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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Seinfeld: "The Wallet"/"The Watch"/"The Bubble Boy"

Illustration for article titled Seinfeld: "The Wallet"/"The Watch"/"The Bubble Boy"
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“The Wallet"/"The Watch”

I forgot that these two episodes constitute the third two-part episode in a row for Seinfeld, complete with Seinfeld comedy-meta-commentary on “to be continued” cliffhangers and everything! There are actually two running plots, each as good as the other: the continuing saga of Jerry and George’s “negotiation” tactics and the visit of Morty and Helen, who are perplexed at Jerry’s missing watch. I consider Morty as good a recurring character as any on Seinfeld, so I’m very disposed to these episodes, but they’re a great example of Larry David (the writer of both) really running with the concept of both a grand arc to the season (the pilot) and mini-arcs that touch several episodes (Jerry threw that watch in the last episode, remember). Along with everything else, you’ve got Joe Davola and Elaine’s shrink in the C-plot.

My favorite thing in this episode is pretty much anything Morty says. We haven’t met George’s parents yet, obviously, but even now, we know how dysfunctional they are. Jerry’s parents, on the other hand, have an easy sort of chemistry. They’re hardly gooey, but Helen’s overt, slightly strained friendliness balances really well with Morty’s short, blunt facts-o-life. “How could anyone not like you?” Helen cries when she hears about Joe Davola’s vendetta against Jerry. “Maybe people don’t like him! I could see that!” shouts Morty.

Much like every character on Seinfeld, Morty has a very ordered view about how the universe’s rules should work, and getting his wallet stolen at the back specialist he flew up to New York from Florida to see clearly violates those rules. He’s uneasy from the beginning because Uncle Leo got him in with the doctor, which is obviously an unsettling thought (owing Leo a favor is not something I’d want to do). Then he’s subjected to Velcro, his least favorite sound, by the nurse. The wallet theft comes almost as punishment for ignoring the signs, I feel, and you’ve gotta applaud Morty’s refusal to even let the doctor tell him what’s wrong with his back. Or, as he put it, he wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

The story of Jerry’s broken watch is an excellent exaggeration of a real-life problem I know I’ve had: the gift you got from a family member that you didn’t really want, but had to wear because you see them all the time. What makes it work so well is, of course, Uncle Leo. He’s as unnerving as ever but he’s also kinda in the right. What kind of idiot throws away a perfectly good watch? This is not to say the moral authority rests with Leo, who’s all full of himself about the back doctor and tries to fleece Jerry to sell him the watch back. Last week, people seemed to like the concept that he arrives as if summoned by the gods to irritate everyone, and similarly, everything seems to go right for the guy, in the wonderful full-circle gag where Morty tosses his new wallet (because it’s Velcro) that Jerry slipped $400 into. And who should find it but goddamn Uncle Leo? It just ain’t fair.

Elaine also returns for real this week, and her energy really was sorely missed; whenever one character isn’t in a Seinfeld episode you realize what a perfectly-balanced ensemble this is. Her pairing with Kramer to break up with her creepy therapist is probably the episode’s least interesting thread, but it’s clever how her flirtation with Joe elegantly straddles the charming/crazy line. On its own, their little banter seems fine, but since we know he’s nuts, we can tell that there’s just something slightly off about the whole scenario, even forgetting that you should never date someone you meet outside a shrink’s office. Stephen McHattie (not Robocop) as the shrink is amusingly intense, but the joke is well-worn by the end of the two-parter.


As for George, saddling him with the Jerry plotline just takes his psychotic dual-personality approach to negotiations to an even crazier level. “Jerry, my young friend, you’re so naïve. … This is what you do in business,” he assures his partner after passing on NBC’s $13,000 offer. Jerry rightly tells him that in the TV pilot business there’s always someone else willing to work for less cash, but George pooh-poohs him, cool as a cucumber. As soon as the offer is withdrawn entirely, though, he’s back to wailing like a child. “He can’t just not play! We’re playing!” he moans to Susan about the imperious Russell Dalrymple.

George’s “negotiation” with Russell is easily my favorite scene in the episode. Once again, Bob Balaban plays the exec with disarming dryness. Sure, he’s in his duplex eating fancy food with a beautiful woman. George haltingly tries to acknowledge all this, marveling at the stairs, the woman’s shoes (“I love suede; it's so thick and rich. Have you ever rubbed it against the grain?”), and the food they’re eating (“looks like veal!”). Russell, bigshot that he is, won’t even acknowledge his many earthly pleasures to George, and why should he? He is, after all, better than him. But George’s invasive presence in the apartment appears to be enough to convince him to accept a lower offer, $8,000, to stay in business with them. It’s a good payoff. George loses the deal through his obnoxiousness but gains it back in a similar manner, sacrificing only his pride, his dignity, and his confident boasts about getting a better deal to Jerry.


The whole thing is just a marvel to watch and honestly, kind of a bitch to sum up. It’s a perfect Seinfeld two-parter: lots of hidden details that make sense later on, dovetailing stories, loose threads for us to pick up later, and George humiliation.

Grade: A

“The Bubble Boy”

I’m not sure if “The Bubble Boy” is a well-remembered classic episode of Seinfeld because it’s a consistently hilarious, madcap, and yet perfectly-plotted little adventure, or because of “Moops.” I think it’s Moops. Scripted by the two Larrys, David and Charles, this episode has the mannerisms of each, but that big gag at the finale really smells like Larry Charles to me. George’s epic game of Trivial Pursuit with the evil bubble boy could have been resolved in a lot of ways, but I don’t think anyone ever sees the “Moops” gag coming. The card should, of course, read “Moors,” but George decides to triumphantly stick to the rules, deliciously enunciating the word “Moops” over and over. “I’m sorry, the card says MOOPS.” I could watch Jason Alexander saying that on a loop all day.


The buildup to the “Moops” is less bizarre than it should be, really. George is going to Susan’s cabin for the weekend and desperately wants Jerry with him; Elaine comes along too, but Kramer is barred because he threw up on her (he thinks it’s because it conflicts with a golfing trip). A lot of little bits (Jerry being uncomfortable with signing headshots, George driving too quickly, Kramer’s Cuban cigars) add up to total carnage by the end of the episode, with Jerry being strangled in a diner, George strangled by the bubble boy, and Kramer setting the cabin ablaze. With the cigars, David is again bringing along jokes from previous episodes, relying more on the audience to keep up with everything. We should be noting the irony that Susan’s dad’s shack goes up in flames thanks to his own cigars.

Can we talk about Susan for a minute, though? This episode, more than anything, should have been a portent for her about the perils of dating George. For one, Susan is just generally very sexy and flirty for the whole episode, nibbling on George’s ear and canoodling with him in the car and the like. George spares us seeing him act sexy back, which is too weird for me to handle, but insists he’s no prude. “I swing with the best of them.” I really like Susan, I always do in all her appearances, but it is actively strange that they have her be so interested in George even though he’s such a pathetic fool around her. I’m sure if I said this to Larry David, he’d tell me he did all this stuff and still had women following him around, and he may well be right. But Susan is generally such a put-together, confident woman, her biggest character flaw is George, and they never really make any sense together. Case in point: as the cabin burns, a signal flare to Susan to end things with George, he turns to her and says, “I just remembered, you never gave me back change from the tolls.” But George with basically any woman makes no sense to me. I just happen to like Susan more.


Jerry and Elaine’s journey is also pretty fun; they’ve got a casual, almost sexy give-and-take throughout the episode, first with Jerry talking about their sleeping arrangements (“You’ll be naked, of course”) and then the two of them one-upping each other in the diner. But this is that rare occasion where things end worse for Jerry than someone else. Elaine is satisfied eating her broiled chicken, but Jerry is assaulted, writes a lame pun on a headshot that will live for eternity, and is insulted by his former fan, the bubble boy.

It’s all great. But “Moops?” That’s really your A-grade right there. “Moops.”

Grade: A

Stray observations:

  • "These are very comfortable pants. You know what I pay for these, Jerry? They're good for around the house, and they're good for outside!"
  • “Big MISSIN’ going on!”
  • George eats peanut butter from the jar with his finger. “This is a sickening display,” says Jerry, waving away his protests that he’s “off bread.”
  • “Have you been urinating a lot again?”
  • Leo does well to end the discussion on the waitress. “She’s alright.”
  • Morty obeys his cosmic system also in insisting on paying the check even after his wallet was stolen.
  • “I’m never insulted! You could call me baldie!”
  • “I’m not happy, I’m not lucky, and I don’t go.”
  • Naomi laughs like Elmer Fudd sitting on a juicer. “First of all, Elmer Fudd is one of the most beloved cartoon characters of all time!”
  • Kramer seems mostly interested in going to the cabin for the pies. He has about 10 with him when they get there.
  • “Nothing’s finer than being in your diner!”
  • That's Brian Doyle-Murray, Bill Murray's brother and SNL alum, as the bubble boy's dad. I always remember him best from Wayne's World.