Sunday, May 27, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 4, Episode 21 - The Smelly Car


“The Smelly Car”

First Script Read: Saturday, February 27, 1993
Filmed: March 3, 1993
Aired: April 15, 1993
Nielsen rating: 17.8
Audience share: 28 (just under 25 million viewers)
Directed: Tom Cherones
Writer: Larry David and Peter Mehlman

For a very brief period in my life, I thought Nick Bakay was the funniest man alive. It was 1994. I was 13 years old and already in love with comedy. I watched a lot of sitcoms, but Seinfeld was merely a face in the crowd of my consciousness at this point. A couple years before my cousins had taken me to see Naked Gun 2 1/2 at the Tabernacle in Thousand Islands Park. I immediately fell in love with Zucker brothers movies and the like. From there, I branched into sketch comedy. I'd got my parents to rent every Monty Python movie I could find at Village Video. I would stay up late to watch Saturday Night Live, and caught SNL syndicated on Comedy Central. So when ABC debuted a new prime-time sketch comedy show called She TV, I was all-in. It lasted only half a season, so I must have watched just about every episode. I remember a Forrest Gump parody when Forrest mused on whether life was really like a box of chocolates, if all the chocolates in the box were the same flavor or if the box had a map so you could identify which chocolate was which. And I remember Nick Bakay. He's the only member of the cast (which, I had forgotten until now, included Bea Arthur and Jennifer Coolidge) that I can recall. He had a Cheshire cat grin and a detached amusement that I found engaging. 

She TV wasn't a hit, and it quickly disappeared from my life. Nick Bakay would pop up in random places over the years, most excitingly when  he did a humorous Sportscenter segment called "Tale of the Tape." In it Bakay broke down a key match-up side by side, category by category. He brought the gimmick to ESPN.com's "Page 2," where you can still read them here. In 2007, my beloved Simmons used the "Tale of the Tape" idea for an ESPN: The Magazine column. I saw it and immediately said to myself, "Hey! He stole Nick Bakay's idea!" After a few moments, I realized it was a pretty simple column idea, so I gave The Sports Guy a pass. A few days later someone called out Simmons in a chat. Here's the exchange:

Rob (Dallas): Did you send Nick Bakay his check for you stealing his bit for your last Mag column?
Bill Simmons: I'm sorry, I didn't know Bakay invented the concept of breaking down 2 players by categories. What a brilliant idea, he hasn't gotten enough credit.

Well played, Simmons. Anyway, I think Dr. Jack Ramsey had this idea before either of them. At the very least, he's much older. What I was most surprised about was that anyone else actually knew who Nick Bakay was. According to his IMDb page, he kept himself busy doing animated voices; most famously he was Salem the cat on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. He also wrote for King of Queens.

Long story short (too late), I've always had a soft spot for Nick Bakay. This episode was an early break in his career. He plays Elaine's boyfriend, Carl, who doesn't sleep with her because he smells the B.O. from Jerry's car. He doesn't have many lines, but he does nail the "I smell something funny" face a couple of times in the episode. Good job, Nick Bakay.

There's not much more to say about the episode. Jerry's car stinks from a valet's B.O. The stink clings to him and Elaine after they ride in it. They can't get rid of the smell, so eventually Jerry lets a man on a street steal the car and Carl, presumably, breaks up with Elaine.

Things do get very interesting for George, and Seinfeld's gentle homophobic strands crop up again. George runs into Susan at a video store (he's returning Rochelle, Rochelle) and discovers his ex-girlfriend is now dating a woman, Mona. Floored, George is convinced he was directly responsible for her shift in sexuality. He frets about it and manages to meet her again at the video store, where she dismisses the idea he drove her to lesbianism. George takes the opportunity to clear up some other confusion he has about lesbians:

GEORGE: Listen. Let me ask you something. If you and Mona were ever to dance, how do you decide who leads? I mean, do you take turns? Do you discuss it beforehand? How does that work?
SUSAN: You're an idiot.
GEORGE: Why? That's a legitimate sociological question!
SUSAN: I'll see ya. And George, by the way, you stink. Real bad.
GEORGE: It's not me! It's the car!

George also admits he is more attracted to Susan than ever now that he's found she is a lesbian. Jerry, upon hearing this, resists the urge to press George on the reasons why. I can offer one suggestion, besides the peculiar, illogical eroticism that heterosexual males associate with homosexual females in contemporary culture. George is doing what we in the humanities call "Othering." He is exoticizing Susan in his mind, imagining her to be a different species from him. His mind focuses on the difference between them and forgets their commonalities. Susan senses this attitude and is offended. After all, there's nothing inherently offensive about George's question. It's idiotic, but it's not offensive. It's his own discomfort, his own reaction to his perception of her as an "other," that rubs Susan the wrong way. This attitude is inherent in Seinfeld's portrayal and treatment of homosexuals, at least in its first few seasons. Down the road, in season seven, "The Wig Master" portrays Jerry as completely comfortable around homosexuals, while still finding humor in their contrasting sexuality; unlike "The Outing," in "The Wig Master" Jerry is offended when someone doesn't think he is gay. But that's a story for another time... For now, Susan disappears again, though not before Mona is stolen from her...by Kramer!

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