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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Seinfeld: "The Pledge Drive"/"The Chinese Woman"

Illustration for article titled Seinfeld: "The Pledge Drive"/"The Chinese Woman"
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"The Pledge Drive"

It was a tough choice for which image to pick for this week's review, because the sight of Uncle Leo stopping the PBS pledge drive is pretty much as indelible as the one I did end up going for (I think you'll agree that I made the right decision). These are both funny, funny episodes, and I like to think of them as a linked pair, since they both feature Elaine's friend Noreen, who has odd taste in men and listens to Elaine waaay too much. Noreen (Kelly Coffield, the white girl of In Living Color if your memories go back that far) never appeared again after being featured so heavily, which is kind of funny, but not atypical for Seinfeld.

"The Pledge Drive" probably best-remembered for Mr. Pitt's odd way of eating a Snickers bar, so let's start there. I noted last week that Mr. Pitt isn't my favorite Seinfeld recurring, but whenever his behavior is on the childishly dainty side, it does tickle me, and the way he eats the Snickers so matter-of-factly, without a care in the world, is a great way to drop in the joke. But the real gag is the way it spreads like wildfire as so many things do — if you do it with an air of sophistication or coolness, someone else is going to start doing it too, and that's all it takes, right? The way George's boss at the Yankees is intimidated by George's sniffy comment is very well done, and a good example of how George might actually gain the upper hand (that is, by being a jerk). "I am eating my dessert. How do you eat it? With your hands?"

It's also a great example of a Seinfeld joke working its way through an episode, in that Elaine starts the trend by telling George about Mr. Pitt, but then doesn't know how far it goes until she sees Noreen dig into a cookie with a knife and fork, then she and Jerry watch everyone do it at Monk's. "What is wrong with all you people? Have you all gone MAD?"

All the other plots are very nicely intertwined and keep bumping into each other very gracefully (the script is by Tom Gammill and Max Pross, who got started in season 5 and are pros at this point). The high-talking boyfriend (a dub job on actor Brian Reddy, one of those guys who's been in everything) is the focal point: confused for Noreen, it prompts his breakup with her. Confused with Jerry's grandmother, it means the grandmother goes walking down a scary alley in her best clothes and ends up pledging $1,500 to PBS (even though "SHE'S ON A FIXED INCOME!" as Leo tells us). And Kramer assumes that the guy is in love with Jerry, and talks to him about PBS's fine gay-friendly programming.

But the gag about the grandmother is the best one in my eyes, seeing as it has a dark glint to it (but never gets too dark — that creepy dude who accosts her in the alley just gives her directions) and she is perfectly played by Billye Ree Wallace, who never displays a hint of malice or anger about the fact that Jerry's putting her through all this (or that Elaine tells her to drop dead). If she did, it wouldn't be as funny. But the nicer and more grandmotherly she is, the more horrible and brilliant the joke is. Uncle Leo's involvement obviously just raises everything a grade — he's looking out for the woman, but he's also being his usual busybody self, as he is again when he tries to give Jerry cash. Jerry, wisely, refuses it, knowing the perils of being in Uncle Leo's debt.


George's other plotline, involving the middle finger, is not quite as clever and the idea that he'd go driving after someone he thought had flipped him off is a flight of fancy (would George really have the balls to confront that guy?). But Danny Tartabull, stretched to the absolute limit of his acting abilities here, is nicely befuddled the whole time by his driver's rage. And that George perceives that everyone in the world hates him? That's very in-character.

Grade: A-

"The Chinese Woman"

Larry David in a cape! Talking to Frank Costanza! HE'S IN A CAPE, PEOPLE. I wonder if viewers in 1994 knew who that was. Sure, David had been on Fridays many many years before, and he'd won an Emmy (and given the famous "This is all very well and good, but I'm still bald" speech) for "The Contest" but he was not well-known. Our future-knowledge of Larry's exploits on Curb probably make this all the funnier. But still. Larry David, in a cape, talking to Frank Costanza: that's comedy gold. No two ways around it.


The Costanza divorce is the main event of this episode for me. Sure, it's centered around this blond girl that Jerry dates with the last name of Chang, who he thinks is putting on an Asian affectation to get men (read: Jews) to sleep with her. It's a kinda-funny joke that loses steam once Jerry thinks she's intentionally pronouncing her Ls as Rs, although it does come back around once Estelle rejects her marriage advice (straight from Confucius!) when she realizes she's not Asian. Because that's totally something Estelle would do! "I'm not taking advice from some girl from Long Island!" she wails.

George's reaction to the divorce is proper: he can't believe he might have to spend double the amount of time with these people, perhaps not at their house. Throughout the episode, Frank seems more bothered that Jerry and Elaine didn't say hello when they saw him with the man with the cape (his divorce lawyer). He's also preoccupied with a pest infestation in Queens. "Queens is full of mosquitoes. Gnats too, if I'm not mistaken." On the one hand, it's hard to imagine how different Frank's life would be without Elaine, since he's so in his own world. On the other hand, without her to yell at, what the hell would he do all day?


Noreen, as I mentioned, is back in this episode, and the writers basically take the joke of her breaking up with the high-talker last week and make it the subject of the episode. Why does Noreen just do whatever Elaine says? By the end of the episode, we learn that she both enlisted in the army and fled the army at Elaine's behest, and Kramer (who's really just taking Elaine's place) is putting her back in the service to free her of that Benes influence. The joke at the tag of the episode, where Noreen is contemplating suicide, is linked to Jerry's line that Elaine better not tell her to jump off a bridge, but still doesn't make a lot of sense. Maybe she just can't handle the concept of not being in control of her life. But the approach of Larry David, still caped, and his self-introduction ("I'm Frank Costanza's lawyer") really does away with any doubts you have about the joke. I should really introduce myself everywhere like that. At least, definitely at job interviews.

This episode (written by Peter Mehlman) is not quite as well-put-together as "The Pledge Drive" but has a lot of solid jokes nonetheless. But you'll definitely notice that my grades are going to start to slip — season 6 just isn't quite at the same consistently brilliant level of the previous two.


Grade: B+

Stray observations:

Jerry seems to have 3 orange juice cartons in his fridge. What a weirdo.

Kramer has a subscription to Fortune Magazine, of course.

George says you should keep cards a minimum of two days. "You making that up or you know what you're talking about?" "I'm makin' it up."


Jerry says it's different with a mantle. "If my parents had a mantle, I might be a completely different person," George agrees.

Jerry's advice to George on how to get a Yankee to come to the pledge drive: "Do your thing, where you lie to everyone."


Danny needs approval of the script. "I'd like to see the script too," Kramer says. "You're just answering phones!" "It'd put me at ease."

"It is good cape weather, cool, breezy."

George left a phone message. "Hey, it's George. I got nothing to say."

Kramer enters with water. "I'm going through this stuff like water."

Forgot to mention Kramer's fertility subplot. Not much to say on that account. "What would you say if I told you I never impregnanted a woman?" "Really, you never slipped one past the goalie all those years?"


"Elaine, I can see not saying hello. She's very, what's the word, supercillious."

"It's a shame his parents didn't get divorced 30 years ago. He could have been normal!"


Jerry says capes are not inherently bad because of Superman. "I'll be damned if I'm gonna stand here and let you say something bad about him!"

Frank on the cape: "He's very independent. He doesn't follow the trends." Estelle thinks he looks ridiculous. "You have no eye for fashion!" "I HAVE NO EYE FOR FASHION?"


Elaine says the fortune cookie is evidence of people accepting Chinese advice. "Yeah, there's no rolled-up messages in a knish," Jerry says.