“The Rye” (season 7, episode 11, originally aired Jan. 4, 1996)
“The Rye” is unusual for a Seinfeld episode in that one of its major components is a fart joke. Seinfeld is a show that explored many avenues of humor in its nine seasons on the air but the fart joke still feels somewhat jarring (luckily, it involves a horse, not a person, which mitigates the impact somewhat). That it comes at the expense of George’s terrifying in-laws (Grace Zabriskie and Warren Frost, returning from their first appearance in “The Cheever Letters”) is also a bit disappointing, considering George had already put them through much worse hells: outing the dad’s affair with John Cheever and burning their cabin down.
In fact, I was in general disappointed with the return of the Ross family here, especially with the juicy setup of them meeting the equally bonkers Costanzas. In “The Cheever Letters,” George’s dinner with them is a booze-soaked WASP nightmare that seemed like some inflated version of horrible dinners Larry David might have suffered in the past. Now, they’ve been scaled back to a more reasonable tone: They’re still irritating, snippy rich folk but they seem on slightly more stable ground. Maybe it was decided that having them and the Costanzas in the room was just too much crazy for one episode.
Frank and Estelle still get off some fine non sequiturs revolving around Cornish game hens and the sex lives of roosters but the whole thing feels more like your classic in-law dinner from Hell rather than the special kind of crazy we might come to expect. But “The Rye” redeems itself somewhat with the much wackier sight of Jerry stealing a marble rye from an old lady and trying to toss it to George on a second-floor window (he eventually reels it in with a fishing pole).
In both this and the next episode, Jerry actually has to go out of his way to help George out, a rare situation (rare enough that he complains about it next week) but one that usually makes me laugh. Still, it’s the kind of caper where even though you’re watching a sitcom you want them to pull it off. They almost do, too, but Kramer’s farting horse (plied with Beefaroni or some such foodstuff) sticks a fork in their plans. The sight of Kramer in the top hat of a hansom cab driver is a beautiful one but I still think they could have gone a funnier direction than just having the horse smell.
Elaine’s in her own little storyline here that’s far more risqué (a recurring joke is that her new jazz saxophonist boyfriend doesn’t do “everything” in bed, i.e. give her oral sex) but it doesn’t get its due, instead getting sidetracked onto an extremely vague point about whether Elaine wants him thinking that she thinks their relationship is “hot and heavy.” Usually these social, semantic points are where Seinfeld shines, but Elaine’s behavior here just comes off as neurotic when it shouldn’t. It means the ending tag where the guy flops after evidently failing in bed just doesn’t have the knockout punch that it should.
“The Caddy” (season 7, episode 12, originally aired Jan. 25, 1996)
When I think of Seinfeld’s Steinbrenner episodes, I think of this one, a definite classic that also features the return of Jackie Chiles, Brenda Strong parading about in a bra and jacket, and Armin Shimerman as a wise caddy. But Steinbrenner gets to do some wonderful ranting here, too involved to summarize here, but his rapid vacillations between grief at George’s supposed death and his need to find a new hire for a position are great to watch.
George is quickly in line for another promotion because his car has broken down and he’s waiting for a free mechanic service to kick in—his bosses assume he’s burning the midnight oil and groom him for leadership, leading Jerry to deadpan, “Hell of an organization they’re running up there. I can’t understand why they haven’t won a pennant in 15 years!” George decides “my presence in that office can only hurt my chances” and goes upstate (to the rebuilt cabin) with Susan, but an accident involving Jerry and Kramer leads Steinbrenner to think that George is dead.
It’s all beautiful lead-up to an incredible scene where Steinbrenner tells the Costanzas the news. Estelle is somewhat heartbroken but Frank, perhaps driven by his grief (but probably not) has another bone to pick. “What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for? He had 30 home runs, over 100 RBIs last year! He’s got a rocket for an arm, you don’t know what the hell you’re doing!” Even if you don’t know what he’s talking about (and many a frustrated Yankees fan certainly did) Stiller’s timing and furious delivery just has me on the floor every time. I almost wish the show actually had killed George off at some point just to examine the emotional impact it has on Frank.
That’s coupled with another A-story (the two have relatively equal time in this episode) about Elaine’s friend Sue Ellen (Strong, who recurred on this and Sports Night and later played dead ladies on Everwood and Desperate Housewives) deciding to take Elaine’s hint about wearing a bra to a new extreme, causing chaos around New York and spurring a Jackie Chiles lawsuit, since she’s also the heiress to the Oh Henry! candy bar fortune (a Seinfeld touch if there ever was one).
The Sue Ellen tale could maybe use with a bit more breathing room so that her and Jerry’s relationship doesn’t feel so rushed. But his confession of love in the courtroom is still well-played by Seinfeld and Strong is equal parts irritating and alluring so we sympathize with both Jerry and Elaine. Woulda been funny if they could bring back “they’re real and they’re spectacular” Teri Hatcher for the role, though.
Of course, the whole thing leads up to another O.J. Simpson parody where the bra doesn’t fit Sue Ellen (because she’s trying it on over her shirt). This is on the advice of the never-wrong caddy, another cute plot device that maybe would have worked with a couple more minutes of screentime. As it is, George and Jerry have a scene where they look knowingly at each other and say, “Stan the Caddy!” But it feels like the show is searching for a catchphrase that isn’t there. Can’t win ’em all.
- “Oh Elaine, you are so beautiful. So, so beautiful. Not to mention your personality, which is so interesting.”
- Among the staples Kramer buys at a discount food store: A 4-pound can of black olives and 10 pounds of cocktail meatballs.
- “Look at this can of tuna! This isn’t for a person, this is for a biosphere of three!”
- Estelle doesn’t like Frank’s thin tie. “Go to any office building on Seventh Avenue and tell me if there’s anyone there wearing a tie like that. Go ahead!” “Oh, get the hell out of here, Seventh Avenue!”
- Estelle has never heard of Merlot. “Did they just invent it?”
- “They’re all chickens. The rooster has sex with all of them.” “That’s perverse!”
- Kramer says Central Park was designed by Joe Pepitone and used to give Civil War soldiers training in fighting on grass.
- “My whole plan is depending on Kramer! Have I learned nothing!”
- The Yankees would, of course, go on to win the World Series in 1996, probably all thanks to George.
- “A woman is walking around in broad daylight with nothing but a bra on! She’s a menace to society!”
- George wants to trade Jim Leyritz and Bernie Williams, 1996 World Series stars, for Barry Bonds.
- “It’s got chocolate, peanuts, nougat. It’s delicious, outstanding.”
- “I managed to survive on grubs and puddle water until a kindly old gentleman picked me up.” “Grubs, huh? I never tasted one of those.”
- J. Peterman’s new bra is called a “Gatsby swing-top.”
- “Jerry, it’s Frank Costanza. Mr. Steinbrenner’s here, George is dead. Call me back.”