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Seinfeld: "The Masseuse"/"The Cigar Store Indian"

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"The Masseuse"

This episode blows my mind (and everyone else's mind who watches it, I'm sure) for two reasons. Really, it's just for one reason. Elaine's plot in this episode is that she's dating a guy with the relatively normal name of Joel Rifkin, the only problem being that he shares the name with a recently-caught horrifying serial killer and she wants him to change it to avoid embarrassment and jokes. It's a typical Seinfeld storyline, in which one character demands far too much from someone they're dating because of some tiny, niggling flaw. But at one point, Elaine sits down with Joel and a sports magazine and suggests he change his name to O.J., after O.J. Simpson. And it's not a joke about O.J. being a murderer! This aired less than a year before all that went down! Man, I love it when TV does something like that. It's such a little time capsule in that way. A time when O.J. was a name a man would be proud to have.


The other, more intentional way this episode is mind-blowing is George's behavior towards Karen the risotto girl (Lisa Edelstein) and how he ends up losing her. This episode is like an essay on how George would behave if you took his obsessive tendencies to a logical extreme. Jerry and new girlfriend Jody the masseuse (Jennifer Coolidge, before she started using that voice) go on a double date with George and Karen, and George behaves particularly objectionably in a real tour de force of doucheitude by Jason Alexander. His long pause in between saying hot girls get ticketed and qualifying it by blurting out, "Well, I've never met your sister, but obviously these are not hard-and-fast rules" is just magnificent. The later revelation that he sent his noodles back twice is even better.

So Joyce, understandably, thinks George is an ass, lets Jerry know, and Jerry passes this info onto George, who is then consumed with the desire to impress Joyce. "I BENT OVER BACKWARDS FOR THAT WOMAN!" he exclaims. What's so great about his forced smiles and his yammering banter to Joyce is that he clearly doesn't even like her, he's doing this out of pure spite and his perception of his own insufficiencies… it's just sickening to watch. And hilarious, of course. But the real magnificent twist is that George, the opposite of a catch at this point, laid off multiple times and living with his parents, is somehow still dating Karen. And of course, he ruins that entirely with his obsessive need to make Joyce like him.

With almost any other character, the scene of George literally being unable to respond to Karen's sexual advances because he's so consumed by Joyce's rejection would be impossible to believe. With George, you don't even have to make a mental leap to get on board. "I just can't stand when someone doesn't like me," he explains to an appalled Karen. "Well, now I hate you," she says. "That, I'm used to!" That he is. Women dumping George? That's common ground for him. But the fact that Jody just doesn't like him perversely makes him sense that he has a shot with her, as he tells her in the denouement. Jerry understands (he knows what makes George tick and doesn't even seem mad that this happened), but Jody obviously doesn't. The whole thing is just a wonder to behold.

The rest of the episode is just fine. Peter Mehlman never really nails the gag he's going for where the massages Jody gives are like sex, or like her cheating on Jerry, or something… it's never clear what exactly is being spoofed. Jerry's frustration at not getting a massage (and Kramer's relaxation at getting one) leads to some good physical comedy and one great Kramer line: "I am looser than creamed corn!" But apart from George's loss of Karen (and Elaine's love for O.J.), it's a forgettable episode.


Grade: A-

"The Cigar Store Indian"

I love this episode for having dovetailing plots and moving back and forth between them very nicely, even though almost everything that drives this episode is utterly, utterly, UTTERLY ridiculous. That Elaine doesn't immediately move away from her stalker (played by Sam Lloyd, later of Scrubs) is silly. That everyone keeps buying gyros from a cart at Queensboro Plaza, then gets their gyro-carrying hand stuck in the subway door (and the gyros stolen) is very silly. That Frank Costanza collects TV Guides and seems unable to get another copy after Elaine takes his is very, very silly (although with Frank, almost anything goes). That Jerry thinks Elaine is going to want a huge cigar store Indian in her apartment is… well, you see what I'm doing.


But it doesn't matter because all of that shit makes me laugh, and it all blends well together! Also, this is the episode where Kramer's idea for a coffee table book about coffee tables is first mentioned (and is accepted at Pendant Publishing), which is a gag I like a lot. I always like it when Kramer's ideas (like the "beach" cologne) make a twisted sort of sense and end up being successful. It's the show acknowledging how such a strange creature could sustain himself, really, how Kramer doesn't end up friendless, hungry, and alone on the street. Once in a while, he just makes beautiful sense.

In the same way, of course Frank obsessively collects TV Guides and of course he goes apeshit when Elaine takes one of them to read on the subway. Frank is so enraged and strange all the time, almost any character quirk works with him. All it does is help explain why he's so odd and why George exists as a result. It's just beautiful to watch him freak out about the missing guide and his later disdain towards Elaine. "How do you just walk into a house… and take a TV Guide?" he asks. "How does she expect you to watch TV? Am I supposed to just turn it on and wander… aimlessly… around the dial?"


The guide gets stolen while Frank and Estelle are on some sort of trip, which from the sounds of it went horribly, but that gives writers Tom Gammill and Max Pross (who wrote "The Glasses" and wrote a bunch of other season five through seven episodes) a chance to exploit the "George's living with his parents!" trope by having him behave like a teenager, worrying about making rings on the coffee table and later brazenly having sex in the house in their master bedroom (the ease with which he guides the girl up to that room lays bare some uncomfortable questions about George's attitudes towards sex). It's not the most original joke in the book, but Alexander mostly pulls it off.

Really, though, you spend the whole episode waiting for George's parents to come home and react with Freudian horror at the idea of their son soiling the marital bed. "I'm gone two weeks, and you turn our house into… into BOURBON STREET!" Frank cries. Estelle, of course, refuses to even look at the bed ever again, and delivers a line later on about her son to his conquest which such brilliant disdain: "George doesn't work. He's a bum."


The rest of the episode is good, too. I love it whenever Seinfeld goes to the subway (the amount these guys take taxis and cars is implausible to me, but I suppose the subway was more dangerous in the '80s, when Larry David and Seinfeld actually lived there), even though the set is so off (and the 6 doesn't go to Queens, and Queensboro Plaza is outside… but I digress). The gyro cart thing is one of those New Yorky details that probably isn't factually accurate (the only food vendor in the subway I know about are the churro guys at Pacific St) but just makes sense anyway. And the sight gag of them getting their arm caught works better each time because it reinforces how it's happening because of their mania at how good the gyro actually is.

The Sam Lloyd/Al Roker/Elaine gets hassled by creepy, childlike bespectacled dudes who love TV Guides story is inconsequential but basically gets saved by Lloyd bonding with Frank at the end of the episode (and just by how fat Roker is; man, he was fat). Lloyd's obsessive is nice and sing-songy, while Frank is aggressive and barks at everyone, but they have a very similarly childish obsession with the guide and their hushed conversations about it (which really occur in the background of the scene) are nice to watch.


Jerry's thing with the Native American girl he likes is the only thing that's just too silly for the episode, not for how he stumbles over every word possibly connected to Indians (like making a reservation at a restaurant) but just for the idea that she's even consider going anywhere with him considering what an inept fucking idiot he is in this episode. Kramer's enthusiasm for the cigar store Indian, though, makes it worthwhile. "It's KITSCHY!"

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

  • Joel Rifkin has a lot going for him. "He's a good shaver, and he hasn't thrown up in eight years!"
  • Jerry would happily change his name. "I'm Claude Seinfeld!"
  • Having sex with the masseuse is like "going to Idaho and eating carrots."
  • "Does everyone in the world have to like you?" "YES! Yes. Everyone has to like me. I have to be liked!"
  • What does George's parents' house smell like? Dandruff, mothballs, cheap carpeting, and kasha, Jerry and Elaine decide. "It's a potpourri, really."
  • F. Costanza lives at 13-44 Queens Blvd, which, as far as I can tell, is not Flushing but more like Forest Hills (which makes more sense for him).
  • The Chinese mailman (bizarrely collecting mail at night) doesn't like being asked where a Chinese restaurant is. "Tell me, American Joe, which way to hamburger hotdog stand!"

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