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Seinfeld: "The Parking Garage"/"The Cafe"/"The Tape"

Illustration for article titled iSeinfeld/i: The Parking Garage/The Cafe/The Tape
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"The Parking Garage"

Like last season's "The Chinese Restaurant," "The Parking Garage" is a titanic achievement, mostly for just how effortless it makes everything look. The intricacy of the plot and the way it dovetails, combined with how palpably involved you become in everyone's little personal drama (Jerry needs to pee, Elaine is worried about her fish, George needs to pick up his parents) as the gang wanders a mall parking garage for hours looking for their car … it's all so simple, you forget just how complicated it must have been to put it all together.


"The Parking Garage" is a step up on "The Chinese Restaurant" in several ways: it expands the setting, while keeping it claustrophobic, so it can play around more with how it stalls the characters; it also includes Kramer and thus really manages to include a nice balance of everyone's mode of humor and really invest the audience in how these four function (and dysfunction) as a unit. I would argue that "The Chinese Restaurant" is probably still the greater achievement in that it does as much with even less, plus the sheer shock value of it being the first time Seinfeld had gone for such an ambitiously "meaningless" episode, but that doesn't diminish from "The Parking Garage" being one of the show's all-time classics.

Written by Larry David (obviously), "The Parking Garage" contains some nice snapshots of his curmudgeonly worldview from the angles of different characters. One of the first lines in the episode is Jerry grumbling, "Why do I always have the feeling that everybody's doing something better than me on Saturday afternoons? [People are] out on some big picnic. They're cooking burgers. They're making out on blankets. They're not at some mall in Jersey watching their friends trying to find the world's cheapest air-conditioner." David's someone who's both frustrated by and obsessed with the mundane, and "The Parking Garage" is like a nightmare, where these characters are trapped in the mall garage in Jersey, the most mundane thing you can imagine. I might be getting a little too intense here, but something about those mirrored shots of the endless garage speaks to me.

So Jerry is angry just to be at the garage at all. He doesn't do much for a while before peeing in a corner, at the urging of Kramer, and getting hauled off to parking jail for his trouble. Jerry's scenes, where he tries to argue his way out of the security guard's office, are probably the weakest in the episode, but they're pretty funny, especially his assertion that he has a public urination pass, but his brother stole it. "He and his friends are probably peeing all over the place!" His only other major contribution to the episode is to remark, "boy, those Scientologists. They can be pretty sensitive" after George pisses off the pretty girl with a joke about L. Ron Hubbard, amusing mostly because of the knowledge that Seinfeld himself took some Scientology classes in the 80s. It's so very odd that that's true, but he acknowledges it, as if he's admitting that he dabbled in coke the same time that everyone else was.

George is frustrated because he has to pick up his parents in an hour to take them to a show (his parents are looming ever-larger as off-screen characters, with more hints that they're largely responsible for George's neuroses). What he's really frustrated at, of course, is how everything is going against him. He chides a woman for hitting her kid, and the kid tells him he's ugly. The sight of a Mercedes parked illegally fills him with such rage that he wants to spit on it, but once the driver of the car emerges, he's of course powerless. No wonder he doesn't carry a pen because "I'm afraid I'll puncture my scrotum." It'd probably happen. My favorite moment in the episode is his existential conversation with Kramer, considering that these two characters probably have the most diametrically opposite outlooks on the show.


"What's the difference, we'll all be dead eventually" he moans after Elaine vanishes. Kramer says such thoughts don't bother him, and to George, this is more infuriating than the looming specter of oblivion itself. It's one thing for bad things to be happening to George, of course. But for others to be happy, unburdened, that's really where the anger kicks in for him, I think. "I once saw this thing on T.V. with people who are terminally ill. And they all believed the secret of life is just to live every moment," Kramer says. "Yeah, yeah. I've heard that. Meanwhile I'm here with you in a parking garage, what am I supposed to do?"

Elaine, carrying her slowly dying goldfish, is affronted by the rejections of everyone in the garage she asks to drive her around. David, of course, has no faith in humanity to do anything but reject Elaine's pleas for help, but what's really an affront is that they reject the cute goldfish. "I can see not caring what happens to us, we're human. But what about the fish? The fish?" she cries. Most sitcoms would have spared the goldfish, for the same reason of sentimentality, I feel. Not Seinfeld. Their death (and George missing his deadline) happens off-screen, after they find the car but Kramer has walked off, having deposited his air conditioner and forgotten where it is. Kramer's cheerily oblivious arrival, after all the fight has drained out of the rest of the gang, is strangely cathartic. "What time does that play start?" "About eight o clock." "That might be a problem."


And the coda, of course, is one of those serendipitous filming accidents that pays off so amazingly: the car fails to start, and the gang, we can imagine, is trapped forever. You can see Jason Alexander break into laughter in the final seconds, and who can blame him. It's so, so funny. This gets an A only because me giving "The Chinese Restaurant" an A+ caused such a stir that I'm afraid to do it again. But "The Parking Garage" is really one of the best episodes of Seinfeld, ever.

Grade: A

"The Café"

Phew, I'm exhausted. Luckily, "The Café" isn't that funny. It's interesting, and Brian George definitely made a name for himself as Babu Bhatt (he returns in the fourth season) who is a memorable character with his chidings of "You very very bad man!" But it has that problem with walk-on ethnic minority characters that Seinfeld sometimes has, and the accent feels lamely stereotypical almost 20 years on.


The advantage of the Babu Bhatt character in this Tom Leopold-scripted episode (he'd write only one other episode, this season's "The Suicide") is that the show happily mocks Jerry's self-satisfaction at "helping this poor immigrant." It's rare that Seinfeld lapses into internal monologue but it's worth it to hear Jerry congratulate himself for taking pity on Babu's restaurant struggles. "Bad man? Could my mother have been wrong?" he worries after Babu chews him out for meddling.

Better than the main plot is George's idea to have Elaine take the IQ test his girlfriend is giving him, so that he can impress her. "People think I'm smart, but I'm not smart," he admits to Jerry. "Who thinks you're smart?" comes the inevitable response. The back-and-forth of the test-switching and Elaine getting food spilled all over her is ho-hum but George's aggressive lying skills, and the passive way he sells his lies, as he explains away all the food stains, is something to see. "I had a sandwich in my pocket."


It's great to see George so frustrated in an episode (on getting a low IQ score, he says his girlfriend had the "exact same look my father gave me when I told him I wanted to be a ventriloquist") and then have him be so cool, calm and collected when he does what he does best — lie through his teeth.

Grade: B+

"The Tape"

This episode is mostly about how sexy Elaine is. It goes unacknowledged too often, so I'm glad a whole episode got devoted to it. It's also a nice commentary by David and co-writers Bob Shaw and Don McEnery on how when a woman gets integrated into a friendship group that's male-dominated, they might forget that she's, you know, a sexy woman! Elaine leaves Jerry a mock-dirty monologue on his tape recorder while he does a show and none of the three men even remotely consider that it could have been her who left it.


The episode's also about the weird phenomena of someone in a close-knit friend group like this developing feelings for someone else — not real feelings, per se, more fantasy feelings, in George's case stirred by Elaine's sexy message and his discovery that it was her who left it. While in any other episode he wouldn't have cared about her seeing the humiliating spectacle of his scalp covered in hair-growth cream, in this one he washes it off whenever she enters and then takes to wearing a cowboy hat.

Jason Alexander is hilarious in the scenes where he's all freaked out by Elaine being sexy and she doesn't even notice.  Even better is Elaine's repeated dismissal that the monologue was "nothing," as if she has some unlimited pool of sexiness to draw on and ensnare men with. That wasn't even a fraction of her power! I like this episode, especially for its ending, where Kramer, Jerry and George (in descending order of height) are dumbfounded by the revelation of Elaine's sexiness, as if a curtain has been lifted. Kramer listening to the tape once he realizes it's Elaine's voice is also a fine example of Michael Richards creating wonderful physical comedy from something really ordinary.


But I don't have much else to say, I'm pretty spent from "The Parking Garage," I guess. The only other thing is that Jerry's cockney accent reminded me of a taped acceptance speech he sent into the UK Comedy Awards one year for winning some Seinfeld-related award which he did entirely in an English accent. I've never heard an audience more silent after an acceptance speech. Seinfeld can do a lot of things, but accents, not bloody likely.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

George is annoyed by Jerry pointing out pretty women to him. "I'm trying to live my life, don't show me that!"


A wonderful little back story plays out over the course of these three episodes (and is continued in the next one, "The Nose Job") about Kramer's sexy jacket, which he acquired from an ex-boyfriend of his mother's, which the guy then steals back. Watch any of these episodes out of sequence and the jokes on this subject make little sense, but together, it's a nice little nudgy in-joke that pays off in the next episode.

Also, Kramer's friend Spector gets mentioned in "The Parking Garage" and again in "The Tape." In the first, he likes fat women, in the second, he's becoming a minimalist.


"I love a good caper," says Jerry about the IQ-swapping idea. That is, indeed, what many of Seinfeld's plots are. Damn good capers!

George wears cologne at his girlfriend's request. "Manly," says Jerry.

I like George's suggested comedy bit about "the captain of the toes" because it's just funny enough for us to believe Jerry trying it out, and unfunny enough that we believe it didn't go anywhere.


In "The Café" and "The Tape," Kramer starts to get a round of applause for his entrances, confirming his status as the breakout character of the show. This goes on for a while if I remember right, until they started shutting the audience up, or cutting out the claps, because they were interrupting the show's rhythm.

Some of the commenters last week (or the week before) talked about Jerry's aggressively bad dress sense. I think the red suit he sports in "The Tape" takes the cake.


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