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Seinfeld: “The Sponge”/“The Gum”

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“The Sponge”

Sponge-worthy! SPONGE-WORTHY! Episodes like this one that are fine, but not fantastic, just get lodged in the general memory because of the writers’ good eye for catchphrases. I don’t think Elaine says it more than twice (and Jerry echoes it a couple times) but like any of the show’s other instantly recognizable verbal memes, there is something beautifully pithy and concise about it, even though it’s describing kind of a complicated thing. Like, sure, we’d all sleep with Scott Patterson (later Luke Danes on Gilmore Girls), but would he really be worth it if you could only have sex 60 more times in your life? I dunno, man.


The thing is, “The Sponge” is just okay otherwise. It has an undeveloped Kramer plot about his refusal to wear an AIDS ribbon that could have gone in a more interesting direction, since I admire his stance. Instead, it just devolves into typical Kramer slapstick as he’s attacked by other angry AIDS walkers—including the scary gay guys from “The Soup Nazi.” Their appearance is perfectly timed and gets a big, deserved laugh, and Kramer is amusingly bedraggled at the end of the episode, but he can also be funny when he explains his reasons for supporting an unusual principle. I wish there was a little more of that here.

Jerry’s vanity and the scrubbing of his 32-waist jeans to make them 31-waist makes sense for his character, but again the story feels a little like a lost opportunity. His objection to his girlfriend being too nice is funny, and his conversation about it with George is great—“She’s genuinely concerned about the welfare of others, I can’t be with someone like that… I admire her, I can’t have sex with someone I admire.” “Where’s the depravity?” “No depravity!” I love it when the show pushes a little on Jerry’s inner workings, particularly about girls, because there is definitely an undercurrent to his serial dating.


But instead, the plot mostly revolves around gossip and how he got her number and the jeans and so on and so forth. George and Susan’s thing with the gossip gives us a patented Jerry cry of “George!” but it’s pedestrian stuff overall. Jerry’s revelation that his girlfriend is depraved (in his eyes) with the crates of sponges is a nice twist, but it’s a twist that’s instantly dismissed.

All that said, this is a great showcase for Elaine, and she is hysterical, especially in her cool interview of Scott Patterson and her forceful rejection of George’s pleas. You keep thinking that George is gonna win Elaine around, and in a lot of scenarios he’d probably get one sponge, but Julia Louis-Dreyfus makes it clear that she is not fucking around and is inches away from tossing George down the stairs. It’s a great example of how Seinfeld is not squeamish about Elaine’s sexuality whatsoever—her argument with George really puts the two on an even footing, I think. And we all applaud Elaine’s decision in the post-credits tag to praise her time with Patterson but decline him another go-round. It’s nice to see her in charge.


“The Gum”

So here I am all excited to re-watch “The Sponge” and it turns out just okay. Then this episode, which I barely remembered, had me on the floor! It’s very broad, and Kramer is bizarrely hyperactive even for Kramer throughout the episode without any explanation. But the sight of Jerry in those thick lenses is just beautiful. Like the puffy shirt, it’s rare to have Jerry off-kilter, so maybe that enhances the humor, but really, thick old lady glasses on a guy’s face are just funny, and that’s all there is to it.


In this episode, Kramer is suddenly a classic movie theater… what, owner? Curator? Plus, he’s dressed funny (with a pipe) and is talking weird. Yes, I know Kramer always dresses funny and talks weird but this is even more affected than usual. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s sort of a warning sign of what a living cartoon Kramer is starting to become. Lloyd Braun from “The Non-Fat Yogurt” is back as his sidekick, having recovered from a nervous breakdown so total that he’s now portrayed by a different actor. Kramer is being incredibly friendly and supportive to help him recover, which amazingly convinces everyone else to behave the same even though they all have a problem with Lloyd: George hates him, Elaine is uncomfortable, and Jerry tends not to care about people.

But Kramer’s energy is high enough that they all go along with his suggestions, even as they get weirder and weirder—like making Jerry wear the glasses. Every plot strand in this episode is powered by a series of coincidences too fine and numerous to go into here, but it is really beautiful watching them all collide together. You keep thinking that by the end of the episode, Lloyd might go crazy again, but that never happens—probably a wise move since that would have been rather obvious.


The denouement is effective without that note mostly because of George’s plot, in which a neighborhood friend begins to think that it is George who is having a breakdown because he’s tormented by pleasant figures like Lloyd and Ruthie the Monk’s cashier, who’s in the background in so many episodes but gets her first speaking role here. Jason Alexander is, of course, never better than when he’s bedraggled, and his physical decline, which suggests a mental decline, is beautiful to watch. We know he’s no more George than normal, but it’s still funny stuff to imagine what he must seem like to an outsider.

The ultimate coincidence comes right at the end where George sees Jerry and tries to get his attention in front of his friend Dina, but Jerry just gazes out at him dimly because of the glasses. Maybe I am just particularly won over by this visual gag, but I couldn’t get enough of Jerry’s vacant face behind those glasses, especially as George prostrates in front of him. Everything else lines up perfectly too—Jerry buying way too much gum, Elaine’s many shirt mishaps, the use of a guy on the street with a hose in each plot—but for me I think it just comes down to those glasses.


Stray observations:

Kramer: “If I didn’t do something, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.” “It’s hard enough living next door,” Jerry replies.


How Jerry derails inconvenient conversation: He says he’s buying a speedboat.

“Well, I’ll take three. Make it 10. 20 sponges should be plenty. Yeah, 25 sponges is just fine.”


“They serve soup at 6 a.m.? Do the bums ever complain, ‘Soup again?’”

Here’s how George expresses his sexual frustration to his friends: “George is getting frustrated!”


George’s thing with the condom packet is highly suggestive, even for Seinfeld. Is it that he can’t maintain the erection, or he finishes up super quick? It has to be the first, right?

Scott Paterson says he’s sponge-worthy. “I’m actually quite good at it.” “You gonna do something about your sideburns?” “Yeah, I told you.”


“Why go to the park and fly a kite when you can just pop a pill!”

I forgot to mention George in the King Henry suit, which is just amazing.

“Well, if it isn’t Chesty LaRue.”

“That cashier is riding horses on my money.”

The end of the Jon Voight car comes in “The Gum.” Sad!

Larry David makes a great cameo as the gum salesman at the end of the episode. “I beg your pardon, your majesty!”


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