Thursday, April 5, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 3, Episode 1 - The Note

"The Note"

First Script Read:  Wed August 9, 1991
Filmed: 7:30 pm Tuesday, August 13, 1991
Aired: September 18, 1991 (Season Premiere)
Nielsen rating: 15.1
Audience share: 25
Directed: Tom Cherones
Writer: Larry David

Oh George and his wacky homophobia! 

In this memorable episode (we're rapidly approaching the point where every Seinfeld episode is memorable), George and Elaine follow Jerry's lead in trying to score free massages courtesy of doctor's notes procured from Jerry's dentist friend, Roy. George and Elaine end up at the therapist's together. George gets stuck with Raymond, a giant, fit, Nordic, ex-flight attendant who wears skinny t-shirts and skinnier jeans that accentuate his package. Raymond is affable and gentle. And there is nothing about his personality or demeanor that suggests he is gay. Just the flight attendant and skinny clothes things.

Whether or not the show was trying to hit a few stereotypical gay traits doesn't really matter. It just ramps up the humor, since George was petrified of the idea of getting a massage from a man even before he gazed up and down and up at Raymond.

George's homophobia paralyzes him. As Raymond tries to work, George freezes and can barely speak. After, he walks slowly out of the office, ignoring Elaine's questions. He is terrified because it moved. (For the second episode in a row, Larry David simultaneously navigates network censors and explores the comedic possibilities of avoiding an edgy term. In "The Deal" it was "sex." In "The Contest" it will be "masturbation." Here, in "The Note," it is "penis.") Jerry tries to reassure George. "That's not the test," he tells George. "Contact is the test. If it moves as a result of contact."

George is more terrified of being gay then of gay people, which seems to me to be the more offensive option of the two when you think about it. Jerry and George navigate a slightly different fear in the season four classic, "The Outing," the famous "not that there's anything wrong with that" episode. In that episode, the duo are afraid others will think they are gay. In "The Note" George deals with a fantastic, hilarious, and dark crisis of his own sexuality.

Jerry's culminating stand-up bit suggests such a fear is latent in all men:
What causes homophobia?  What is it that makes a heterosexual man worry?  I think it's because men know that deep down we have weak sales resistance.  We're constantly buying shoes that hurt us, pants that don't fit right.  Men think, "Obviously I can be talked into anything.  What if I accidentally wander into some sort of homosexual store, thinking it's a shoe store, and the salesman goes, 'Just hold this guy's hand, walk around the store a little bit, see how you feel.  No obligation, no pressure, just try it.  Would you like to see him in a sandal?'"

It's funny and ridiculous, but it is also honest and, from the vantage point of twenty years, slightly troubling. Unlike the best episodes of South Park and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which successfully parody insensitivity and ignorance by portraying characters as irredeemably flawed, this episode never quite establishes George's position as wrongheaded. Jerry's comments actually affirm George. But the more gay people are accepted in American society, the less they will be defined as somehow threatening, and the more Jerry's comments, and this episode, will feel dated.

That's a good thing. The fact that this episode is starting to feel dated already is a sign of progress. And its dated-ness is interesting to historians seeking to understand perceptions towards gays in 1991, when homosexuality was still considered contagious.

Bonus spin-off idea: What if Everybody Loves Raymond was about Raymond, the tall, handsome, ambiguously gay masseur?

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