Friday, April 13, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 3, Episode 5 - The Library

“The Library”

First Script Read:  September 4, 1991
Filmed: September 10, 1991
Aired: October 16, 1991
Nielsen rating: 11.6
Audience share: 19

Directed: Joshua White*
Writer: Larry Charles

(*This is the only episode of Seinfeld White directed. Besides a few stints in television, White spent most of his career creating and designing light shows. In the late 1960s he working in lighting design for artists including The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix. In the 1990s he returned to art installations. Don't bother looking for psychedelic lighting in this episode, however. He stuck to the Tom Cherones playbook. Unlike film directors, television directors seek to maintain the stylistic status quo in their assigned episodes.)

Because of their order on the DVDs, I watched this episode right before season 3, episode 3, "The Pen." Jerry Seinfeld, speaking on the DVD commentary for "The Pen," which Larry David had written, said, "It's really hitting its stride here, the show." Larry Charles, author of "The Library," calls his episode, "seminal." In fact, the episodes are VERY different. That difference reveals both the comedic sensibilities of a Larry David (and Jerry Seinfeld) script, and the narrative quirkiness of a Larry Charles script.

"The Pen" is memorable for the snappy exchanges between Jerry and the senior citizen residents of the Pines of Mar Gables, where the lead character is visiting his parents. "I like all that ping-pong," Larry David reflects about the dialogue he wrote. Among several hilarious scenes is the classic "Take the Pen!" face-off between Jerry and his father's nemesis, Jack Klompus:

JACK: Take the pen.
JERRY: Oh no.
JACK: Go ahead.
JERRY: I couldn't.
JACK: Come on, take the pen!
JERRY: I can't take it.
JACK: Do me a personal favor!
JERRY: No, I'm not...
JACK: Take the pen!
JERRY: I cannot take it!
JACK: Take the pen!
JERRY: Are you sure?
JACK: Positive! Take the pen!
JERRY: O.K. Thank you very much. Thank you. Gee, boy!

It's funny because of the insane atmosphere at the Pines of Mar Gables that has already been established. It's funny because the audience knows this is going to lead to trouble. It's funny because of the age gap between Jack and Jerry. It's funny because Sandy Baron nails the Jack Klompus part. It's funny because of the back-and-forth comedy style that stretches back to Abbott and Costello, and other Vaudeville comedy teams. And it is funny because, as Seinfeld explains on the DVD commentary, it turns "the smallest thing into the biggest possible thing."

Another example of this comes in a later scene. The next morning Jerry is getting driving directions from his father, Morty to go scuba diving:

MORTY: Stay on 95 South to Biscayne Boulevard. Then you make a left turn. Put your blinker on immediately. There's an abutment there. Then you're gonna merge over very quickly, but stay on Biscayne. Don't get off Biscayne. You understand me?
JERRY: Stay on Biscayne.

I copy that scene here not because it pops off the page but because it doesn't. Even the acting in this scene is relatively reserved. But it is a funny scene. The laugh track clues the audience in to this, just in case we miss it. Reciting driving directions must be about as intentionally banal as scripted network television can get, outside of Community doing a parody of My Dinner with Andre. But the exchange is funny! Morty is so intent, and Jerry is dutifully humoring him. "Don't get off Biscayne, for God's sake!" Is this nothing? It's not nothing to Morty! Similarly, the spacing of buttons on a polo shirt is not nothing to Jerry and George, way back in the first dialogue of "The Pilot."

The comedy of "The Library" is not constructed on this sort of humor of the banal. It stems from Larry Charles stretching the story-telling conventions of the television sitcom genre. The story of Jerry trying to figure out what happened to a library book back in high school is told with flash backs, spiced with Jerry initially forgetting what exactly happened. We meet a few quirky characters in "The Library," but Mr. Bookman, the library detective played brilliantly by Philip Baker Hall, is absurdly fantastic whereas the seniors of Pines of Mar Gables are caricatures of reality. There is an important difference. David, in "The Pen," is revealing familiar humor, while Charles, in "The Library," is using his imagination to create comedy.

Certainly there is already some overlap in these styles, as David and Seinfeld were the masters of their show's domain. But I think these two episodes reveal the ingredients the writers David and Charles added to the Seinfeld pot, influencing each other as the series progressed.

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