Wednesday, February 22, 2012

#59 -- 'Seinfeld' Recap (Season 3, Episode 6): The Parking Garage

"I've decided what Seinfeld is about when it isn't about nothing: failed vengeance. Repeating that you (or somebody) ought to do something about these little injustices. Then doing nothing."

Nice, another Larry David episode. As the main executive producer and the head writer, the guy somehow manages to weave neuroses and nothingness into high-comedy, this time, the quartet's mundanity revolves around losing their car in a parking garage in New Jersey after Kramer wants to buy a cheap air conditioner. Simple and real, but also a premise waiting for the characters' exacerbation with reality to implode, Jerry even remarking in the very beginning that people shouldn't be spending their Saturdays doing things like this, that "real people are off at parties and having picnics and making out on blankets!"

Bad things will invariably happen to the gang, even as they try to go about their pointless lives, which is what makes the show stupidly relatable. It felt like an improv premise:

Setting: Parking garage
Jerry: Has to pee
George: Has to meet his parents in the city for their anniversary
Elaine: Has goldfish in a plastic bag that will die if they aren't put in a tank
Kramer: Is carrying the air conditioner, and is a terrible influence on Jerry and George


Oh, also the improv session has to last for 30 sustained minutes of bitter, slice-of-life cruelty. Keep that up for half an hour. I believe that the characters themselves are decent, functioning members of society that might be a little desperate, but well-meaning. George wants to meet up with his parents -- mostly just to avoid their scorn -- and Elaine wants to save her goldfish. As time goes by and they hunt for their car, musing on their issues and general dissatisfaction, it seems that the world seems to kind of hate them, or worse, it's indifferent to their suffering (the world "nothings" them). No passersby will help them look for their car, even as Elaine's fish start to die. George tries to intervene when a mother hits her son, only to have the boy call him ugly.

"Sure, that's what you think!"

"That's what I know!" is the boy's simple comeback.

Frustration seems to be a continual theme running through the series, that no matter what we do, we're constantly on the receiving end of misfortune, even when we try to do something as regular as buying an air conditioner with friends on a Saturday, and when the characters try to circumvent the rules, partially in the name of evening the playing field -- and usually at Kramer's poor advice -- everything backfires.

Jerry weighed his options, and really needing to pee, snuck behind a car to go after Kramer's encouragement -- and then was instantly arrested by a parking garage cop. Waiting for the cop to write up his citation, he tries with zero success to weasel out of it, borrowing some of George's story about having to meet up with his parents, and then also weaving in a brutal lie about his father having been in a Red Chinese prison for the last twelve years. Jerry does nothing halfway, especially lying. And why not? 

If you're going to get a fine for public urination, have no shame as you claw for excuses. Well played, Jerome.

It took about two minutes for George to get arrested for the same crime, naturally. Grumbling about their misfortune and finding their way back to the garage area after being ticketed, there's a hilarious moment where George sees a double-parked Mercedes. Now, even though Seinfeld is a self-admitted show about nothing, its banality so basic that we all can identify with it, it's also about wishing we could do something. George says he wants to spit on the double-parked Mercedes.

"I'd like to see that," is Jerry's response.

I've decided what Seinfeld is about when it isn't about nothing: failed vengeance. Repeating that you (or somebody) ought to do something about these little injustices. Then doing nothing.

The owner of the Benz arrives just as George is about to spit and George turns to a pillar of salt, groveling and complementing the guy on his car.

They do eventually find the car after a run-in with a Scientologist, a throwaway gag that needs no elaboration, but Kramer is separated from the rest, and he has the keys. When he finally arrives, the fish are dead, George is already an hour and a half late to meet his parents, and the car doesn't start. What's great about the show is that it never really becomes too outrageous. Even here in the third season, it's grounded, playing up the characters' misfortune as comedy. Their funniest lines are them spitting venom at the world, and not at each other, and they always remain supportive of one another's niggling discontent with society, exhaustive and minute as the issues might be. They want to get back at the world for the boringness they're stuck with and the excitement they assume is always happening off-camera. A vast majority of the show's action takes place in the dialog, usually failed planning, or off-screen entirely. In "The Chinese Restaurant," George's girlfriend is referenced and described in more humorous detail than what could ever be put on camera. In "The Pen," Jerry returns to his parents' house with burst capillaries, explaining his SCUBA diving accident instead of showing him struggle in the water, which is what a normal show might do. Lastly, in "The Dog," the dog Jerry is babysitting is never shown on camera, leaving us to imagine just how awful it is.

It's the total opposite of the "show, don't tell" rule, but it also emphasizes the comedy -- encouraging us that fun stuff is going on without us, yes, but also that our own imaginations are better than anything on TV.

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