Two of this week's episodes were penned by Larry Charles and the third by Larry David, and they offer a great example of how different Seinfeld can be week-to-week: Charles' efforts are more directly strange and outlandish, while David's are observational and more low-key, although they have their own, more concentrated moments of mania and dark humor.
"The Statue" is kinda of strange, and much like "The Baby Shower" Charles only has a loose hold on the plot, he's more interested in specific characters and skits. The guest stars here are very exaggerated: Michael D. Conway is the alternately mellifluous and surly Ray and Nurit Koppel affirms a stereotype as his girlfriend, dour Finnish author Rava. Both are good: Rava's bleakness gets more and more over-the-top ("My mother left us when I was six years old. All seven of us. He ever heard from her again. I hope she's rotting in an alley somewhere.") but Ray is more peculiar, and thus more funny. He calls Jerry "Lord of the Manor" years before "The Contest," while impressing him with his cleaning skills (which, knowing Jerry, is hard to do).
But his theft of a peculiar statue (which appears to be of some flapper girl) is what drives what there is of the episode's plot. The statue turns up in a box of Jerry's dead grandfather's possessions and George seizes upon it, wanting it to replace an identical figure he broke as a child while singing "MacArthur Park" with it, which his parents berated him for. George's convoluted explanation for all this, and the time that's devoted to it, is something Seinfeld does very well: investing the audience in what seems ridiculously mundane because we have had similar emotions about such ordinary things.
I like that Ray's motivation for stealing the statue remains undiscovered. In fact, all explanation for his strange personality (at one point, he addresses Jerry as "The Once and Future King of Comedy, Jerry the First") is left to our imagination, and his theft of the statue is just a crucial part of that. Charles is more interested in setting up elaborate, ridiculous scenes, like Jerry and Elaine trying to quietly call Kramer from Ray and Rava's house (Kramer, of course, has more than one friend called Jerry) or Jerry giving Ray a friendly interrogation at Monk's while George angrily plays bad cop all by himself in the next booth over.
But the biggest revelation in "The Statue," I think, is Charles' outstanding use of Kramer. He mostly broods in the background for the first twenty minutes, outraged at the theft, saying stuff like, "Let's go get him. You wanna go get him? I say we get him." Then he takes matters into his own hands, donning Jerry's grandfather's clothes (which makes him look like Joe Friday in Dragnet, he says at the start of the episode) and intimidating Ray into getting the statue back. Mostly, Kramer hasn't been having much of an impact on the central plots, but Charles understands that using him in this vaudevillian, ridiculous way doesn't impact the rest of the show's tone at all, it somehow gels all the better. Of course, nothing's well that ends well, as George drops the statue again, but we cleverly cut away before even a reaction shot, because the joke's been dragged out long enough.
"The Heart Attack"
This is another weird one, also penned by Larry Charles. It shuttles around maniacally and has several more bizarre one-off characters: the inimitable Stephen Tobolowsky as holistic healer Tor Eckman, a tongue-obsessed doctor who goes on a date with Elaine, and two angry EMTs who crash their ambulance while arguing about a missing Chuckle (one of many, many jokes to focus around confectionary in the years to come).
George has a fake heart attack, brought on by media suggestion and hypochondria, which is what drives the episode, but really it's just an excuse for nonsensical shit to happen, often out of nowhere. After learning George's hospitalization was fake, Jerry immediately starts freaking him out by asking for his stuff if he dies. As if we didn't get the joke already, Charles ratchets it up by having George asking Jerry to kill him and Jerry gleefully obliging, smothering him with a pillow. Seinfeld plays (fake) mania very well. He should take a Robin Williams-esque role as a serial killer in a movie someday, I'd believe it.
When he learns he has to get his tonsils taken out, George then takes Kramer's advice to go to see Tor Eckman, because his wallet obviously rules over his decisions. The Eckman scene is ridiculously broad, but saved by little mannerisms like Tobolowsky's hand movements as he talks, and how Jerry perturbed by Eckman telling him he eats too much dairy (he does have a lot of cereal, we know). Still it feels a little tired; making fun of spacey holistic healers was probably more original in 1991.
Everything else in "The Heart Attack" doesn't really make sense at all. Elaine goes on a date with the hot doctor only for him to grab her tongue in the car and explain its mucusy wonders to her. I know Seinfeld has a lot of ridiculous one-shot date characters, but this seems like outlandish behavior for anyone. George drinks Eckman's weird tea and it turns him purple, and there's a wonderful smash cut to him in the ambulance, but Charles feels that isn't quite madcap enough, so he introduces the arguing EMTs. It's funny, if you can get a handle on what the hell is going on, which is really quite hard to do.
The best part of "The Heart Attack" is probably what the episode is best known for, a cameo by Larry David (his first on screen, I think) as the villain in a 50s B-Movie on TV who cries, "Look, Sigmund. Look in the sky. The planets are on fire. It is just as you prophesied. The planets of our solar system, incinerating. Like flaming globes, Sigmund, like flaming globes!" Jerry watches this at night and then writes the "flaming globes" bit down in his sleep and tries to decipher it for the rest of the episode. In fact, Jerry's whole plotline this week is a hunt for material — he acknowledges he wouldn't have gone to see Eckman if he wasn't sure it'd be funny.
But Jerry's realization at what's scribbled on the paper and that "that's not funny, there's nothing funny about that" is something many of us can identify with, right? I once got up in the middle of the night and feverishly wrote down "THE EUCLID PROJECT!" in my notebook and underlined it like ten times. I have no idea why.
Of course, for all of Larry Charles' oddball writing, Larry David is basically the master when it comes to writing hilarious Seinfeld scripts that are very, very fucked up. This is the first script he wrote solo: Jerry Seinfeld's involvement on the writing side will start to peter out after the second season. After "The Chinese Restaurant," this is probably the most famous episode of the second season and is often cited as an example of George's abnormal behavior (this time, quitting his job in fury and then returning to work the next week as if he never had) that's based in reality (Larry David did the same thing on Saturday Night Live - can we presume that evil boss Levitan is based on Lorne Michaels, or is that a bridge too far?).
Abnormal though it may be, George's emotional journey here is amazing to watch. We don't get the pleasure of watching him build to his episode-opening outburst where he quits, but that makes it all the more surprising and funny. "Look at you. You think you're an important man? Is that what you think? You are a laughingstock. You are a joke. These people are laughing at you. You're nothing!" One gets the feeling David has wanted to subject people to this rant more than once.
After quitting, George becomes pensive and sad, which is my favorite side of him. His discussions with Jerry on what his next career should be is something I often think about, especially whenever I've considered moving careers. I just turn on the TV and think, "FBI Agent, could I do that? What about brain surgeon?" Or I look around the room and wonder if I could be a comic book artist or a video game tester. "It's probably a union thing," George sighs.
Jerry advises him to just go back to work and pretend it never happened, a piece of audacity that apparently worked for David but obviously can't work for George. His rejection by the evil, porcine Levitan is genius ("You can't beat me. That's why I'm here and you're there. Because I'm a winner. I'll always be a winner and you'll always be a loser.") and, in my opinion, totally excuses his diabolical plan to "slip him a Mickey."
I'm not sure if David intends us to realize just how fucked up George's behavior is or whether he sees it as just a silly prank, but George convinces Elaine to help him out by saying the whole thing is like an old movie. He'll slip him a Mickey! The buildup to the drugging is very well-staged: Elaine distracts Levitan with talk of nudity (I like how she mixes crazy and sexy in an enticing way) and George considers stopping his boss once he gets his old job back, only to realize that even if he is being nice to George, he's still fundamentally a douchebag. The smartest move of the episode is the cut right from Levitan's toast to George back in Jerry's apartment, considering his job options again: the sight gag is better in our heads, and leaving the nastiness off-screen saves the episode from being truly fucked up.
Plus, we get a great, great example of physical comedy from Kramer this week in the B-plot, the first time Michael Richards really gets to cut loose and just dance around like a lunatic. The plot itself is a sort of watered-down version of the A-plot, as Jerry loses money in the laundromat and derides the owner's "not responsible for valuables" sign as a "license to steal," so they decided to exact revenge by putting cement in one of his machines. Apparently Richards insisted that he use a full bag of cement in the scene to get the reactions right: maybe that's why what could be a silly distraction of a scene is instead howlingly funny and perfectly judged.
And I can't let the review end without adding that this is the first mention of Newman we get, although he does not technically "appear" (only as Larry David's voice, re-dubbed by Wayne Knight for syndication). While his off-screen characterization is somewhat different that what the character will become (sad-sack suicide case who's all talk) it's nonetheless important to note the milestone.
Again, tantalizing hints at George's parents but they won't show up for a long while yet. Maybe the writers felt it was almost better to keep them off-camera and build them up as ridiculously as possible.
"Inka-dink," the peculiar eeny, meeny, miny moe game Jerry referees between Kramer and George, is the second odd choosing game we've seen, after the "shooting" game. Also mentioned: "Potato man."
Ray and Rava's apartment looks like Seinfeld's apartment set, re-arranged. I don't know if it is or not, but it adds to the surreal quality of the episode.
Jerry has a good excuse for getting out of Ray's dinner invitation: "I don't eat dinner, dinner's for suckers."
George calls Jerry a "jerkoff" for smothering him with a pillow. I didn't know you could say that on network TV, particularly in 1991.
Kramer mentions his unseen friend Bob Sacamano for the first time in "The Heart Attack." He went into the hospital for a routine hernia and came out with a high-pitched voice!
"The best revenge is living well," Jerry chides George. "Well, there's no chance of that," he replies.
Next week: the season two "finale" and we move into the show's first full-length season!