“The Bubble Boy”
First Script Read: September 9, 1992
Filmed: September 14 & 16, 1992
Aired: 9:00 pm, October 7, 1992
Nielsen rating: 12.2
Audience share: 19
Directed: Tom Cherones
Writer: Larry David and Larry Charles
"The Bubble Boy" returns to the "no good deed goes unpunished" moral the gang learned in "The Cafe." Perhaps it is more precise to say that this gang shouldn't be trying to do any good deeds, because things are bound to go awry. Such a "good deed gone awry" motif is an old one in comedy. In Seinfeld, things tend to go badly in more twisted ways, especially when Larry David is writing the script, but especially when Larry Charles is writing the script.
Jerry agrees to visit a boy whose illness forces him to live his life in a protective bubble. He happens to live in an upstate town on the way to Susan's family cabin. For Jerry, the bubble boy visit is a complete inconvenience. As usual, he is barely affected by the suffering of others. Elaine and the bubble boy's father dab their eyes thinking about the poor child, but Jerry takes a napkin to dab sandwich crumbs from his mouth. Jerry feels compelled to visit the boy out of his sense of duty towards societal expectations, NOT out of personal empathy.
But Jerry never makes it to the bubble boy's house. George, speeding ahead in a car with Susan, loses Jerry and Elaine on the highway. Jerry ends up at a small town diner where he is coaxed to make another nice gesture - sign a photo for the diner's wall of famous guests. He attempts to avoid this minor inconvenience with a lie; he claims to have no photo, but Elaine calls him on his fib. Begrudgingly, he signs the photo, "There is nothing finer than being in your diner." Elaine mocks this line, and Jerry tries to take the photo back, but the waitress refuses. A scuffle eventually breaks out when Jerry goes for the photo. Jerry could have politely declined to sign the photo in the first place, even over Elaine's manipulations, but it is not in his nature to stand up for his own discomfort. Or rather, it is more uncomfortable for him to take a stand against a social commitment then it is to give up and give in. Visiting the bubble boy... signing a photo for the diner... these are commitments for Jerry, actions society demands. He might try to wriggle out of them, but he will never refuse outright.
Meanwhile, George and Susan do reach the bubble boy's house. They find not a meek, sympathetic child but a whiny, aggravating adolescent. In the "Inside Look" DVD featurette on this episode, Jerry Seinfeld points out comedy demanded the bubble boy be unlikable. "It really wasn’t about making fun of anyone," he says. "The point of the thing is not, ‘This poor kid.’ In fact, we made him a guy you wouldn’t have sympathy for and we made him a guy who you wouldn’t see." George and Susan can see the bubble boy, but for the audience he is nothing but a grating, nasally, disembodied voice. Seinfeld understood that the bubble boy had to be dehumanized to leave room for comedy. The episode was protested by some advocacy groups, but, for the same reasons, it was a success with most of the audience. The bubble boy is so obnoxious and coarse that it is hard to think of him as a helpless innocent when, after George gets into an argument with him over a misprinted Trivial Pursuit card, his bubble breaks and deflates.
The gang is forced to flee town from a posse seeking revenge for the harm inflicted on the bubble boy. They arrive at the cabin too late to prevent a fire started by Kramer's negligent disposal of a cigar. The cigars were originally a gift from Susan's father to George. His own generosity cost him his beloved cabin.