“The Money” (season 8, episode 12; originally aired 1/16/1997)
This episode, a sequel to season seven’s excellent “The Cadillac,” is emblematic of what’s different in Seinfeld season eight. It’s a fun episode featuring a metric ton of wacky hijinks. But it just goes a little bit too far beyond reality, with Jerry making multiple trips to Florida in a matter of days, Morty Seinfeld getting a job at J. Peterman, and the Costanzas picking up and moving to Del Boca Vista (and moving back in the episode’s final tag). It’s too much for one little episode, and not even a beautiful young Sarah Silverman with jimmy legs can save it.
In fact, let’s start there, because that is one of the most-annoying plots. Silverman is funny as Kramer’s girlfriend who apparently has restless legs in bed (we only ever see her arms doing stuff, but whatever). Kramer’s dilemma is kinda fun, too, even his ridiculous fear of Morty’s travel gym turning the knob on his door. Things get resolved when they move into the Costanza household and sleep in their separate beds, which Frank says he installed because of Estelle’s jimmy-arms. Now, that’s pretty bonkers to begin with, but given that this is a Kramer plot, it works. But then it seems we’re embarking on a whole other plot where they turn into an old married couple, but since it’s a 22-minute episode, it’s just a one-off joke that doesn’t get referenced again. Obviously we never see Sarah Silverman again. That’s just the end of that. It feels like a missed opportunity after a boring setup.
George, strangely, has the most down-to-Earth plot of the week, agonizing over his discovery that his parents have tons of money (they have no overhead, never go anywhere and never do anything) and wondering whether to encourage them to go to Florida and get away from him, or stay in New York and make him miserable but never spend a cent of his inheritance. Of course, he decides to have them stay—this is George, he feeds off of misery and the potential for something better in the future. But they decide to go, buying a condo and everything, then quickly leavi because Jerry was sleeping in his car or something. It’s another weird throwaway gag that should have had more time devoted to it. Maybe this should have been a double-episode like “The Cadillac.”
Elaine loses her mojo with the return of J. Peterman, who takes a shine to Morty because Morty’s working there, because Jerry bounced a check and…oh, it’s all too much. It’s quite a reversal for Elaine, of course, as she goes from rolling in it to square one, but most of her scheming this week is to get Morty out of her office. It’s a weird call, since she should just be taking credit for hiring Morty (Peterman takes a shine to him) but I guess she just finds him too annoying.
Meanwhile, Jerry engages in an insane passive-aggressive cold war with his parents over the car, blowing tens of thousands on air fare and buying the thing back from Jack Klompus and then cleaning it after Klompus drives it into a swamp. It’s all too heightened and silly. “The Cadillac” went in crazy directions too, but it all seemed rooted in the weird world that was Del Boca Vista. This is a whole other level of crazy and they never quite had me believing it.
“The Van Buren Boys” (season 8, episode 14, originally aired 2/6/1997)
So, this episode has the premise that there are a bunch of street hoods, who obviously just emerged from the 1950s through a time tunnel, walking around town and taking their name from our eighth president, Martin Van Buren. They flash eight fingers in honor of their mostly forgotten hero and, well, apart from that they appear to beat people up and steal wallets. Much like the surreal humor of “The Money,” the gag itself isn’t bad, but it just sort of sits there. Kramer has a run-in with them. Later on, George has a run-in with them. If they weren’t The Van Buren Boys, it’d be sleep-inducing stuff; as it is, it’s worth a chuckle but not a lot more.
My problem with this episode (and the last one) may lie with J. Peterman—as a character, he’s great for a scene or two, but if he’s dominating an episode, I get swiftly tired of him. He’s all over the place here. First he wants Elaine to ghostwrite his autobiography. But he’s looking to have her shy away from the purple prose of his catalogs and present him as he is—and suddenly, to suit the episode, he’s a sweatpant-wearing bore who complains about the cable channels being switched around on him.
Elaine, who is really in a downward spiral over these two episodes, is desperate for some decent material, since her efforts at creative writing fail miserably. Peterman ends up buying Kramer’s life stories and then selling them back to him because Elaine pitches him one of Kramer’s stories? What? It’s a dumb plotline, it requires Peterman to shift too rapidly between his various personalities and it revolves around a misunderstanding that barely makes sense. But Peterman’s delight at Kramer’s subway-tunnel story is pretty good. “The very pants I was returning!”
The rest of the episode isn’t bad. I like George’s obsession with straight-C student Steve Koren (named after Seinfeld writer Steve Koren), who he is grooming for the Susan Ross Foundation scholarship because he’s the only unqualified candidate for the award—obviously, all of the geniuses aiming for Ivy League schools make him feel horribly inadequate. But, of course, it’s not long until Steve makes George feel inadequate too, setting his sights higher than being an architect, George’s preferred fake occupation, and joining the board in mocking his former aspiration. Then he joins The Van Buren Boys, which is where the episode loses me—but whatever!
My favorite storyline of the episode, and of the week, is Jerry’s one-off girlfriend, played by Christine Taylor, who he finds charming and beautiful but everyone else seems to find disgusting. It’s a great, simple gag that doesn’t need a resolution—Jerry just gives up when his parents praise her to high heaven—but works every time someone meets her and recoils in horror. We’re seeing things through Jerry’s eyes, and it’s one of those rare occasions where he doesn’t have everything figured out. Fun!
- One great thread running through “The Van Buren Boys”: the Bloomingdale’s executive-training program, which the Seinfelds, George, and Kramer all think Jerry should look into. For example, Helen hears standup is not what it used to be, “what with that Def Jam and all.” Kramer agrees. “You’ve had some good observations, but it’s over. This Bloomingdale’s thing could be the next wave.”
- “The Money” is Sandy Baron’s last appearance as Jack Klompus; one of the best small Seinfeld characters. Apparently he came out of a coma to do this episode!
- Jerry knows George too well. “She treated me to the Arabian Mocha Java.” “And you misinterpret this how?”
- Jack’s vaunted space pen is lost in the Cadillac accident. “You know, that almost makes this all worthwhile,” Jerry muses.
- One of Christine Taylor’s flaws: she went on a first date with Jerry on her birthday. “Maybe she decided to celebrate her birthday on the Monday after the weekend!” “She’s not Lincoln.”
- George thinks denying Steve Koren the scholarship was the right thing to do. “If there’s one person you should be able to hold down, it’s your own flesh and blood.” “You know, maybe philanthropy is not your field,” Jerry says.
- Best line of the episode, though, is a total non sequitur from Jerry. “Last night, I had a dream that a hamburger was eating me!”