Saturday, August 3, 2013

TV: My Five Least Favorite Seinfeld Episodes

Seinfeld is one of my favorite shows of all-time. There's "The Simpsons" and then there's "Seinfeld," no doubt about it. I got into Seinfeld at around season 7 when it first aired. I was just a kid, but I was able to appreciate the cleverness even back then. There hasn't been a new episode since 1998, but there have always been reruns in regular syndication and it doesn't look like it will stop. It's quite amazing, really, how well this show has held up over the past 15 years. For me, it was the last truly classic sitcom to use the laugh track/multi-camera setup. It did everything a sitcom in that format could possibly do and that's why I tend to ignore current TV shows that still use the laugh track/multi-cam setup. After "Friends", "Frasier", "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "That's 70s Show" ended, I was pretty much done with the format altogether.

But back to Seinfeld. What's remarkable to me, having watched it almost everyday for 15 years, is how long the show went without the quality ever dipping. People like to point to Larry David's departure after season 7 as the first sign of slippage, but I would argue that season 8 holds up remarkably well. Season 9, at times, is guilty of being more clever than funny, but it would be considered a classic season if it were any other show.

There's no way I could do a top 5 favorite Seinfeld episodes, though I could certainly give it a shot somewhere down the line. So, I've decided to unleash my five least favorite Seinfeld episodes instead. This is not to hate on the show, in any way. I'm just a giant fan of the show who simply has problems with these particular episodes. They are episodes that, when I see them on TV now, I generally don't care to watch them. And that's strange to me, since I would be fine watching almost any other Seinfeld episode at any point in time. There's just something about these episodes that get to me, where things just don't quite add up. The characters don't feel right, the pacing feels off, etc... Feel free to take a gander below and feel free to share what your least favorite or favorite episode of Seinfeld is in the comments section.

1. The Bris
written by Larry Charles

A big part of my dislike for this episode is the casting of the mohel, played by Charles Levin. The show just completely loses its steam whenever he appears on screen. He's just way too overdone, a poorly-written, annoying character who overpowers the rest of cast without being funny. Phillip Baker Hall had a similar one-time guest spot in Season 3 as Mr. Bookman, the library cop. The difference between Mr. Bookman and the mohel is world's apart, however. Phillip Baker Hall is an excellent character actor who steals the spotlight from Jerry but always manages to be funny and on point. Charles Levin turns the mohel into a raving madman who shouts, instead of acts, and never delivers his lines in a manner that would be considered funny.

The Bris was the fifth episode of Season 5. Seasons 4 to 7 are, far and away, among the greatest seasons in sitcom history. So, it's especially surprising to find this dud in the middle of it all. And, aside from the mohel, the rest of the episode just isn't that funny. There's Kramer's obsession of the "pigman", George's insistence that the hospital pay for damages to his car, and Elaine... isn't given that much to do. The centerpiece is Jerry Seinfeld and the mohel and it's where the episode goes completely off the rails. The subplots featuring Kramer and George feel too overdone, taking each character's eccentricities too far into the extreme. Larry Charles penned a lot of great episodes for the show and deserves a lot of credit for taking the show into dark, off-beat places. But this episode is just a dud.

2. The Voice
written by Alec Berg & Jeff Schaffer & David Mandel

"Hellooooooo"... thus beginning an episode that tries way too hard to start a new catchphrase without ever being funny. Again, a case where a character's eccentricities are taken way too into the extreme, in this case, Jerry Seinfeld's.  Here, the entire episode revolves around whether or not he should keep doing this stupid voice, which makes fun of his girlfriend's belly button. Understandably, his girlfriend isn't too happy that Jerry and his friends are all making fun of her. One of the few cases where one of his girlfriends are 100% justified in wanting to dump Jerry altogether. There are other episodes where, sure, Jerry may have done something wrong but his actions don't seem too dump-worthy. Here? Forget it. Seinfeld just comes off as an asshole.

The other main characters don't really help though. While I mostly enjoy season 9, a big drawback for me is watching Costanza during his feud with his boss at Play Now. After multiple seasons of hilarious antics at his job with the Yankees, his antics with Play Now just seem forced. The show's plot simply goes too far and seems more cruel than usual. The idea of Kramer having an intern following him around is funny, but it doesn't make much sense and it never really goes anywhere aside from dumping a giant ball of oil from a tall building. Furthermore, Elaine's storyline with David Puddy just feels run-of-the-mill. She's breaking up/getting back together with Puddy... again.

This episode seemed fun at the time when it aired but it doesn't bode well with repeated viewings. The "Hellooo" catchphrase gets played out quickly and Kramer's intern just gets more annoying everytime I see him. A lot of the flaws in this episode is largely negligible. Thanks to the forced catchphrase, however, it's cemented itself a spot at number 2 on this list.

3. The Busboy
written by Larry David & Jerry Seinfeld

I hate to pick on one of the early episodes, but I have to with this one. The first two seasons of "Seinfeld" is very much a case of a show still finding its voice. Generally, groundbreaking shows  take awhile to really get going, but there's actually a lot to admire about season 2. Except "The Busboy" episode. The ideas are there, but it just doesn't quite land the way it should. There's something very off about the pacing of this episode, it's a weird energy. Jerry has nothing to do. Kramer is just there to help out George when he's forced to confront the busboy that lost his job thanks to a remark George made. The other storyline is Elaine's and while her frantic attempts to get her boyfriend on a plane to Seattle are worth a chuckle or two, her monologue at the very end is a little too over-the-top for my taste. The episode came at a time where the show was finding its voice, but there were plenty of hilarious episodes in season 2 (most notably, "The Statue"). This episode just falls flat on too many levels.

4. The Betrayal
written by David Mandel & Peter Mehlman

Ah, the backwards episode. Literally the only noteworthy aspect of this episode is that it goes backwards and some of it takes place in "India." Other than that, it's completely forgettable. Again, if it wasn't for the fact that it tries so hard to push forward this "backwards" gimmick, it'd just be a negligible episode. The backwards setup deserved much better than the run-of-the-mill plot that takes place here. Jerry, Elaine, and George get invited to Sue Ellen Mischke's wedding in India where Elaine eventually finds that she, at one point, slept with Sue Ellen's fiance! It's one of the few episodes in Seinfeld's history, where the events that take place feel completely predictable and again... this is the backwards episode! There's just not enough going on here to justify the backwards chronology. And the plots are way too similar to each other. Elaine slept with Sue Ellen's fiance, Jerry sleeps with George's girlfriend. Lots of bickering, not much funny. Kramer's subplot with FDR is one of the lamest storylines of the show, all of it revolving around Kramer throwing a snowball at the back of someone's head. Why not just let Kramer go with them to India? Why craft such a dumb storyline? The episode is fun to watch initially because of the backwards gimmick, but after watching it the first time, there's really no reason to watch again. It's just too... ordinary.

5. The Muffin Tops
written by Spike Feresten

I debated with myself on which episode should have the fifth spot. I ultimately decided on this one. A big reason for my dislike of this episode is that George winds up getting traded for chicken. I mean, of all the reasons to end George's run with the New York Yankees... this has to be the one? Initially, it comes across as a funny/silly idea, but it completely ruins my favorite storyline of the show (George working for the Yankees). They had so many funny ideas and storylines when George was working for the Yanks. None of the jobs he wound up getting in season 9 couldn't possibly measure up.

The rest of the episode simply has funny ideas that go nowhere. Kramer's "J. Peterman Reality Tour" literally goes nowhere when he's forced to drop off the muffin stems at a garbage dump, but gets turned away... for some reason. Watching Jerry become addicted to shaving off his chest hair (to impress his girlfriend) was also a funny idea, but kinda ruined when it turns into a spoof (with Jerry acting like a werewolf). It's the kind of idea that just feels out of place with the show. In fact, I'm not much of a fan of Seinfeld movie spoofs. The show's at its best when it focuses on character humor. The only spoof that I really enjoyed on the show was the JFK one, where Jerry reenacts the "spitting incident" with Kramer, Newman, and Keith Hernandez. Normally though, when it comes to spoofs on Seinfeld, the more subtle, the better.

And oh yeah, the muffin storyline. Another funny idea that just doesn't go anywhere. The best moment of the entire episode belongs to Newman, when he attempts to eat all the muffin tops alone, by himself. Other than that, it's largely an idea that feels undercooked. I should also mention that the episode features a guest appearance by Rena Sofer, a bland actress who NBC tried to stuff down everyone's throats in the mid-late '90s. "The Muffin Tops" is not as bad as the four episodes listed above, but it's definitely one of the lesser Seinfeld episodes that I tend to skip when it's on TV.

Honorable Mentions:

"The Puerto Rican Day" is an episode that I remember not enjoying that much, but I'm pretty sure I've only seen it once. They don't seem to air this episode often since it offended Puerto Ricans when it originally aired. I remember, when it first came on, being disappointed by how bland it was. But, I haven't been able to revisit it since and I'm one of those people who deem it unnecessary to own the show on DVD since it's on TV all the time.

"The Finale" is an easy target because it ends in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion that kinda ticked off some of its fans. It is one of the few Seinfeld episodes, like with the top 5, that I tend to skip when it's on TV, but I do appreciate it because it ends in a very Seinfeld way. I respect the Finale; I don't always enjoy watching it though.

"The Yada Yada": Thinking about it now, "The Yada Yada" may actually belong in the top 5, but "The Muffin Tops" just barely beat it out for the reasons I mentioned above. "The Yada Yada" episode is very over-the-top, but I left it off the top 5 because I constantly reference the "anti-dentite" scene. "I am NOT an anti-dentite!" In fact, I actually really enjoy the dentist storyline, I just hate the "yada yada" catchphrase. Again, it feels like something the writers tried forcing in there and, while it's funny initially, it's an annoying episode to watch on a repeated basis. Not necessarily an episode I always skip, but I do cringe everytime "yada yada yada" is spoken.

"The Seinfeld Chronicles": I stayed away from season 1 entirely because it's simply unfair to attack the show when it hadn't founded its voice yet. That said, "The Seinfeld Chronicles," better known as the first episode of the entire series, is interesting to watch only if you hadn't seen it before. It's not an episode worth revisiting because there isn't much going on here. Seinfeld is nervous about a woman who'll be visiting him, she visits him, it turns out she's engaged. That's it. In between are Costanza and Kramer. Michael Richards surprisingly manages to nail the Kramer character from the beginning, but Jason Alexander's Costanza is a little too whiny and Woody Allen-esque in the first episode. Again, it's mean to hate on this episode since it was the series' pilot, but still, it's not an episode I enjoy watching.

Do you agree with my list? Disagree? Share below.

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