First Script Read: November 28, 1990, 10am
Filmed: Dec 4, 1990 (Car scene prerecorded on Dec 3)
Aired: February 6, 1991
Nielsen rating: 10.4
Audience share: 16
Directed: Tom Cherones
Writer: Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
More than ever, but not for the first time (See 1:1 and especially 2:2), much of the humor of this episode stems from an encounter with an older generation. This time it is Elaine's father, Alton Benes, who occupies the role of the older generation. Elaine is anxious about her dinner date with her father, explaining vaguely that she'd like Jerry to come along as a buffer because she hasn't seen her father in a while. Jerry is also anxious about the idea; we learn in the opening scene that Alton is a famous author, and this intimidates Jerry. "He's such a great writer. Frankly I prefer the company of nitwits." We might guess from this that the tension is going to be based on educational, not generational, differences.
Alton , played memorably by Lawrence Tierney, turns out to be RIDICULOUSLY intimidating. Jerry and George, forced to wait almost an hour when Elaine is delayed doing a "solid" for Kramer, are scared speechless. But it is not Alton's intellectual prowess that overwhelms them, but rather his personality. He clashes with Jerry and George because he is from a different generation. He reminisces about his experience in the Korean War. He rants about how the U.S. should have overthrown Castro long ago, manipulating a coup just as they had in Guatemala in 1954. This is a hardened caricature of a Greatest Generation man (though admittedly he never mentions the Depression or World War II). In comparison, Jerry and George appear soft. They order a cranberry juice with two limes and a club soda with no ice. Alton orders "another scotch with plenty uh ice!" Age, rather than mental ability, is firmly underscored as the key comedic theme by Jerry's mid-episode stand-up bit, where he declares, "All fathers are intimidating."
There is, in fact, very little about Alton that identifies him as any sort of intellectual. Other than a dismissive comment when George compliments him on one of his books, there is nothing to even suggest he is a famous novelist. He might have more aptly been cast as a retired blue-collar worker. In this way, the writing of this episode doesn't make sense, but the humor is no worse off for it.
Ultimately, Jerry and George and thus their entire generation are emasculated in relation to Alton's assuredness. Throughout the episode, George has been trying to get the Les Miserables song, "Master of the House," out of his head. It is finally shocked out when Alton overhears him humming and cries, "Pipe down, chorus boy!" Elaine later reports that her father thought George was gay, although apparently, "he pretty much thinks everyone is gay." Jerry, too, is caught in an unmanly moment when he tries to turn his brand-new suede jacket inside-out to protect it from the snow. The lining is bright pink and white stripes, and Alton demands he turn it back right-side-out. He won't have his daughter seen with someone wearing a pink and white striped jacket! Jerry has no choice but to relent and his jacket is ruined.
What does all this mean? It is interesting to me both for what divides people in the world of Seinfeld and what doesn't divide people. Age divides, perhaps more than any other recurring theme. Money is touched on in a few episodes, but much less than age. While Jerry plays a very successful comedian, his portrayed standard of living is rarely far beyond that of his friends who occupy various white collar jobs. Even the apparently jobless Kramer mostly keeps up with his neighbor's lifestyle. Intellect is touched on as a dividing force only when it plays a part in success, and success is slightly different from money in Seinfeld; think of George's parents' affinity for Lloyd Braun later in the series. Gender does divide people, though Elaine very often transcends this difference. Age is the biggest difference-maker, I think. I'm sure this is not the last time in this space I will muse extensively about the role of age-difference in Seinfeld.