“The Cheever Letters”
First Script Read: Friday, September 18, 1992
Filmed: September 22, 1992
Aired: 9:00 pm, Wednesday, October 28, 1992
Nielsen rating: 11.1
Audience share: 17
Directed: Tom Cherones
Writer: Larry David, Elaine Pope, Tom Leopold
Would Seinfeld have been even funnier if Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David et al had the freedom offered by a subscription network like, say, HBO to tell their stories? David's Curb Your Enthusiasm has been described as "Seinfeld on HBO." That's fair, but only in that both television shows are created by David and feature stories loosely based on his life and a certain side of his personality. The influence of the medium on the message is revealed in the differences between the two shows. In Seinfeld, Jerry and the gang hilariously dissect the banal. In Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry (pun intended!) explores the frankly risque, the politically incorrect, and the darkly absurd. David would have never succeeded with Curb Your Enthusiasm without his experience working on Seinfeld, and not simply because fans followed him to HBO. The behind-the-scenes mythology of the show portrays Seinfeld and David as pioneers laboring in the wilderness beyond the reach of NBC executives to create something totally different, but they could not help but be influenced and even confined by the NBC framework, the generic qualities of the sitcom, and the decency standards for network television. Creating a show for a broadcast network forced David to learn how to tell jokes for a mass audience. He had to learn how to be funny in Jerry's living room and Monk's restaurant before he could venture into HBO's bedroom.
Seinfeld avoids showing Jerry's bedroom, skirting the prurient activities that take place there. We hear Jerry tell far more often than we see him kiss. This episode is a good example. While Susan deals with the shock of learning her father had a long affair with author John Cheever, Jerry frets about Elaine hearing about his own strange bedroom tales. While the dirty talk of Jerry's girlfriend, Sandra, is concealed from the audience, Jerry does admit to George (and the microphones) what he said to her:
JERRY: Okay? So, she's taking about her panties. So, uh... So I said, "You mean the panties your mother laid out for you?"
It's a baffling line. George is puzzled, and calls it "abnormal, but it's not offensive." It's silly. It's suitable for network television. One can imagine David and the other writers grappling with what Jerry could get away with saying on network television, settling on that line, and agreeing that it was abnormal but not offensive. In a memorable final moment, Elaine reveals that she knew about the remark, but other than Jerry's ego, no one gets hurt. Elaine should hear what Larry David says on Curb Your Enthusiasm.