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Seinfeld: "The Marine Biologist"/"The Dinner Party"

Illustration for article titled iSeinfeld/i: The Marine Biologist/The Dinner Party
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“The Marine Biologist”

This week’s double-header is a good example of the two best types of Seinfeld shows. “The Marine Biologist” takes four separate plots—Kramer’s golfing, Jerry with Carol Kane, Elaine with Russian author Testikov, and George pretending to be a marine biologist—and it ties them all together. “The Dinner Party,” a forgotten favorite of mine, sticks its characters in a bakery and a liquor store and lets them stew, quickly abandoning the larger plot it started with. I love ‘em both, even though there are obviously other better examples of each type of episode.


“The Marine Biologist” is a great episode that doesn’t completely land because some of its little gags end up being irrelevant, like Kramer dropping a shoe on Newman. Why does he drop a shoe on Newman other than the fact that Wayne Knight gets paid that week and I guess Newman is always funny when he’s in pain? It’s such an odd aside. On the other hand, the little aside about Jerry’s favorite shirt, “golden boy,” at the start of the episode, and the revelation at the end that golden boy didn’t make it in the dryer and he’s been replaced by “baby blue,” is one of those unrelated-to-the-plot jokes that works fine for me. Obviously, that’s a gag that occurred to Seinfeld or David or the writers of the episode (in this case, Ron Hauge and Charlie Rubin), and they just shoehorned it in because it couldn’t be attached to any conceivable plot. And it works!

The rest of the episode works fine, too; it’s just that no one has a plot I really love. Kramer hitting golf balls into the Atlantic on Rockaway Beach is probably my favorite of the bunch, because it’s such a willful and physical and pointless activity, so suited to him (even though it turns out he’s terrible at golf, probably because he’s so spasmodic). The other plots don’t click quite as well, because the one-off characters aren’t that good. Testikov, an overblown spoof of a Solzhenitsyn-type author, is a chance for real mania; instead, he’s pretty tame, just freaking out about electronic devices. George’s beau for the day, whom he went to college with, is supposed to be the girl everyone wanted to date, but she seems to be without a personality (and they don’t milk his untruths about being a marine biologist enough).

Carol Kane, of Taxi and The Princess Bride among other works, is more enjoyable as the whackadoo who gets whacked by Elaine’s personal organizer, but even her eccentricities aren’t indulged as fully as they should be. I’m not trying to beat up on this episode as much as it sounds like I am; the whole thing’s a lot of fun. But I guess I want more farce in an episode that has George saving a beached whale that Kramer knocked a golf ball into (the capper of the episode and undoubtedly its best moment).

What stuff do I like here? George’s weird nasal Jack Nicholson impression is a suitably pathetic entrance for him. Jerry convincing Elaine that War and Peace was originally titled War, What Is It Good For? makes me laugh every time, even though there’s NO way Elaine should believe that. And the revelation that Estelle Costanza will happily open her son’s mail, even when it’s sealed, even though that’s against the law, is perfectly in line with her character. “I was curious!” George says, mocking her.


But still, it’s a solid Seinfeld where everything runs pretty smoothly but doesn’t have that extra twist of weirdness, that extra detail that makes everything a cut above your standard sitcom tomfoolery. Although even if they actually filmed George’s rescue of the whale, it wouldn’t be as good as his description of the event. "The sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli."

Grade: A-

“The Dinner Party”

Now this is an episode I just love, and it's one of those Seinfelds where you forget how good it was because you forget that all the jokes fit into that one episode. Like, I remembered George's ridiculous jacket, but I forgot that it was in the same episode as Jerry talking about the black and white cookie and Kramer reading from Penthouse Forum and Elaine recalling pulling George's Panama hat over his head. Sure, it's not quite at the level of "The Chinese Restaurant" or "The Parking Garage" but it's still a pretty perfect example of an episode that's headed somewhere (the titular dinner party) but never really takes us there. And we don't even mind.


The dinner party looms quite large in this one, too, which I liked; You quickly start fantasizing about the horrible things that are going to go down, like George bringing a bag of ring dings or Jerry and Elaine getting in a fistfight with that evil couple that steals their chocolate babka. But George (and Kramer) get to the liquor store, and they never get out; they shuttle between there and their car, blocked in by a double-parker, but that's it. Jerry and Elaine wait forever for babka in the bakery because they thought they could be treated fairly in the "take a ticket" line system (the fools).

But as much of a spectacle as the dinner party could have been, this is what Seinfeld does best. The George/Kramer part is my favorite, partly because that is one of my favorite pairings on the show, and the series doesn't do it enough. Kramer's kinetic verve for life really brings out the worst in George, and it's so much fun to watch. To prepare for the "scary cold" outside, George is wearing what can only be described as three comforters wrapped in Gore-Tex (he calls it a jacket, but I think he bought that thing at Sleepy's). Kramer, on the other hand, is wearing his usual skimpy digs and doesn't even have a wallet on him to buy the wine for the party because his osteopath says it fucks up his balance. "So where's your money?" an incredulous George asks. "I never take it." "So what do you do?" "Oh, I get by." That pretty much sums it up for Kramer, while George seems to be punished even for wearing a different item of clothing: His poor unseen Panama hat was ruined by Elaine's rage; his coat takes out so many liquor bottles he has to trade it in to avoid paying a huge bill.


Elaine and Jerry's journey in the bakery is interesting mostly in that it shows Jerry in a bit of a downward spiral, not in his life, just in his nausea. But even that is kinda crazy to watch. Consider the vomit streak! And the general control Jerry usually has over his life! Of course, it's routine to see Elaine freak out about everything that happens to them as they try to get babka, but to see Jerry's shields pierced is something else entirely. His story about the hair in his Farina is a moment of uncommon vulnerability and quite a peek into what a weirdo childhood Jerry must have been like. (It's also very, very funny.) Sure, as an adult he can get away with the neat-freakness and the general controlling behavior, but he must have been a hell of a neurotic kid.

Maybe Jerry's being punished in the bakery because of his screeds about racial harmony and the majesty of the black and white cookie (a delicious treat if made right, which it so rarely is), when Seinfeld was always getting yelled at for not having enough black characters on the show. Or am I getting a little too analytical? I definitely feel punchy. I probably shouldn't have eaten that cinnamon babka with the hair on it.


Grade: A

Stray observations:

  • George is working on whales' cholesterol. "All that blubber, quite unhealthy."
  • "Algae. Obviously plankton. I don't know what else to say."
  • George doesn't like his ruse, though. "It's one thing if I made it up, I know what I'm doing, I know my alleys!"
  • "You know I always wanted to pretend that I was an architect!"
  • "You like saying Gore-Tex, don't you!"
  • "You're an annoying little chore yourself!"
  • "You, whatever your name is," Elaine says to Jerry.
  • Jerry wants Elaine to hold the effeminate cake box. "It's a tad dainty."
  • "People love cinnamon. It should be on tables in restaurants with salt and pepper!"
  • Penthouse Forum letters can't be real, George says, "or else there's an unusual amount of people in this country having sex with AMPUTEES!"
  • "You could serve dinner on my head!"
  • "Are those shoes comfortable?" "No, not really." "They look comfortable." "I know, that's why I bought them."
  • The Saddam Hussein gag is weird. But it's funny!

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