Seinfeld: The PTBN Series Rewatch – “The Cheever Letters” (S4, E8)

Welcome to Seinfeld: The PTBN Series Rewatch! On a regular basis, Justin Rozzero, Aaron George, Andrew Flanagan and Jordan Duncan will watch an episode of TV’s greatest sitcom and provide notes and grades across a number of categories. The goal is to rewatch the entire series chronologically to see what truly worked, what still holds up today, what feels just a bit dated and yada, yada, yada it will be a great time. So settle into your couch with the cushions flipped over, grab a Snapple and enjoy the ride!

960

Best Character

Justin: Jerry and George take this in a tie for me. Their timing was impeccable throughout this one, nailing quick lines and playing off each other in a masterful way. Toss in Jerry’s sexy talk and George’s scenes with Rosses and they just flat out dominated this one.

Aaron: Jerry is just in a state right next to bliss informing George that he will make quite an impression on Henry Ross by telling him they burned down his cabin. While he may enjoy the irony of the whole situation we  the audience are treated to Jerry’s aloof selfishness which is only topped by his crippling sex-talk insecurity which rounds out the episode. Jerry’s just top notch the whole way.

Andrew: At the risk of getting repetitive, I’ll go with George again. Jerry is good as well, but George gets the edge for being the best night-after-hookup-recap guy in the business. He’s the perfect audience for that kind of talk: very interested in the details, without quite crossing into creepy pervert territory. He’s also great in the uncomfortable scenes where he and Susan have to break the news about the cabin to her father. An all-around quality performance.

Jordan: Feels like it’s been a while since I gave it to George. Jerry was very solid, but I give it to George simply for his admission of the cabin being burned to Mr. Ross. Great stuff there, as well as the scenes with writing the show, and playing off Jerry telling him about the dirty talk in the diner.

Best Storyline

Justin: The Cheever Letters just for that one scene in the apartment alone. It was pure magic and so well done, right down to douchebag entitled Ricky acting like he was nine years old and sassing his mother. Epic scene and then Jerry’s line about having read some of Cheever’s works clinched it.

Aaron: Let’s go with George’s first two encounters with Henry Ross. Henry is the perfect Seindfeldian curmudgeon while his wife has clearly had all she can take of him and his cherished cabin. She may be wearing too much lipstick but her laughing in her husband’s face as he receives the worst news of his life is breathtaking in its cruelty. Cruelty being a hallmark of this sitcom we all love and adore. It’s awkward enough to have to tell a man you’ve burned his cabin, I don’t even know the word to describe the feeling when your father comes out in front of the whole family while your aunt screams “I knew it!” Oh yeah, I’ve got the word. Supercilious. Wait that’s not right…

Andrew: None of the stories blew me away this week, but I’ll go with Jerry’s dirty talk disaster. I think that was the most interesting idea of the whole episode: unintentionally crossing a line and skeeving someone out, but no one is exactly sure what that line was. It’s also the most memorable bit; before rewatching this episode, the “panties” line is the only thing I remembered about it.

Jordan: I would have liked more of Kramer’s quest for Cubans, but there wasn’t enough to give it the nod here. So I’ll go with the unfolding story of WHY Henry loved the cabin so much. From George quickly saying the cabin burned down, to the reveal of the Cheever letters, and the family’s response, this was a pretty solid story that built well. Jerry’s line at the end is the cherry on top.

Ethical Dilemma of the Week

Justin: Should Elaine have been so obvious about Jerry’s disdain when she talked to Sandra? What was up with that? It was about as obvious as it gets. And then, what was Jerry’s obligation to help make things right? Elaine makes him call her and then stands by as he is roped into a date…and then keeps following Jerry’s advice and gets pissed at him at each stop. She caps it by swindling him out of $400. I mean, it comes across as genius but still. Dick move.

Aaron: Is it right to bang someone who works in your ex’s office? What are we? Animals? Don’t we have enough restrictions as to who and what we can and can’t have sex with? If someone happens to work in the same building as your ex they are still one hundred percent fair game. In fact I would make it my mission to bang my way through that entire company from the receptionist to the president. Then, and only then, will my pain go away.

Andrew: Was it OK for Elaine to ask Jerry to go out on a date with her assistant? I mean, it’s a bit like she’s pimping him out for her own personal gain. On the other hand, it’s just a date, and would it kill Jerry to talk to a woman? How else is he going to meet a nice girl and settle down, before his poor mother dies of a broken heart?

Jordan: Ugh, Elaine, seriously? If your friend is annoyed by someone, you don’t IMMEDIATELY tell them. Yes, I know Elaine didn’t actually tell Sandra that Jerry was annoyed, but she couldn’t have been any more obvious. Wait a while, then casually ask Sandra not to chat it up the next day or something.

Relationship Scale (Scale 1-10)

Justin: The Rosses. Misery. Henry & John? Magic. Life. Spirit. Crippling orgasms. The Cabin. Relationship Grade: 0/10; 10/10

Aaron: While Sandra did seem to over react a little to the panty line, Jerry was an idiot for saying something so inherently stupid. Cause, you know, there’s nothing that turns women on more than thinking of their mother. I don’t want to speak for all women, but if I’m about to get laid and someone said “think of your dad” or ” think of my dad” basically anything with dads and I’m out. Relationship Grade: Don’t talk about my dad!!!

Andrew: Susan appears to be pretty serious about this relationship. She could have easily put all the blame for the cabin on George, but is doing what she can to prevent her father from hating him. She really does deserve better. Sandra wasn’t particularly memorable, so no big loss for Jerry, but the “panties” incident will be tough to live down. Relationship Grade: 3/10

Jordan: Lots going on here. The Rosses hate each other. Jerry and Sandra are terrible together. Henry and John had a torrid love affair, but it’s obviously done. So who is still standing? Secure in their commitment? GEORGE, BABY! Susan has found a keeper. Now, if they have kids, what could they name them? Relationship Grade: 7/10

What Worked

Justin: George having to explain that the cabin burned down to Susan’s parents during their first meeting is perfect; George hating on Jerry’s Bic pens always makes me laugh; The procrastination and trouble with writing is very relatable and well done; I always felt bad that they made Kramer feel bad for interrupting their writing even though they were sleeping, but it is topped by Kramer telling George to ask Susan’s father for more cigars;  The whole Ross Family dinner scene is so awkwardly fantastic and George was working so hard to get over; Jerry’s disdain with Elaine while calling Sandra was funny, especially when he stops her from eating the pretzels; Jerry being a really dirty talker is a funny turn for him; George squirting the ketchup while Jerry tells him the bawdy talk story is great; Jerry & George begging Kramer to stay the second time was good; Kramer at the Cuban consulate; The Cheever Letter discovery scene is one of my favorites in the show’s history, especially the demonstration of time; Elaine playing Jerry and getting him to pay for his phone bill and then nailing the panties line was a great close

Aaron: The procrastination that goes along with George and Jerry’s writing process is pretty spot on to any and all collaborations that I’ve participated in. They’d probably be a lot further ahead if they had some sort of story instead of just writing random lines. Susan’s parents were both great hateful assholes to one another. The burning of the cabin is fantastic on its own but then they top it with Henry going on and on about his sanctuary which only twists the sword deeper into his confused being. Elaine has two perfect line readings, “Sometimes they don’t laugh” at the plight of comedians and her closing shot at Jerry about the panties are magical. One of the great things about Seinfeld is how they take something that could be a throwaway, say the Cubans, and makes the interesting and unforgettable. Luis in particular could just be a heavy, but instead he is way too turned on by Kramer’s jacket and stares for waaaaaaay too long at Elaine when he meets her in the hallway. The attention to detail is fantastic and it can’t be understated how well and how often they do this.

Andrew: I enjoyed Jerry and George procrastinating throughout the episode, and I like that when they call up Elaine, she’s goofing off as well. Kramer’s bit about not being able to go back to the public courses was great. I thought Susan’s boozy mom was excellent, although they seem to drop that aspect of the character later on in the series. I especially liked her complaining about the wheelchair wheels.

Jordan: I like Jerry and George working on the script and being terrible at it, specifically George. The Ross family is fun in their pure contempt for everyone, including themselves. Mrs. Ross is a great drunk. Jerry’s dirty talk is comical, and I like his telling of the story to George. George squirting ketchup everywhere is funny. The Cheever letters getting delivered and read in front of everyone was hilarious, as was Henry storming in and owning up to it all. Elaine’s line at the end was a GREAT way to finish the episode.

What Didn’t Work

Justin: How did Mr. Ross not find out about the cabin before they tell him here? Wouldn’t the authorities have notified him since he was the owner? Very suspicious

Aaron: I honestly can’t think of anything that didn’t work for me. The only downside is, as solid as this one was, it lacked the real killer moments that make a classic episode.

Andrew: I didn’t like the “P.S. Loved the cabin” line. It wasn’t really funny enough to justify how out of place it sounds in the letter, and Jerry and George mugging for it didn’t help much. And I’m a bit unclear on why they included Mr. Ross’s sister. Is it supposed to be funny that George looks like a paraplegic woman? Was she just there for the dirty wheels joke?

Jordan: The only thing that really doesn’t work for me is the logic gap where Mr. Ross doesn’t know his cabin burned down. Also, Elaine’s pink outfit that appeared to have doilies on it was bad even for Elaine!

Key Character Debuts

Mr. Ross

Mrs. Ross

Iconic Moments, Running Themes & Memorable Quotes

– “I mean, the whole thing is ironic. Think of it: Here the guy is nice enough to give you a box of very fine Cuban cigars…” – Jerry “Yeah, I know what happened.” – George “No, but wait, wait: And then you dump them off onto Kramer…” – Jerry “I know.” – George “Who, who proceeds to burn the man’s cabin down with one of those very same cigars! It’s very comical…” – Jerry

– “C’mon. It’s not even a house – it’s, like, a cabin.” – Jerry “We could build a cabin…like that.” – George “Well, maybe not us, but two men could.” – Jerry

– “Bics? What, did ya get, bics?” – George “What, you got a problem with the pen now?” – Jerry “Well, I like a rolling writer. They’re very smooth.” – George

– “You know what? Maybe I should take off.” – George “What?!” – Jerry “Well, you know, I gotta go to, uh, Susan’s parent’s house for dinner.. and, you know, I want to shower first.. and I want to leave myself plenty of time.” – George “You got four hours! What about the script?” – Jerry “I think we got a bite on it.” – George

– “Doesn’t George look like your sister, Sarah?” – Mrs. Ross “A slight resemblance.” – Mr. Ross

– “Oh, well, so what? Laughter – what is that? I mean, what is the point of opening your mouth and going “Ha, ha!”? What is that? “Ha, ha!”?” – George “You know, you can’t get those cigars anywhere.” – Mr. Ross “You and your cigars…” – Mrs. Ross “Wear some more lipstick.” – Mr. Ross

– “I love that place. My father built that cabin in 1947. My mother was recuperating from Impetigo at the time, and dad thought it would be a good idea to get her out into the fresh air. She died there the following winter. And he passed away 10 years later to the day. His last words to me were, “Cherish the cabin.” Not, uh, “Take care of your sister.” She’s a paraplegic. But, “Cherish the cabin.” And I have…for 45 years. It’s often been a…sanctuary for me.” – Mr. Ross “Kinda like Superman’s fortress of solitude.” – George

– The Superman references continue

– “Okay? So, she’s taking about her panties, so, uh.. So, I said, ‘You mean the panties your mother laid out for you?'” – Jerry

– “What’dya got?” – George “I got: You enter, you go “Hi”, and I go, “Hello.” Now.. we need something here…” – Jerry

– “Ricky, did you wipe her wheels off?” – Mrs. Ross “Yes.” – Ricky “Well, they’re filthy. It’s just a matter of common courtesy…When you come in the house you wipe your wheels.” – Mrs. Ross

– “John Cheever?! Dad, you and John Cheever?!” – Ricky “Yes! Yes, he was the most wonderful person I’ve ever known. And I love him deeply! In a way you could never understand…” – Mr. Ross

– “Hey, what are you reading?” – Elaine “Oh, uh, “The Falconer” by John Cheever. It’s really excellent.” – George “John Cheever, you ever read any of his stuff?” – Elaine “Uh, yeah, I’m familiar with some of his writing.” – Jerry

– “Maybe I’ll go visit my mother. She just bought me some new panties and they’re – all laid out for me.”- Elaine

Oddities & Fun Facts

N/A

Overall Grade (Scale 1-10)

Justin: Another all time classic coming right off the heels of the Bubble Boy. We continue the overarching story of the pilot development as well as George’s courtship of Susan. The fallout from the cabin arson was glorious as the Ross family has been torn apart at the seams by Hurricane George. That Cheever reveal scene is just so, so good. I dug the struggle to write and panties stuff too. Lots to love here as this season of greatness rolls on. Final Grade: 8/10

Aaron: The discovery that Susan’s father is gay is a wonderfully awkward moment that will lay the foundation for every single episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The rest of the episode flies by and is consistently funny, but as mentioned above lacks the classic moments that would make this one an all timer. Very good solid stuff here. Final Grade: 8/10

Andrew: I didn’t love this episode. As I said earlier, the dirty talk bit was the only part that stuck with me originally, and nothing really stood out to me this time through, with the possible exception of Susan’s alcoholic mother. There was some potential to Mr. Ross’s affair with John Cheever, but I don’t think they really nailed it. Elaine and Kramer’s stories were just OK. I don’t think there was anything particularly bad about this episode, but it’s nothing to write home about either. Final Grade: 6/10

Jordan: Anything coming after Bubble Boy is going to suffer, but this one did a decent job as a follow up. Certainly a step back, but not a huge leap. George and Susan’s relationship develops more and George actually survives being around her family. Not a fan of Kramer again being mostly background noise, but I am glad Elaine had a big part here. Her owning of Jerry at the end of the episode was great. The episode title didn’t even come about until the end, but boy was it worth it. Every scene with the Ross family was really well done. I kind of want to go 7.5 here, but I have to round up or down, and I’m feeling generous. Final Grade: 8/10

Author: JT Rozzero

JT Rozzero is a cohost of the Place to Be podcast and original member of the legendary Moliseum Video. He enjoys all sports. The only thing he hates more than traffic and customer service is people. He is a proud Svenjolly and has had a sinus infection since October 2013. Send Justin an email