Friday, April 27, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 4, Episode 2 - The Trip: Part II

“The Trip: Part 2”

First Script Read: July 17, 1992
Filmed: Mon-Fri, July 20-24, 1992
Aired: August 19, 1992
Nielsen rating: 10.5
Audience share: 15
Directed: Tom Cherones
Writer: Larry Charles

In "The Keys," the finale of season three, Kramer left his life and his friends behind, seeking to cure his acting bug as well as his deeper yearning for a more fulfilling life. To kick off season four, Jerry invites George to accompany him to Los Angeles where he is making an appearance on The Tonight Show. They plan to track down Kramer, as Jerry still feels bad about their argument over keeping each other's apartment keys. After Kramer is cleared of murder charges, the three friends sit on a roadside bench in the hills overlooking Los Angeles, the Hollywood sign at their backs.

JERRY: So Kramer what are you going to do?
KRAMER: Do? Do? Hey, I'm doing what I do. You know I've always done what I do. I'm doing what I do, way I've always done, and the way I'll always do it.
GEORGE: Kramer, what the hell are you talking about?
KRAMER: What do you want me to say? That things haven't worked out the way that I planned? That I'm struggling, barely able to keep my head above water? That L.A. is a cold place even in the middle of the summer? That it's a lonely place even when you’re stuck in traffic on the Hollywood Freeway? That I'm no better than the screenwriter driving a cab, the starlet turning tricks, the producer in the house he can't afford? Is that what you want me to say?
GEORGE: I'd like to hear that.
JERRY: Yeah...
KRAMER: Well, I'm not saying that! You know, things are going pretty well for me here. I met a girl...
JERRY: Kramer, she was murdered!
KRAMER: Yeah, well, you know, I wasn't looking for a long term relationship. I was on TV.
GEORGE: As a suspect in a serial killing.
KRAMER: OK, yeah, all right. You guys got to put a negative spin on everything.
GEORGE: What did they put on this tuna? Tastes like a dill. I think it's a dill.
JERRY: So you're not going to come back to New York with us?
KRAMER: No, no, I'm not ready, things are starting to happen.
GEORGE: Taste this. Is this a dill?
JERRY: No, it's tarragon. Listen Kramer, I'm sorry about that whole fight we had about you having my apartment keys and everything.
KRAMER: OK, it's forgotten.
GEORGE: Tarragon?
JERRY: Yeah.
GEORGE: Oh, you're crazy.
JERRY: Well, take it easy.
GEORGE: Yeah, take care. Stay in touch.
KRAMER: Hey, hey, whoa! Come on, give me a hug...
JERRY: Oh, no... Get out of here!
GEORGE: No! You're crushing my sandwich!

No hugging on Seinfeld, of course. What might have been a heartfelt scene is undermined by George's preoccupation with his sandwich. Partly out of guilt, but partly out of genuine concern for his friend, Jerry is a little more interested in convincing Kramer to return to New York.

Why doesn't Kramer come back? To a large extent it is stubbornness. He is not one to be talked into decisions, big or small, nor is he one to admit defeat. Throughout the whole murder suspect situation, Kramer has kept a cheery attitude. Now Jerry's pushiness only increases his resolve to stick to his decision. He is also an optimist, not about the world around him, but about his own ability to survive and thrive in that world. So he stays in Hollywood...for three more days.

Jerry and George are watching television when Kramer enters the apartment as he has many times before. He offers a quick greeting but no explanation for his return. He heads straight for Jerry's fridge where he helps himself to some sandwich toppings. George and Jerry exchange looks, but they don't press Kramer. Instead, in perhaps the most touching moment in the entire series, Jerry tosses Kramer his spare set of keys, officially welcoming his neighbor back and burying the hatchet on their dispute. Kramer smiles gently and disappears into the hall. He returns and, more comically, lobs his massive key chain at Jerry. It knocks Jerry's drink off the coffee table, and breaks the sentimental moment.

That same stubbornness that kept Kramer in Los Angeles for a little longer now prevents him from admitting failure. Jerry and even George are sensitive enough not to press him, so Kramer comfortably settles back into his old habits. 

But what happened to his yearning? Ultimately, Kramer returns to his comfort zone. As independent a character as he is, he lost without his New York social network. As the series progresses, Kramer's various friends provide various kinds of support for his schemes. He gets his coffee table book published through Elaine's publishing job, and launches a make-your-own-pizza restaurant with his friend Poppy, to name a few examples. At the end of "The Trip," we are reminded that Kramer even relies on Jerry for food. Maybe he was literally starving on his own out in Los Angeles. In season eight's "The Betrayal," better known as "The Backwards Episode," we see from the origin of Jerry and Kramer's relationship that their friendship was founded on Jerry giving Kramer free food.

Surprisingly, then, Kramer is the most helpless of the four characters. He is the most childish, for his stubbornness, for his inability to care for himself, and for his unwillingness to play by the conventions of adulthood that Jerry, George, and Elaine so strongly subscribe to.

In "The Keys," Elaine mutters to herself, "I gotta get some new friends." But she is equally unable to break free from the quartet, a problem explored in season eight's "The Bizarro Jerry" and elsewhere in the series. They are all stuck to each other. Kramer cannot survive alone. None of them can face the world alone. They are each other's relief from the world's insanity. They release their stresses and neuroses to each other, through sarcasm as well as brutal honesty. Their ability to share nothingness is what gets them through the day, and their ability to laugh at each other's misfortunes is what distracts them from their own desperate yearnings. Even Kramer cannot escape the comfort of that nest.

SEINFELD - Season 4, Episode 1 - The Trip: Part 1

“The Trip: Part 1”

First Script Read: July 15, 1992
Filmed: Mon-Fri, July 20-24, 1992
Aired: August 12, 1992
Nielsen rating: 11.5
Audience share: 19
Directed: Tom Cherones
Writer: Larry Charles

Unlike the hour-long episode in season three, "The Boyfriend," "The Trip" was broadcast in two parts separated by a week. Kramer's decision to return to New York takes place in Part II, so the clue into the show's soul I've been looking for since the season three cliffhanger, "The Keys," will have to wait until that post. Of course, thanks to the miracle of DVDs I can watch these episodes one after the other, so you don't have to wait long. 

It is interesting to remember that a video collection of a television show's entire series was inconceivable in 1992. The VCR had only been a common feature of American households for a decade. Due partly to the number of tapes that would be needed to hold the required data, I don't know of any television series released in its entirety on VHS. Television releases were limited to selected episodes of only the most famous series. Even in the first few years of DVDs, it took a while for production companies to realize there might be a market for an entire series. The first Seinfeld DVD release was a collection of Jerry Seinfeld's favorite episodes. He picked "The Boyfriend," "The Rye" from season seven, and from season eight "The Pothole" and "The Yada Yada.

But I digress. Since Parts 1 and 2 were essentially created together, I'll talk about the feel of the entire two-part story here before turning to Kramer's decision in my next post.

Once again, Larry Charles' sensibilities are on full display. He likes to kill people off (see also "The Baby Shower"). He likes police procedurals, particularly Dragnet which he was watching regularly when he joined the Seinfeld writing staff (see also "The Statue," "The Baby Shower," "The Library"). He likes guns (see also "The Baby Shower," "The Subway," "The Limo"). And he just generally likes to explore darker themes than his fellow Seinfeld writers. (Just enter "Larry Charles" in the search box up in the top left corner.)

Charles also broke down the generic template of the sitcom in ways Larry David was uninterested in doing. While David brought new topics and language to the sitcom, stylistically his stories resembled the basic sitcom formula. Charles crossed over into other generic styles, stretching the boundaries of how Seinfeld told its stories. Charles used the two episodes to tell a story that felt more cinematic, particularly the parts of the episodes dealing with the police search for the Smog Strangler who is killing young women in Los Angeles.

In his DVD commentary for Part II, Charles credits cinematographer Wayne Kennan's work in creating the unique style, most notably in the scene were Kramer is interrogated:
“But see even the way this is lit, you know. There’s some atmosphere. It’s not sitcom-like. We did a good job of, of making… This episode really looks good also which is a nice quality. It was something I was always kinda pushing and something Larry [David] doesn’t always care about that much, but I was always trying to push for, you know, a little more atmosphere a little more subtlety in the lighting.”

Of course, it helped that the episode brought the characters to Los Angeles, the city where Seinfeld was filmed, allowing a lot of "on-location" shooting. While "The Parking Space" was able to use a few seconds of establishing shots along with extensive outdoor shooting to create the illusion of the New York City setting, "The Trip" gets Jerry, George, and Kramer out and about in L.A., giving it a different feel from a standard studio sitcom. Leaving the studio is the most effective way for a sitcom, or any show, to create an atypical atmosphere. (For a contrast, imagine how Lost would have felt if it was shot entirely on an indoor set.) As its budget exploded along with its popularity, Seinfeld would increasingly find new places to shoot, both outside as well as on new studio sets.

Despite this stylistic innovation, the show remained grounded in the banal. Charles knew not to stray too far from the foundation for comedy Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld had built. For example, George's biggest concern over the course of the two episodes was that his hotel bedspread not be tucked in. As referenced in season three's "The Note" and "The Limo," George previously injured his hamstring kicking free of tightly tucked hotel blankets. Alas, Lupe, the friendly hotel maid, fails to remember his request.

Also throughout, the comedy of the Jerry and George team on one hand and Kramer's zaniness on the other keeps things lighthearted. Jerry and George discuss the details of airline security when they travel, and snipe back and forth like Laurel and Hardy as they move around L.A., acting like children in the back of a police car. Kramer has several scenes with minimal dialogue and maximum antics, such as when he is auditioning for a music video, infomercial, exercise tape, and horror movie.

"The Trip" is vintage Larry Charles - twisted, edgy, and funny. He does sneak in an extremely dark detail about Kramer, one that anticipates a running joke about the character Charlie Day's sketchy relationship with his uncle in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. In the interrogation scene, Lieutenant Martel presses Kramer to confess:

LIEUTENANT MARTEL: I'm not interested in your explanations, Kramer! Sure, I bet you've got a million of 'em. Maybe your mother didn't love you enough. Maybe the teacher didn't call on you in school when you had your little hand raised. Maybe the pervert in the park had a present in his pants, huh? Well, I've got another theory Kramer: you're a weed.

But soon Martel gets a phone call saying that the murderer has struck again, meaning Kramer must be innocent. He tells Kramer to leave. Kramer gets up and, as he walks out, asks Martel a question:

KRAMER: Hey, how did you know about the guy in the park?

Seinfeld didn't make this into a running joke about Kramer's character. It's probably for the best.