Thursday, September 20, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 7, Episode 7 - The Secret Code

“The Secret Code”

First Script Read: October 6, 1995
Filmed: Wednesday, October 11, 1995
Aired: November 9, 1995
Nielsen rating: 22.3
Audience share: 34
Directed: Andy Ackerman
Writers: Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer

The writing team of Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer reach a new pinnacle in this episode, so it's probably time to give them some due. The pair moved up the ranks of Seinfeld writers each year they were at the show, starting as program consultants in season 6, moving to executive story editors in season 7, supervising producers in season 8, and executive producers in the series' final season. Here are the episodes they share writing credits for:

Season 6
Episode 6 - The Gymnast
Episode 12 - The Label Maker
Episode 19 - The Doodle

Season 7
Episode 7 - The Secret Code
Episode 13 - The Seven
Episode 19 - The Calzone

Season 8
Episode 1 - The Foundation
Episode 8 - The Chicken Roaster
Episode 22 - The Summer of George (season finale)

Season 9
Episode 1 - The Butter Shave
Episode 2 - The Voice
Episode 10 - The Strike
Episode 19 - The Maid

The first thing that jumps out to me about that list, other than the overall quality, is that it contains some of the most memorable George-centered moments and storylines. In "The Gymnast," George's girlfriend's mom catches him eating out of the trash, a classic moment in an otherwise sub-par episode. In "The Seven," George lets his secret chosen name for his first child slip and Susan's cousin scoops it up. In "The Summer of George," George pursues and almost achieves a plan for a carefree, responsibility-free summer.

Season eight's "The Chicken Roaster" and several of the season nine episodes, such as "The Butter Shave" and "The Strike," are more Kramer-heavy. "The Voice" might be best remembered for the funny voice Jerry imagines coming from his girlfriend's navel, but it contains my favorite Kramer scene of all-time: when he and his Kramerica intern roll a giant ball of oil out a window.

I also see a few over-arching themes in the Berg-Schaffer episodes. They use George to explore the tension between the male desire for independence and the responsibilities a male assumes as a member of society, particularly when he is in a relationship. For example, in both "The Secret Code" and "The Seven," George's independence is threatened by his engagement to Susan. In "The Secret Code," Susan gets angry when George won't give her his secret bank code ("Bosco," a brilliant code because the word is funny and because, as Kramer suggests when he comes close to guessing the word, it suits George's character). In "The Seven," George must give up his plan for naming his first child "Seven" because Susan doesn't like the idea.

Many of the episodes also satirize the desire for power and influence in the working world. George gets in George Steinbrenner's good graces by bringing his boss lunch in "The Calzone." Kramer takes on food service businesses in both "The Chicken Roaster" and "The Strike," and then launches his own company in "The Voice." In all of these cases, Berg and Schaffer take a fairly dim, silly view of the working world. It's the view of comedy writers pondering the life of a bagel store worker ("The Strike") or an entrepreneur ("The Voice") from a far, undermining its seriousness without ever having experienced it. In other words, they're not offering any brilliant observations on the condition of workers in America. They're just creating silly scenarios at the workplace.

Jeff Schaffer created and now writes for The League, FX's Fantasy Football sitcom. Alec Berg works on Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm; he's credited with co-writing all of season eight. Ultimately, their greatest strength is making the silly hysterical. Shaving with butter? Creating your own holiday? Naming your kid after Mickey Mantle's number? These are the sorts of storylines that wouldn't have worked in the early seasons of Seinfeld, but fit right in to the feel of the last few seasons of the show, a feel shaped to a large extent by Berg and Schaffer.

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