Wednesday, July 25, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 5, Episode 20 - The Hamptons

“The Hamptons”

First Script Read:  Saturday, April 9, 1994
Filmed: Wednesday, April 13, 1994 (last episode filmed this season, though it was never intended to be last shown)
Aired: 9:00pm, May 12, 1994
Nielsen rating: 17.7
Audience share: 26
Directed: Tom Cherones (last episode he directed)
Writer: Peter Mehlman and Carol Leifer

This is Tom Cherones' last episode as director of Seinfeld. He was replaced by Andy Ackerman, who got to play with a brand new New York City street set starting in season six. Cherones' didn't do anything notable until his appearances on the Seinfeld DVD commentary track. Well, that's not totally fair. He also worked on Ellen, Caroline in the City, and the very solid NewsRadio.

Television directors get a lot less credit than film directors because they have much less to do with the final product. On a show like Seinfeld, with the two creators serving as star actor and show runner, Cherones and Ackerman were just there to make sure all the levers got pulled. The writers and the actors were doing a lot of funny stuff, and it was up to the director to make sure it looked good and was captured clearly, cleanly, and efficiently on camera. Any stylistic difference you might notice between seasons five and seasons six, then, should be chalked up to Seinfeld's continued evolution, as well as the rise of the writing team of Max Pross and Tom Gammill and other new additions to the writers' room. The director is supposed to make every episode look and feel the same, especially when the show is a hit. If Andy Ackerman caused the show to look different, that would be a failure on his part, not an achievement. If he wanted to be in charge of the overarching vision he would have been a film director.

All that said, there is good directing in "The Hamptons." The staging of Jane's topless saunter across the porch in front of Kramer, Jerry, and Elaine is hilarious. The lighting of the scene when Kramer stops Jerry's girlfriend, Rachel, from breaking her kosher diet by sneaking a late night lobster snack is nicely executed, given the limitations of TV studio lighting.

But television, they say, is a writer's medium, and this episode lingers because of one word - "shrinkage":
GEORGE: Well, I just got back from swimming in the pool. And the water was cold...
JERRY: Oh. You mean, shrinkage.
GEORGE: Yes. Significant shrinkage!
JERRY: So you feel you were shortchanged.
GEORGE: Yes! I mean, if she thinks that's me she's under a complete misapprehension. That was not me, Jerry. That was not me.
JERRY: Well, so what's the difference?
GEORGE: What if she discusses it with Jane?
JERRY: Oh, she's not gonna tell Jane.
GEORGE: How do you know?
JERRY: Women aren't like us.
GEORGE: They're worse! They're much worse than us, they talk about everything! Couldn't you at least tell her about the shrinkage factor?
JERRY: No, I'm not gonna tell her about your shrinkage. Besides, I think women know about shrinkage.
GEORGE: How do women know about shrinkage? (ELAINE PASSES BY IN THE HALL) Elaine! Get in! Do women know about shrinkage?
ELAINE: What do you mean, like laundry?
JERRY: Like when a man goes swimming... afterwards...
ELAINE: It shrinks?
JERRY: Like a frightened turtle!
ELAINE: Why does it shrink?
GEORGE: It just does.
ELAINE: I don't know how you guys walk around with those things.

What's amazing about this scene is that it was obsolete as soon as it aired. Twenty million people saw it and thus a new definition of "shrinkage" entered the American language. Before May 12, 1994, most American women probably did not know about shrinkage. After that date, the phenomenon became more widely understood because a popular TV show gave it a name. People who have never seen the episode will nonetheless have heard a joke about "shrinkage" from at least the time they were in middle school. I daresay some young women know that the penis shrinks in cold water at an earlier age than they know cotton clothing shrinks in the laundry. If Jane had only seen this episode, she might have given George a shot.

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