Kramer and George Aren’t Even in One of ‘Seinfeld’s’ Best Episodes
Seinfeld is full of iconic moments that have become part of the pop culture canon. Now that the show has finally returned to streaming thanks to Netflix, you can rewatch all the scenes that—as they say on Twitter—live in your head rent free. I’m talking George’s Gore-tex jacket, Kramer’s tryout for Calvin Klein, George’s Trivial Pursuit standoff with the bubble boy, Kramer trying to smoke and drink a beer at the same time, the Jerk Store joke, the oven-baked outfits, Kramer’s whale-endangering hole-in-one and George’s day as a marine biologist—now you wanna stream all those episodes*.
But there’s one episode that ranks among the all-time best Seinfeld episodes, up there with “The Contest” and “The Chinese Restaurant” and “The Soup Nazi”—and it’s an episode that doesn’t even have George or Kramer. It may seem unreal that there’s an episode of Seinfeld that’s missing half the cast, but it is real and it is spectacular.
The episode in Season 3’s “The Pen,” the third episode of Seinfeld’s first truly great season. The premise is simple enough: Jerry and Elaine fly down to Florida for a mini-vacay and to attend a dinner honoring Jerry’s dad. Upon arrival, Jerry commits a mortal faux pas when he compliments his dad’s rival’s pen. Things wildly spiral out of control from there. Swapping out cantankerous George and loose cannon Kramer for a bunch of senior citizens may seem like a weird choice, but wow does it work.
Possibly more so than any other Seinfeld ep, “The Pen”—written by Larry David and directed by Tom Cherones—is packed with so many jokes. The rat-a-tat dialogue is so engrossing, so funny, that you don’t have time to realize that Kramer and George are nowhere to be seen. The first scene of the episode plows through topic after topic—a rental car, air conditioning, a fake lake with real water, sleeping arrangements, Jerry and Elaine’s relationship status, scuba diving, cheapskates—until finally landing on the titular pen. Not just any pen, an astronaut pen that writes upside down. The pacing of this realistic and frantic conversation is divine. It is exactly the kind of vibe that you can only get from a multi-cam sitcom, and it is comedy heaven.
It all works because the episode’s leads—regulars Jerry Seinfeld and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Barney Martin and Liz Sheridan as Jerry’s parents—turn in Emmy-worthy performances. So many lines are funny on the page but even funnier when said aloud by these geniuses. The way Seinfeld delivers the bluff that his busted capillaries aren’t from scuba diving, but because he “got in a fist fight with one of the ladies at the pool”—it’s [chef’s kiss]. And then there’s every line of dialogue delivered by Sheridan as Helen Seinfeld. If you’ve seen this episode just once, you can hear her saying “We don’t even sleep”; “For fun?”; “What do you want to go underwater for? What’s down there that’s so special?” And of course, there’s what may just be the greatest delivery of any line in all of Seinfeld:
But the real standout is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who delivers a comedic performance that ranks up there with the best of her career. She’s the ultimate outsider; like Jerry, she’s also lost in the byzantine code of conduct that these tense retirees adhere to—but she can’t call it out the way Jerry can. He’s family. She’s very explicitly just his friend, so she politely grins and bears sweltering heat and a tortuous sleeper sofa.
We have all been Elaine.
Everything continues to go awry, as Jerry’s black eyes, Elaine’s messed up back, Morty’s worsening rivalry with Jack Klompus, and Helen’s—it turns out, justified—paranoia re: retirement community politics all dovetail together in a final scene that finds a loopy AF Elaine doing her best Brando (see top of page).
“The Pen” is such a fantastic episode, it feels like a backdoor pilot for a series that could have been a laugh riot. Sheridan and Martin are great every time they pop up on Seinfeld, but they’re even better when they’re in their element, clawing for whatever status and peace of mind that they can get. Everything just works in this bizarro community of retirees—except maybe the air conditioners.
*Those episodes are, in order mentioned, “The Dinner Party” (5×13), “The Pick” (4×12), “The Bubble Boy” (4×6), “The Sniffing Accountant” (5×4), “The Comeback” (8×13) “The Calzone” (7×19), and “The Marine Biologist” (5×14)