“The Bookstore” (season 9, episode 17, originally aired 4/16/98)
As we draw close to the end of Seinfeld, the gang’s perpetually sad life situations are starting to hit home a little harder. Not so much for Jerry, who at worst has a bad case of arrested development, but is generally doing alright. Neither Kramer, whose outlook on life manages to balance everything else out. But George and Elaine are really scraping the bottom of life’s barrel in “The Bookstore” and “The Frogger.” It’s a lot of fun to watch, but that twinge of horror that comes with some Seinfeld storylines is definitely more than a twinge at this point.
George is such a pathetic, awful cheapskate jerk in “The Bookstore” that it ends with Jerry essentially having him arrested. At the start of the episode, George is forced to buy a book of French impressionist paintings that he took with him into the bathroom. Even though he likes the book and apparently finds it conducive to pooping, the indignity of being made to pay for it is just too much. “They’re selling coffee, bran muffins, they have reading material…it’s entrapment!” So for the rest of the episode, George tries to return the book, finding that it’s been red-flagged everywhere because of his disgusting crime (even a thrift store clerk knows what’s up).
Jerry’s particular disgust at George this episode makes sense, knowing his obsession with cleanliness. As a reminder, there’s an unconnected opening sequence with Kramer basically destroying and rebuilding Jerry’s apartment while Jerry’s away (an unknowing Jerry is just mad that he forgets to use a coaster). His refusal to eat at the table George produces the book on is one of the biggest laughs of the episode, and I love how he coldly snitches on him at the bookstore as George tries to shoplift an untainted book so he can get the refund.
Jerry knows George is in trouble because he previously snitched on Uncle Leo, also shoplifting, and almost got him sent to jail. This is the show’s last Leo story, and one of the best—there’s a memorable Cape Fear parody where he’s tattooed “JERRY HELLO” on his fingers, a recurring gag about a ringing in his ears, and mention of a prior conviction for a mysterious “crime of passion.” It’s great to see Jerry actually trying to make Leo happy, shouting “hello!” at him randomly even when he’s being carried away by security. Because, as Leo chides him, “YOU STILL SAY HELLO!”
Meanwhile, Elaine sinks to a skanky low after making out with someone at an office party (where she’s too afraid to dance after last year’s spectacle). She then has to pretend that she’s dating the guy, which leads to Peterman putting her in charge of detoxing him and a lot of off-screen vomiting. I do not like Jerry saying the word “skank” (let alone “skanko-Roman wrestling”), but this is an unusually normal plot for Elaine. Most of her humiliations are very convoluted, like living in a janitor’s closet to get Chinese delivery, but this is more traditional workplace sitcom material. Still funny, still a bit of a bummer, but there’s a real contrast between making out with the wrong guy at work and eating an antique cake (see “The Frogger,” below).
Our bit of Kramer madcappery this week is a homeless rickshaw business he cooks up with Newman that feels like an elaborate excuse to pitch Newman down a hill in a wheeled conveyance. There is one amazing standout moment, though, a line that I’m given to repeating at any moment where something goes mildly wrong for me. One of the homeless applicants for the rickshaw job drops his bottle, and then he looks at Kramer and Newman, alarmed. “The government!” Gets me every time.
“The Frogger” (season 9, episode 18, originally aired 4/23/98)
While you cheer George’s comeuppance in “The Bookstore,” just one episode later we have a moment of great pathos for our anti-hero: watching the closest thing he has to a child be dashed to pieces by a truck in the street. It’s a sad, beautiful moment, the high point of an otherwise forgettable episode that ends on a diarrhea joke.
There actually is one other notable moment in “The Frogger” – an extended montage of Jerry breaking up with a girl who annoyingly finishes his sentences. The gag is largely a plot device, since Jerry needs to waste time at the girl’s house so he can be afraid to leave it once the sun sets (there’s a serial killer called “The Lopper” terrorizing Riverside Park). But it’s also a sight we’ve never seen before—Jerry actually emoting in his relationship with a woman. All of the montage’s scenes are clichéd breakup stuff (hiding in the bathroom, crying, “your mother did a number on you”). But even seeing Jerry do clichéd breakup stuff is a revelation. From that alone, you could chalk up Lisi (Julia Campbell) as one of his most meaningful relationships.
Elaine develops a meaningful relationship too—with a slice of wedding cake from Edward VIII’s marriage to Wallis Simpson, purchased by Peterman at great expense. The whole thing feels geared towards Peterman’s subtle poop joke (it’s subtle by poop joke standards, not by other standards) which ends the episode. Aside from the sight of Elaine dancing (not as good as her other moves, but still something), and the wonderful “get well soon” song, this whole plot leaves a lot to be desired.
Everything else is wrapped up in the Frogger plot. Kramer doesn’t really do anything this week outside of owning police tape and hooking George up with his electrician acquaintance Slippery Pete, played by Peter Stormare with his usual laconic Swedish menace. But I love almost every detail of this story. Pete’s supposedly an expert electrician, but he identifies an outlet as “holes,” and he’s mostly concerned with being able to steal something. Pete helps George transport a Frogger game with his high score on it from an old pizza place (owned by the great one-scene character that is surly Mario) to his apartment.
As George tells Kramer, “I’m never going to have a child. If I lose this Frogger high score, that’s it for me.” The episode builds to a climactic live-action game of Frogger as George tries to get the console across the street, but it gets creamed by a truck. What’s the sadder moment? George holding out his hand in defiance of the approaching vehicle, or how easily the console shatters into pieces? Either way, in terms of Costanza pathos, it’s definitely a million times higher than Susan’s death.
“Who’s Leo?” “You know, Uncle Leo.” “Oh right, Uncle. Leo. I forgot his first name.”
“Did you take that book with you into the bathroom?” “What do you wanna hear?”
Jerry's parents reveal that they steal too, but only batteries. “They wear out so quick.”
The worker at the thrift store is called Rebecca DeMornay.
Jerry is confused by Kramer's social circle. “You sure have a lot of friends, how come I never see any of these people?” “They wanna know why they never see you.”
Kramer's dispute with Pete is kind of intense. “That was my mail order bride!” “So I signed for her.” He made out with her. “You weren’t even married yet!”