularized it. That thread is definitely the best part of the show, though some of the other elements succeed as well, especially when Elaine turns into a predictably poor reference. The Kramer and Jerry lines are decent but not especially memorable.
The Millennium: “Kramer and Newman duke it out to invite their friends to the ultimate New Year’s Eve party. Jerry finds himself in trouble with his girlfriend’s stepmother because of his placement on her speed-dial. George tries to get fired by the Yankees so he can get a scouting job with the Mets. A Putumayo store clerk is rude to Elaine so she recruits Kramer to sabotage the business.”
Obviously the topic of “The Millennium” dates it. The gag about the argument between Newman and Kramer doesn’t sizzle so much when 1/1/00 was more than seven years ago instead of being almost three years in the future. If you can put yourself in that mindset, though, it’s funny, and it’s amusing to see George try to botch his cushy job with the Yankees – and fail. Add to that Elaine’s pathetic protest against a store as well as one of the more subtle Graduate allusions and the show entertains.
The Muffin Tops: “Elaine bumps into Mr. Lippman, who steals her idea for selling muffin tops. George pretends to be a tourist to impress a woman. Jerry accidentally shaves his chest and can’t stop. Kramer starts a Peterman reality bus tour. Steinbrenner trades George to Tyler Chicken.”
When Kenny Kramer – the inspiration for the character – emerged to capitalize on the show’s popularity, I always thought he seemed pretty lame. He gets spoofed here via the Peterman Reality Bus Tour, a hilarious romp through NYC. As for the thread I relate to the most, that’d be Jerry’s battles with body hair. However, I’ll leave that subject alone – this is a family site. In the end, “Tops” turns into a solid program, though the culmination of Jerry’s chest-shaving is too dopey for my liking.
The Summer of George: “George’s severance package from the Yankees allows him to take the summer off. Jerry is confused when he discovers his girlfriend has a dude. Elaine is bothered by a co-worker because she doesn’t swing her arms when she walks. Kramer works as a seat filler at the Tonys and gets swept up on stage with a winning production.”
Once again I relate more closely than I’d like to the George story. His big “Summer” ends up as one with him clad in sweat clothes and ensconced in front of his TV. Kramer’s line is the funniest of the bunch, though, as his Tony mania is a hoot, especially when he has to deal with a violent Raquel Welch. The parts with Elaine and Jerry have their moments but aren’t particularly satisfying. “Summer” ends an up and down season with a decent show.