Tuesday, December 11, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 9, Episode 8 - "The Betrayal"

“The Betrayal” aka The Backwards Episode

First Script Read: October 31, 1997
Filmed: November 5, 1997
Aired: November 20, 1997
Nielsen rating: 22.9
Audience share: 34
Directed: Andy Ackerman
Writers: David Mandel and Peter Mehlman
Award: Andy Ackerman – Director’s Guild of America

It's hard to trace the plot of an episode that runs chronologically in reverse, but here goes. "The Betrayal" traces back from the gang's disruption of Sue Ellen Mischke's wedding to their initial decision to go to India. It also moves from George's anger towards Jerry after finding out Jerry slept with his girlfriend, Nina, to Jerry setting up George and Nina in the first place. Back in New York City, Kramer arranges for his friend FDR to not want him to drop dead anymore, and the story moves back to the initial reason, years before, that FDR wanted him to drop dead. The final scene is perhaps the most delightful for the audience. Jerry is moving into his apartment and meets Kramer, inviting him to share his pizza with the neighborly promise, "What's mine is yours."

The name of the episode is taken from a 1979 play written by Harold Pinter that runs in reverse chronological order. In another homage, Sue Ellen's fiancee who once slept with Elaine is named Pinter. That play tells the story of a man who carries on a long affair with his close friend's wife. In the Seinfeld episode there are two cases of betrayal; Elaine slept with Pinter, although that happened long before he met Sue Ellen, and Jerry sleeps with Nina after setting her up with George who she just met but before their first date. Since Elaine had no idea Pinter would end up marrying her frenemy, Sue Ellen, Jerry is on much thinner ice in terms of the degrees of betrayal, though George and Nina's relationship hasn't really started. Either way, both Sue Ellen and George are upset when they discover what happened.

The real fun of the episode are the jokes that show the effect before the cause, such as when George complains about a stomach ache and then the episode cuts backwards to him ordering clams casino at the coffee shop. Another fun example is when, after Jerry tells Elaine, "God bless you," the show cuts to Elaine sneezing. But the deeper effect of the reverse chronology is not too far from the reason Harold Pinter employed it, at least as I understand it from reading a description of the play on wikipedia. In this episode George, Jerry, and Elaine are particularly nasty. They all lie, cheat, and deceive throughout the story. Both Jerry and George get Elaine drunk to get information from her. Elaine goes to India to spite Sue Ellen. And the three end up (or start out, in the order of the episode) furious with each other. Behind the clever gimmick of The Betrayal is a particularly nasty story about fairly nasty characters, so perhaps its greatest triumph is the clever way it reveals the true nature of the show's characters.

Monday, December 10, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 9, Episode 7 - The Slicer

“The Slicer”

First Script Read: October 19, 1997
Filmed: October 22, 1997
Aired: November 13, 1997
Nielsen rating: 21.7
Audience share: 32
Directed: Andy Ackerman
Writers: Gregg Kavet, Andy Robin, and Darin Henry (story only)

This episode opens with the shocker of Elaine in bed with...Jerry! 

JERRY: Morning.
ELAINE: Look, this is crazy, I can't go on like this.
JERRY: But why?
ELAINE: I need some space.

Is this a flashback? Or have they gotten back together since last week's episode? From Elaine's words, it sounds like this has been going on for some time. Maybe Elaine and Jerry have been seeing each other secretly for a while, keeping their romance hidden from even the television cameras. She rolls over on her side and the camera finds...George in bed too!

GEORGE: Does that mean I have to go too?
JERRY: You don't think she's just talking to me?
GEORGE: Hey, shut up.
JERRY: You shut up.
ELAINE: I hate this. 

The metaphor begins to emerge. Seasoned television viewers have by now guessed this is a dream sequence. Elaine's subconscious disgust with the way her friends dominate her life is revealed, though not for the first time. As seen in, for example, The Bizarro Jerry from the previous season, Elaine often articulates a longing to leave the group in the series' final seasons. That mean's Kramer must be here too...

KRAMER: You'll get used to it. It's like a grubby scrub.
ELAINE: No, I don't want this anymore.
JERRY: We'll come to work with you.
GEORGE: And on your dates.
JERRY: And shopping.
KRAMER: And to the bathroom.
ELAINE: I can't breath...I'm sorry...[WAKES UP] You're killing me!

Elaine wakes up. She realizes her neighbor, on vacation in Paris, has forgotten to turn off his alarm. Her attention turns to the immediate problem and she forgets the message of her dream entirely. In fact, she turns to her friends for help, always. She arrives at Jerry's apartment later in the episode and commiserates with Jerry and Kramer. Ever the schemer, Kramer offers to help her short circuit the electricity on the floor. He even accepts the painful responsibility of jamming a paper clip into the outlet, costing himself a finger nail in the process. But it works, and the alarm goes off.

However, the power outage also shuts off the automatic cat feeder in the apartment. The cat begins to meow, annoying Elaine just as much as the alarm did. Once again, Kramer comes to the rescue. He brings his new meat slicer over and they cut deli meat to slide under the door. It works and somehow Elaine convinces Kramer to loan her his prized slicer. She goes a little overboard with it though, using it to open envelopes and trim her high heels. She gets the heel caught in the blade, though, and is still trying to get it out when Kramer arrives to get his slicer back. Frantically, she bangs the slicer against her front doorknob, freeing the shoe. She hands Kramer the slicer then slams the door before he can yell a her about the slicer's dinged up blade. Kramer tries to enter the apartment to confront her, but the doorknob falls off in his hand.

Later, Elaine takes a plate of sliced meat to feed the cat. Only then does she discover the broken doorknob and realized she is trapped in her apartment. Blasting music to drown out the sound of the cat (and tossing in a dance here and there, a la "The Little Kicks"), Elaine calls a locksmith to come fix her door. Her other neighbor, upset about the loud music, blows the electricity on the floor, cutting off her phone. Now Elaine is trapped and temporarily phone-less. 

(Plot note: There's some inconsistency with the timing of the power outages. It seems that the first power outage caused by Kramer was short lived, because the power is back on when Elaine is in her apartment. It makes sense that this would reset the clocks and the timer on the cat feeder in the apartment of her absent neighbor. If the circuit is thus so-easily fixed, why would the neighbor bother shorting it since he knew Elaine was home and would just turn the music right back on when the power returned? Perhaps he merely wanted a reprieve. Also, Elaine's dropped phone call with the locksmith isn't that big a loss for her, even if it takes a few hours for the building superintendent to come and fix the floor's circuits. George points out that it will take the locksmith time to come "at this hour." I guess the superintendent couldn't help her (or didn't know she needed help) while he was there. And I guess Elaine was incapable of taking the hinges off her doors. Finally, I guess Elaine doesn't keep a lot of food around her apartment AND went through the meat she cut for the cat pretty quickly.)

Luckily, Elaine gets in touch with her friends and the three come over to keep her company and to feed her slices of meat under the door. In the final scene, Elaine is unseen on the other side of her door. Kramer is working the slicer and George and Jerry are sitting on the hallway floor. It's about as touching as the show gets, the three friends apparently late at night selflessly taking the time to care for their trapped friend. In fact, Elaine has come full circle. She has trapped herself on her own and needs her friends' help to be free. And far from killing her, Elaine's friends are literally feeding her and keeping her alive.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 9, Episode 6 - The Merv Griffin Show

“The Merv Griffin Show”

First Script Read: October 9, 1997
Filmed: October 15, 1997
Aired: November 6, 1997
Nielsen rating: 21.4
Audience share: 32
Directed: Andy Ackerman
Writer: Bruce Eric Kaplan (This is the first of three Seinfeld scripts written by Kaplan, a well-known cartoonist for The New Yorker. The other two are The Cartoon and The Puerto Rican Day. Kaplan went on to write and produce episodes of Six Feet Under and Girls.)

Kramer finds the set from the old Merv Griffin Show in a dumpster on the street. He lugs all the pieces back to his apartment and starts acting as though he is the host of a talk show. Eventually, the gang ends up sitting with him on the set, talking about their lives. So that's television characters talking about their fictional lives on an old set from a real television show. Kramer pretends they are on TV, though the other characters know they are NOT on TV...even though they really ARE on TV! That's some nice postmodernism.

Though they play along, Jerry, Elaine, and George roll their eyes at Kramer's enthusiasm for playing Merv Griffin. However, they are just as guilty at getting caught up in nostalgia. Jerry dates a woman with an extensive antique toy collection, but she won't let him play with them. Eventually, with the help of various sleep-inducing techniques, foods, and drugs, he manages to get her napping so he can play with her toys. He invites George over and then Elaine, and all three get a huge kick out of playing with the toys from their childhoods. Of the three, its probably most surprising to see George embrace the playthings of his youth. Elsewhere in the same episode, he can't love the squirrel his girlfriend makes him rescue. But he, along with Jerry and Elaine, have a childish, innocent side waiting to come out. All it takes is drugging Jerry's girlfriend to release it.

SEINFELD - Season 9, Episode 5 - The Junk Mail

“The Junk Mail”

First Script Read: September 28, 1997
Filmed: September 30, 1997
Aired: October 30, 1997
Nielsen rating: 20.3
Audience share: 31
Directed: Andy Ackerman
Writer: Spike Feresten

Kramer's humorous, over-the-top attack on the U.S. Postal Service was inspired by writer Spike Feresten's own annoyance at the amount of catalogs he was getting, as he explains in the DVD "Inside Look" featurette. It got him thinking about whether, even as early as 1997, mail had become obsolete. It was easy to imagine Kramer, who had often expressed anti-establishment leanings, going on his own personal mail strike. Apparently the post office won't tolerate people canceling their mail though because Newman goes to great lengths to stop him:

NEWMAN: What about your bills?
KRAMER: The bank can pay 'em.
NEWMAN: The bank! What about your cards and letters?KRAMER: Email, telephones, fax machines, Fedex, telex, telegrams, holograms.

Eventually, though, with the help of the Post Master General himself, the US Postal Service applies enough pressure to intimidate Kramer into accepting his mail delivery. It's an odd, silly suggestion that the Postal Service is a sinister, far-reaching organization that will stop at nothing to preserve itself. Conspiracy theories are quite common in American culture, especially post Watergate. The films Men in Black and Conspiracy Theory, both depicting secret government agencies, had come out the summer before this season. So while the post office might have been an odd target, Kramer's anti-government action was well within the realm of popular culture.

Monday, December 3, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 9, Episode 4 - The Blood

“The Blood”

First Script Read: September 18, 1997
Filmed: September 24, 1997
Aired: October 16, 1997
Nielsen rating: 20.9
Audience share: 32
Directed: Andy Ackerman
Writer: Dan O’Keefe

Jerry and Kramer try to take care of their health in different ways. Concerned he might be gaining weight, Jerry allows his parents to set up private training sessions with Izzy Mandelbaum (prompting a return to the show for the great Lloyd Bridges, who would die the following March after this episode premiered). Kramer, on the other hand, starts hoarding his own blood. As he admits, he is more likely than most to have an emergency requiring a blood transfusion. "I know myself," he tells Jerry. "If I'm out on the street and it starts to go down, I don't back off until it's finished." When Jerry is injured twice in the episode, he ends up with first Kramer's than Newman's blood in his body. Needless to say, Jerry is freaked out.

 Elaine, like Jerry, is concerned with other people's perception of her. In her case, she is offended when her single parent friend, Vivian, doesn't think she is responsible enough to babysit her son. Ultimately, Elaine steals the babysitting job from Kramer, but then finds the boy is handful. However, when Vivian returns home she finds her son sound asleep, worn out from tormenting Elaine. Now Elaine can't get out of the babysitting job she thought she wanted.

Unlike his friends, George is solely preoccupied with himself. After his girlfriend's vanilla scented candle makes him hungry while they make love, George tries to incorporate first food and then television into their sex lives. Distracted by these pleasures, George neglects his girlfriend and their relationship ends. Happily, he discovers Vivian shares his passion for both food and television. George has his desires satisfied, but the cost is he takes Elaine's place in helping Vivian with her son.