Wednesday, August 1, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 6, Episode 3 - The Pledge Drive


“The Pledge Drive”

First Script Read:  Thursday, August 25, 1994
Filmed: Wednesday, August 31, 1994
Aired: October 6, 1994
Nielsen rating: 20.3
Audience share: 32
Directed: Andy Ackerman
Writers: Tom Gammill and Max Pross


There is so much going on in the episodes of season six that it's hard to know how the creators decided on any one title for each episode. If I mentioned the title, "The Pledge Drive," to an average Seinfeld fan who has seen this episode a few times, he might first remember that this is the episode when Jerry goes on a PBS pledge drive while Kramer works the phones behind him, but he'd have to work backwards from that scene to remember everything else that is going on. This is the episode when George thinks the waitress at Monk's is giving him the middle finger, and then he takes Yankee Danny Tartabull on a long drive to chase a driver who also may have flipped him off. This is also the episode when Mr. Pitt starts a new fad in New York City when Elaine notices he eats his candy bar with a knife and fork. Elaine gets into trouble with her friend Noreen when she mixes up Noreen's voice with her high-talking boyfriend. Jerry gets in trouble with his girlfriend for not saving her thank you card after he received and read it. And finally, Jerry and Uncle Leo are frantic when Nana goes missing after Jerry cashes old birthday checks she sent him.

The Nana thread leads to what is, for me, one of the funniest scenes in Seinfeld. Actually the type of joke is more typical of The Simpsons than of Seinfeld. (Note: episode writers Tom Gammill and Max Pross have been producers at The Simpsons since 2000.) Speaking quite broadly, and granting that there are many exceptions to this rule, one of the joke formulas you'll often see in The Simpsons is when a scene will build towards an expected punchline and then something opposite from the expected will end up happening. Think of it this way - the first time someone told the joke, "Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side," it was witty. Once everyone knew the punchline, it became lame. The element of surprise is long gone. Writers for The Simpsons tend to believe the joke would be much better if something totally unexpected happened, and so the chicken gets hit by a bus halfway across the road.

Take the scene of Bart's nude skateboarding in The Simpsons Movie. All sorts of crazy objects are animated in to his route to block his penis from view. The audience quickly begins anticipating some crazy new thing that will block his genitals, when suddenly they are the only part of his body that can be seen as Bart rides behind a fence for a second or two. It's a formula you'll find all over The Simpsons - take an old joke or plot twist, but make the punchline or climax the opposite. Now, wouldn't you agree that the following scene is a bit more Simpsons-ish than Seinfeld-ian?

[OMINOUS MUSIC PLAYS AS NANA WALKS INTO A DARK ALLY LOOKING FOR HER BANK. A STREET TOUGH IN A LEATHER JACKET APPROACHES HER MENACINGLY.]
STREET TOUGH: Looking for something, lady?
NANA: Isn't the Chemical Bank on this block?
STREET TOUGH: The bank? It burned! It's GONE!
NANA: Oh dear.
STREET TOUGH: Now what you wanna do is go down to 49th street. That's the main customer service branch. Ask for Mr. Fleming. He'll help you.

For me, that's hilarious. And the actor playing the Street Tough nails the scene. He's so good that I'll credit the actor. It was F.J. Rio's first scene on television, which he parlayed into various appearances over the years, most notably as a regular in The Shield's final season. But anyway, it seems to me this gag is a bit of an anomaly for Seinfeld while it is easier to imagine in an episode of The Simpsons.

The candy bar thread in this episode also parodies class stereotypes. However, it pulls off satire not by doing a 180 on expectations but rather by pushing them further along until they become ridiculous and silly. That's more of the Seinfeld style. When Elaine describes Mr. Pitt's technique for eating dessert, George attempts to link his own identity to the upper class by defending Mr. Pitt's behavior:
GEORGE: He probably doesn't want to get chocolate on his fingers. That's the way these society types eat their candy bars.
JERRY: Oh, you know.
GEORGE: What, you think I eat all my meals with you?

Later, George once again tries to position himself as a social elite in order to convince the Yankees to send Danny Tartabull to the PBS pledge drive:
GEORGE: So, what do you think?
MR.MORGAN: A PBS fundraiser? I'm not gonna waste any of the players' time with that. Besides the team already does so much promotion for Channel Eleven.
GEORGE: Channel Eleven? Forgive me for trying to class up this place... for trying to have the Yankees reach another strata of society that might not watch Channel Eleven!
[GEORGE BEGINS EATING HIS CANDY BAR WITH A KNIFE AND FORK.]
MR.MORGAN: Uh, what the hell are you doing?
GEORGE: I am eating my dessert. How do you eat it? With your hands?
MR.MORGAN: You know, maybe George has something here about PBS.

Morgan is momentarily fooled by George, convinced by his candy bar consumption. In fact, later in the episode Noreen gets the idea to eat a candy bar with a knife and fork when she spots Morgan doing it at a sidewalk cafe. Eventually, the idea trickles down from the upper class to all New Yorkers, and in the final scene Elaine and Jerry find themselves in Monk's surrounded by people eating candy bars and cookies with knives and forks.

Eating a candy bar with a knife and fork is a classic zany Seinfeld gag. It was an instant hit with the audience as Ian Abercrombie (who played Mr. Pitt) discovered the day after the episode aired. He went out to eat and, as a joke, the waiter brought him a Snickers bar on a plate with a knife and fork. Abercrombie looked up and the whole restaurant burst out laughing.

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