"His voice betrayed a craving for terrible things." -- Don DeLillo

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November 23, 2004

"Why would anybody want a friend?"
Seinfeld is the greatest sitcom of all time. No, I will not hear any arguments saying otherwise. It captured the zeitgeist of mid-90's politically correct self-absorption more than any other show from the period (some would argue for Friends, but I think it lost some of its culture-aware luster with its soap opera trail of incestuous friendships (what, now Joey's in love with Rachel?), parenthood issues (surrogate mother to triplets, illegitimate children, and adoption, to name a few storylines), and family drama (e.g. Phoebe's far-out family tree)). Seinfeld just stuck to comedy and it's a testament to the show's high quality that it's still just as funny today as it was seven or eight years ago. With the long-awaited DVDs of the first three seasons coming out today, I thought it would be appropriate to pay homage to three of my favorite, less-talked-about Seinfeld episodes. Yeah, everyone can quote "The Contest" or "The Chinese Restaurant," but here are a few other gems that deserve some love:

# 167: "The Maid"
Probably my favorite "lesser-known" Seinfeld episode, I actually had to stumble upon this one myself. While I must have watched it when it originally aired (4/30/98), it completely slipped my mind until I came across it on syndication one night in college a few years later and it floored me. Notable as the last great episode of the entire series (being the second to last episode before the finale), it features the wacky storylines that predominated the final season, but the winning performances put it over the top. Jerry hires a maid and soon begins sleeping with her. So what is it he's actually paying for? Meanwhile, George is in pursuit of a nickname, Elaine tries desperately to prevent being given a new area code (the only weak link in the episode), and Kramer copes with his new long-distance relationship (which is all of a couple miles). The maid story is the best with Elaine, George, and Kramer each getting a priceless reaction shot (watch Elaine's Cheshire cat smile when she walks in on Jerry and the maid kissing; George basking in his game of oneupsmanship ("You slept with the maid? I've done that. Ever eat an ostrich burger?"); and Kramer exclaiming, "You're a john!") Outside the main story, there's plenty of whip-smart dialogue between the fax machine debate ("You just blew my mind!") and the nickname opener:
George: "Jerry, I've gone just about as far as I can go with 'George Costanza.'"
Jerry: "Is this the suicide talk or the nickname talk?"
George: "The nickname talk."
One of the later-season home runs, it's a shame no one seems to remember this episode. The ninth season won't be getting its DVD release for a while yet, so keep an eye out for it on syndication or track it down on your favorite file-sharing program.

# 129: "The Bizarro Jerry"
Certainly the most heavy-handed Superman reference out of the myriad included in the whole series, but also the best, "Bizarro" introduces us to Kevin, Gene, and Feldman, the sensitive, caring, flip-sides of Jerry, George, and Kramer. Seinfeld's had fun pulling character 180s before (most notably in # 82 "The Opposite"), but seeing the three run into their doubles is an absurdist, in-joke delight. The episode also features George discovering the "Forbidden City" (not to be mistaken with a meat-packing plant), Jerry dating "Man-Hands," and Kramer hitting the 9-to-5 office grind:
Kramer: Almost forgot my briefcase...
Jerry: What do you have in there anyway?
Kramer: Crackers.
The show had hit its stride and the writers were playing with the characters with great aplumb. Another excellent episode in all respects.

# 145: "The Yada Yada Yada"
Another fun wordplay episode, the laughs come more from individual moments than the divergent plots. Kramer and Mickey double-date and the story alternates from physical comedy (Seinfeld at its most absurd: little person Mickey angrily charging the tall, lanky Kramer) to more subtle fare (the wonderful comic timing of the "I LIVE for Merlot!" dinner scene). Jerry is suspicious of Tim the dentist's newly-found Judaism, culminating in Jerry's memorable Confession. Meanwhile, of course, there's the "yada, yada, yada," one of Seinfeld's best semantic dissections ("No, I mentioned the bisque.") With the reappearance of Beth, watch also for a wink to her earlier episode (# 125 "The Wait Out"). In that episode, Jerry and Elaine debate how to approach breaking-up couple Beth and Arnie ("That 'there for you' crap was a stroke of genius!") Sure enough, she now hurriedly shows up at Jerry's apartment, saying "You said you'd be there for me, right?" Her send-off line at the end of the episode is also a whopper.

For the hell of it, here are a few more quick Seinfeld Hall of Fame moments:

More character-play: Jerry and Kramer swap personalities in "The Chicken Roaster"
George's finest hour: the glory of the final tale from "The Marine Biologist"
Jerry and George craft the perfect plan in "The Switch"
Uncle Leo goes a little heavy on the eye makeup in "The Package"
Newman finally gets his hellfire comeuppance in "The Pothole"

I could go on all day with this. What I really want to do is give a Master Lecture on the brilliance of this show. But, instead, I'll content myself for now by splashing out some big bucks for the excessive "Gift Set" of the DVDs. While you're at it, pick up the Arrested Development Season One DVDs and you can experience the genius of both the sitcom form's recent past and promising future. Enjoy!