Monday, December 3, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 9, Episode 3 - The Serenity Now

“The Serenity Now”

First Script Read: September 7, 1997
Filmed: September 10, 1997
Aired: October 9, 1997
Nielsen rating: 20.1
Audience share: 31
Directed: Andy Ackerman
Writer: Steve Koren

This might be the best script out of the five that writer Steve Koren was credited for at Seinfeld. It's silly and funny. It brings back a few old favorite characters in Lloyd Braun and Mr. Lippman. It operates on that now-familiar Late Seinfeld meta level, as both Jerry and George undergo temporary transformations that poke fun at their well-known character traits. And, on a third level, it critiques one of the common tenets of the late 20th century "Self Help" movement.

At the beginning of the episode both Jerry and Frank Costanza are introduced to two different but related prescriptions to aid in their physical and, primarily, their emotional well-being:
FRANK: Serenity now! Serenity now!
GEORGE: What is that?
FRANK: The doctor gave me a relaxation cassette. When my blood pressure gets too high, the man on the tape tells me to say, "Serenity now!"
GEORGE: Are you supposed to yell it?
FRANK: The man on the tape wasn't specific

Frank's physical problem is diagnosed as high blood pressure, but the doctor suspects it is related to high stress so he gives him a sort of mantra to expel his stress. It's a method designed to offer catharsis, to relieve inner stress by transforming it into a physical and vocal act and expelling the bad emotion from the body. Frank needs to just let it out and he will feel better. His emotional stress will dissipate and his physical ailment will be relieved.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work, as Lloyd attests to George:
LLOYD: You know, you should tell your dad that "serenity now" thing doesn't work. It just bottles up the anger, and eventually you blow.
GEORGE: What do you know? You were in the nut house.
LLOYD: What do you think put me there?
GEORGE: I heard they found a family in your freezer
LLOYD: Serenity now. Insanity later.

The method is flawed. Like so many misguided fixes in the self-help era, yelling "serenity now!" only works on Frank's emotions. It attempts to make Frank feel better without addressing the problems that are causing his stress. It's an appealing method for the culture of narcissism that so many of Seinfeld's characters live in, but as Lloyd knows, it will ultimately fall short of giving Frank true satisfaction.

Meanwhile, Jerry's new girlfriend (played by Lori Loughlin of Full House) also advises him to let his emotions out.

PATTY: You know, I've never seen you mad.
JERRY: I get peeved.
JERRY: Miffed.
JERRY: Irked?
PATTY: I'd like to see you get really mad.

*   *   *
 GEORGE: Why does she want you to be mad?
JERRY: She says I suppress my emotions.
GEORGE: So what do you care what she thinks?
JERRY: Good body.
GEORGE: She probably gets that impression because you're cool. You're under control. Like me. Nothing wrong with that.
JERRY: But I get upset! I've yelled. You've heard me yell.
GEORGE: Not really. Your voice kind of raises to this comedic pitch. [KRAMER ENTERS]
JERRY: Kramer, I am so sick of you coming in here and eating all my food! Now shut that door and get the hell out of here!
KRAMER: Ha ha! What is that? A new bit? 
GEORGE: I told ya.

With Patty's help, Jerry does begin to let his emotions out. He seems to feel good, but everything else falls apart all around him. Patty soon breaks up with him when she gets tired of his yelling. George is uncomfortable with Jerry's expressions of affection. Jerry admits he is no longer funny, so theoretically his career is over, too. And he even asks Elaine to marry him, a request she flees from. Finally Jerry convinces George to let out his emotions. George does, revealing his darkest thoughts and fears. Jerry, horrified, is shocked out of his emotional state and quickly gets up to leave George behind until his friend has similarly cooled off.

What good is it for a man to feel good in his soul but forfeit the whole world? For Jerry, George, and Frank, not to mention Kramer who adopts Frank's mantra to destructive consequences, it's not much good at all. Their world doesn't want people who express their emotions so freely. The more Jerry expresses his emotions, the more he drives people away.

For those in the viewing audience who suspected the final season of Seinfeld would end with Jerry and Elaine getting married, Jerry's proposal to Elaine is not so much a wink as a sarcastic rebuke. Seinfeld was never interested in melodramatic emotions. "There's more to life than making shallow, fairly-obvious observations," Jerry proclaims, noting he has lost his sense of humor. But it is Jerry's - and the show's - comedic sensibility that made the show a hit.

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