"The Secretary" (Season 6, Episode 9; originally aired December 8, 1994)
Not quite a stone-cold classic, but "The Secretary" has a lot going for it, including a pre-Newsradio appearance by Vicki Lewis and the first appearance of George Steinbrenner after season 5's finale that sets the tone for him — a rambling, eccentric, non-sequitur-spouting madman, but perhaps more affable than his public profile suggests. It also continues the saga of Kenny Bania (he'll return for more in season 7), both his search for a new suit and his endless desire to be treated to dinner at Mendy's by Jerry.
It's also just an enjoyable romp of a thing, especially the farcical situation at Barney's where Kramer's trapped in his underwear in the women's changing room, Elaine leaves the store to try and find a mirror that won't lie to her, and Jerry is in pursuit of his mother's fur coat. Reading that, it doesn't really sound like Seinfeld — not that the show doesn't have wacky plot convergences like that all the time, but it all sounds so old-fashioned, what with the fur coats and the changing rooms. Maybe it's because Kramer tends to be so shameless.
But it all works, and there's great character moments for everyone. Kramer is at his finest haggling with Kenny over his vintage suit (which we're supposed to believe is a similar size to Kenny's). "Surely you jest," he scoffs at the initial asking price of $100. I'm sad he parts for it at $300, to be honest. Elaine is wonderfully deflated when she's wearing that theater curtain of a dress, and really sells her humiliation at having to buy the next dress, which she salt-stains wearing outside (an onlooker tells her, "you'll never pull it off"). And Jerry is as furious as you'd expect him to be when he realizes his dry cleaner has been parading around town in his jacket. Now, we'd all be a little mad about this, but Jerry's certainly going to be extra-mad. I still wonder how the guy has sex with women at all; he seems to be afraid of other people touching things he owns.
Kenny's entrance is welcome, if completely surprising, for Jerry's rage, which he immediately summons. Jerry, attempting to get a dry cleaning ticket out of Kramer's suit, is so beautifully crestfallen when he offers to take Kenny out to dinner again, and then even more beautifully furious when Kenny says even though the ticket was smudged beyond recognition, they still have to go on the date. Jerry's angry banter during the dinner (and Kenny's seemingly unending ignorance of it) is a wonderful thing. Although the tag about Uma Thurman is unnecessary — I know they felt they had to close out that story, but that wasn't the way to do it.
George's story, technically the A-plot, is off on its own, one of his Yankees misadventures where he hires a secretary, promises her a raise during sex, then gets enraged when she's paid more than him by the waffling Steinbrenner. Vicki Lewis is playing the opposite of her secretary character in Newsradio (everyone go check out Donna's awesome recaps!) — she's a total type-A personality nerdy OCD whackjob — but obviously it still only takes hours for George to become sexually attracted to her. Happily, this isn't a reprise of the George getting in trouble for sleeping with an employee — instead, he is punished with the humiliation of getting paid less than her, even though he deserves that and more for his machinations.
Steinbrenner's babblings are really the star of the episode. "When I was a young man in Cleveland, I used to hitchhike to work. One time I got picked up by a bakery truck. You think that stuff smells good? Try being cooped up in the back of one of those babies. I couldn't look at a donut for the next two years. Well, not that I was ever one for the sweets. Sure I like a cupcake every now and then, like everybody else. You know I like it when they have a little cream on the inside, it's a surprise. That's good, plus the chocolate ones are good too. Sometimes I just can’t even make up my mind. A lot of times I’ll mix the two together, make a vanilla fudge." I probably won't always post these verbatim, but would any of you really complain if I did?
"The Switch" (Season 6, Episode 10; originally aired January 5, 1995)
I'm going to be honest with you guys. I don't think I had ever seen this episode before! Sure, I knew it was eventually revealed that Kramer's first name was Cosmo, and that we'd eventually meet Babs Kramer (Sheree North) at some point, but I don't think I ever saw the episode where those things happened. Whether my memory is just hazy or correct is beside the point — "The Switch" is an excellent episode, not only for the Kramer stuff but for its titular plot which involves one of my favorite Jerrys — frazzled Jerry!
Frazzled Jerry is a sight to behold, really. It's such a rare role reversal for the show, more common in the early seasons. His girlfriend of the week is someone who never laughs at his jokes (she does throw in an occasional droll "that's funny"), which irks Jerry after Elaine points it out. But her roommate laughs uproariously at his lamest material, and it's "lilting and feminine, none of those big coarse 'HA's." The scene where he tells George all this at the diner is meticulously done, so much so that it took me by surprise. Costanza quickly darkens and tells Jerry what he's proposing — the roommate switch — cannot be done. "In the middle ages you could get locked up for even suggesting it!" "They didn't have roommates in the middle ages!"
Since it happens about halfway through a so-far pretty routine episode of Seinfeld, it's all the more jarringly funny. The two agree to tackle the problem head-on and study it from every angle in a wordless montage that just made me laugh and laugh. Finally, after they give up, and a nice pregnant pause where no one's onstage, George's sick mind unlocks the answer. And that's when Jerry's at his most haggard — hair out of place, a genuinely desperate look in his eyes. He's been brought to George's level, and he's taking his advice about a woman. Jerry gets so aloof in these later seasons, it's really very surprisingly funny to see him this way.
Of course, the plan — Jerry proposes a threesome, driving the current girl away and yet intriguing the roommate enough to push them together — blows up in his face when everyone signs on to the idea and Jerry immediately backs out. "I'm not an orgy guy!" he protests, saying he'll need robes and thick carpeting and weirdo lighting et al. George's switch from ecstasy — "Do you ever just get down on your knees and thank God that you know me and have access to my dementia!" — to agony — "ARE YOU CRAZY! THIS IS LIKE DISCOVERING PLUTONIUM BY ACCIDENT!" is just beautiful. That first line especially resonates with me, because it does seem like the basis for the majority of Jerry and George's friendship.
But, of course, Jerry points out, George is now in the adviser role that Jerry usually occupies; he's a tourist to the weird goings-on in his love life. "Oh, shut up, you couldn't do it either," he sneers at George. "I know," George admits, choking back a sob. But he at least hoped Jerry might be able to pull it off, to live vicariously through it. The whole thing, and the weird, obsessive turn it takes, is just terrific to behold.
And hell, this is a pretty overstuffed episode even without that! The revelation of Kramer's name (Cosmo) is well-done in that you don't see it coming. It's not like a lot of shows where a big "mystery" is dragged out and hinted and winked at over and over. Yeah, we don't know Kramer's first name, but it's never really come up, so who cares? And yet, the minute we find out, it's funny, and of course everyone on the show would be interested to hear it. The character of Babs, who we'll basically never see again, is a bit of a lost opportunity — she and Kramer decide on some business venture but that's never elaborated upon; she alludes to being "clean" and Kramer alludes to a weird childhood but the material is never plumbed. I don't really mind, because Kramer is a funnier character if you know less about him. But it still seems like a waste to introduce Babs and then do so little with her — she's a cog in George's weak-ish storyline about his model girlfriend being possibly bulimic.
The tagged-on story, though, where Newman charms her into bed, is appropriately silly and gross. Honestly, they seem like they'd make a pretty good couple. And his seduction scene is well-played by Wayne Knight, who never really drops Newman's traditional sneer, but somehow parlays it into charisma anyway. Elaine also has a thing in this episode with a tennis racket — the only scene that really works is where the woman with the broken arm is crying and Elaine is making a face. It's a nice comment on that kind of logic trap where Elaine, of course, deserves the racket that she lent to the lady, but still can't get it anyway.
We're adding episode dates and taking away grades from these reviews for TV Club Classic from now on. In terms of the episodes, when I call The Switch "Episode 10," that's going off its production code and its placement on the DVD, which is what I go by for these reviews. But you'll notice the gap in dates between the two episodes; episode 11 aired in between, and I'll cover that next week.
"Six months ago you were taking messages for your mother!" "And now someone will be taking messages for me." "From your mother."
"I would give up red meat just to get a glimpse of you in a bra."
George says his secretary is incredible. "I don't know why I never had one before!" "Because you didn't have a job," Jerry reminds him.
I love Steinbrenner. "Yes, yes, George, I'm a very accessible man!"
"George, you're becoming one of the glitterati." "What's that." "You know, people who glitter."
Why does bulimia bug George? "I'm paying for those meals! It's like throwing money down the toilet!"
Is it mean how much I found the woman crying funny? "If I can't play tennis I have no reason TO LIVE!"
Kramer embracing his name is a beautiful sight. "What do you say, Cosmo?" "HEY! Everything, my man!"