Tuesday, June 5, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 5, Episode 7 - The Non-Fat Yogurt

“The Non-Fat Yogurt”

First Script Read: October 20, 1993
Filmed: Monday-Tuesday, October 25-26, 1993
Aired: 9:00pm, November 4, 1993
Nielsen rating: 20.2
Audience share: 31
Directed: Tom Cherones
Writer: Larry David

This wonderfully fun episode fixed the Seinfeld universe tightly to the real world thanks to its tie-in to the New York City mayoral election, which took place two days before this episode aired. Every storyline ties in to the election. Lloyd Braun, an old neighbor of George's from when he was growing up in his parent's house (where he now lives again), is working on the election campaign for incumbent Mayor David Dinkins. George lies to Braun about his arm being injured, and Braun puts George in touch with Dinkins' doctor, who calls George a faker. 

Meanwhile, Jerry and Elaine are packing on pounds and they don't know why. Kramer insists the frozen yogurt they are all feasting on is as fat free as it claims. Attempting to influence the lab technician who is testing the yogurt, Kramer woos her into a romantic encounter at the lab. This inadvertently causes a contamination to Rudolph Giuliani's blood sample, leading to an extremely high cholesterol measurement for the Mayoral candidate. Jerry calls the Giuliani campaign to tell them their candidate's yogurt eating habit isn't as healthy as it seems. An appearance by Giuliani himself, filmed the day before the episode aired and the day after Giuliani won the election, further heightens the realism.

The yogurt is a big campaign issue, but the election might have turned on Elaine's suggestion to Braun that people in New York City should all wear name tags. Braun passes on the idea to Dinkins, who makes it an item in his campaign platform. The idea is immediately ridiculed and Braun is fired in disgrace. Elaine's idea, pitched to Braun, is quaint and romantic:

ELAINE: You know what I would do if I was running for mayor? One of my campaign themes would be that everybody should wear name tags all the time to make the city friendlier.
LLOYD: Name tags, hmm?
ELAINE: Well, everybody would know everybody. It would be like a small town.

Elaine's vision for a friendly, small town, is brought about merely through everyone knowing each others' names. In her mind, if you know a person's name, you know the person, or at least the door is opened to knowing more about the person. Frank Costanza agrees:

GEORGE: Name tags! Name tags! What kind of an idiot thinks anybody would be interested in an idea like that?
FRANK: I don't think it's so bad. People should wear name tags. Everyone would be a lot friendlier. "Hello, Sam." "How are you doing, Joe?"

Frank is thinking along the same line as Elaine. The knowledge of a person's name leads to conversation. However, the conversation remains fairly shallow in Frank's example. Perhaps that is all Elaine and Frank want - a city, not exactly like a small town where everyone truly knows everyone, but an echo of a small town where people might pretend they know each other, creating a comfort that is false at its core.

Along with George, Jerry and Kramer find the idea preposterous. Jerry points out that, in practice, knowing everyone's name in New York City would not make it feel much friendlier:

KRAMER: Oh, did you hear about that Dinkins?
ELAINE: No. What about him?
KRAMER: You didn't hear?
ELAINE: Un-uh.
KRAMER: He's proposing a plan where everyone in the city should wear name tags.
JERRY: Name tags?
KRAMER: Yeah! So people can go around saying "hello" to one another!
JERRY: Oh, I see. So you can go, "Hey, you know who I saw wilding today? Herb!" 
KRAMER: He's become a laughing stock! You know, The Times has already stated it could cost him the election? Name tags!

Jerry comes up with one of the darkest hypotheticals he might imagine. "Wilding" was the activity of groups of young men assaulting and sometimes raping strangers. The most famous case was the Central Park Jogger case of 1989, in which a woman was raped and nearly died. It's not surprising that Jerry would hate the idea. In the following season's episode, "The Kiss Hello," Jerry would object to having his photo and his name made public to even the neighbors in his building. His criticism is not self-concerned but rather expresses a larger cynicism about the city. He implies the question, why should Dinkins focus on name tags when there are far more serious problems to fix? Also, he suggests there are a lot of people in the city he would not like to know.

By this point in season five, Seinfeld was comfortably replacing the legendary Cheers, which had departed from NBC's Thursday night schedule after the previous season. Cheers depicted a haven in a city that was a lot like a small town where people from different backgrounds and social statuses could be friends and everybody knew your name. Seinfeld rejects this vision. The place where the characters do hangout, Monk's, is often a site of conflict. They rarely see people who they know in the restaurant, and it is even more uncommon for them to be happy to run into someone they know. Jerry's apartment is, like the bar in Cheers, a haven where the characters can plot and commiserate over how they will overcome the complications of the outside world. However, it is a private space, and this quartet is a much more private bunch than the gang in Cheers. Other than Mulva/Delores, these characters don't want to know anybody's name. Name tags could work in a small town or in a city bar, but they are ridiculous in Seinfeld's New York City.

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