Seinfeld: The PTBN Series Rewatch – “The Chinese Restaurant” (S2, E6)

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!

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Best Character

Justin: Man, this was strong all around and everyone was pretty damn good. But, I have to go with George, for his angst over the pay phone, for his general disgust with society, for his awesome bathroom story, for Cartwright and for his copious amount of memorable quotes strung throughout the episode. He killed it from beginning to end. I also must give honorable mentions to Mr. Cohen, one of my favorite guest spots ever, and the maitre’ d, who passive aggressively deadpanned his way into our hearts.

Aaron: George all the way. The sheer desperation in his voice as he is consistently denied his phone call create the picture of a man who has been beaten repeatedly into submission by life. “You know we’re living in a society, we’re supposed to act in a civilized way!” is one of my all time favorite Seinfeld quotes and should probably be on my family crest next to the dragons. The Cartwright joke it is up to this point my favorite moment in any episode and while the Chinese maître’ d sells it with divine happiness, it’s George’s confounded reaction that knocks it into the stratosphere. Add in George having to stop in the middle of sex to go take a Cartwright and you have a classic George episode.

Andrew: I was tempted to be a contrarian and pick Elaine, but George is clearly the best character in this one. The Tatiana story alone makes him the winner, but I enjoy the smaller character touches even more. He kicks in the less cash to the bribe, then justifies it by saying he’ll eat less. Even better, he spends half the episode complaining about the guy on the phone, then is immediately becomes deferential when the guy comes to apologize. George really is the embodiment of impotent rage.

Jordan: It’s the episode of George! Nobody is bad here, but George is a powerhouse. He’s furious over the phone issue, he’s offering social commentary on our society, he’s spilling his intimate moments with Tatiana with Jerry, and all of it is gold. What I love about his complaints about how others are is that he is SO convinced of how awful everyone around him is, yet so oblivious to what a jerk he is. 

Best Storyline

Justin: The whole episode was a fantastic sundae and was really just one giant storyline with a bunch tremendous cherries topping it throughout. Who among us has never experienced an endless restaurant wait? So relatable. And pretty much everything that happened throughout the wait was easily believable and so fitting for our heroes. This was easily my favorite story to date.

Aaron: I’ll go with George trying to reach Tatiana/war on society. The Chinese restaurant and the wait is really the obstacle for each of the characters in this one and is depriving them each of something: Elaine from being satiated, Jerry from his movie but George turns trying to get in touch with his girlfriend into “What is it with humanity, what kind of world do we live in?” He sucks me in here and if anything happens he could totally “count on me.”

Andrew: There’s basically only one storyline in this episode, but it’s a great one. On this viewing, my favorite part of the wait was Elaine’s descent into madness. She becomes more and more unhinged as other groups get seated before them, until she makes the irrational declaration that restaurant seating priority should be based on hunger, rather than who got there first. I think we’ve all been there.

Jordan: Definitely the wait for a table. George’s phone issues aren’t bad, but even that is tied into the waiting. It’s relatable, everyone plays their part well and it’s strong enough to carry a full episode. Elaine’s hunger issues are fun (“Movie hot dogs? I’d rather lick the food off the floor!”), and her attempt to pay off the host was pretty good too. This may be an episode where the story carries it more than the characters do, which is a good thing.

Ethical Dilemma of the Week

Justin: How pushy can you be with a maitre’ d? You don’t want to run the risk of pushing too far and pissing off the person controlling your food but how many times can you hear “five, ten minutes” before you snap? I don’t know if I would have handled things any differently than Jerry, George and Elaine did but they definitely should have mentioned they had a movie to get to just to see if it helped at all. They also should have planned their night better.

Aaron: What is your price for going and eating off someone’s plate? While I’m on tour we often go out and eat and play a game called “how much.” The point is to do or usually eat something for a pre determined amount of money. People have eaten entire salt shakers for 40 bucks, coffee cups full of Tabasco for $25, one guy tried to eat a pine cone for $60. And while I probably shouldn’t publish this, the eating off the plate is something I’ve always wanted to see done/do myself. So really I’d be totally down to do it for 50 bucks. Jerry’s right it would totally create a wonderful memory for them, but the pile of joy it would bring me would make it fine for me to die tomorrow.

Andrew: George’s dilemma is the one that will stay with me: how do you handle an “impending intestinal requirement” in a romantic situation? Once again, the adult answer is to just be honest about why you need to leave, but no one wants to put that image in their date’s head. On the other hand, George handled it as poorly as you would expect, trying to tough it out before leaving abruptly. It’s a no-win situation, but he could have at least come up with a better lie.

Jordan: I had trouble coming up with one here. There’s tipping the host to get seated quicker – but who wouldn’t do that if it was a viable option? Then you have George’s dilemma with Tatiana – would you power through with some stomach issues, risk a bathroom break, or do what he did and bail? Another one – would you eat food off a strangers plate for $50? Better yet, what would you do if a random stranger ate off your plate in a restaurant? I guess I’ll go with this: As an adult, would you have your friends “back” in a physical altercation in public, even if your friend was in the wrong for instigating something? Would you try to break it up? Would you join in? Would you fade into the background so not to be associated with it?

Relationship Scale (Scale 1-10)

Justin: George and Tatiana is our only relationship and it isn’t a very strong one if George is gun-shy to tell Tatiana the truth behind his quick bedroom escape. It is bound for failure. I am still surprised how few on screen relationships we have had so far. Relationship Grade: 1/10

Aaron: We could go with Tatiana and George, but I think there was a more subtle relationship on display here. My Mandarin is a little shaky but I’m sure that the maître’ d told the woman who came to see him at the podium that he was going to “bang her till she was blue in the face, and fill her with bees.” This shows us a wonderfully healthy relationship based in discovery and trust. Relationship Grade: 10 bees/10

Andrew: George and Tatiana’s once-promising relationship is ended by a missed landline connection. How did anyone ever have sex before cell phones? Relationship Grade: 1/10

Jordan: George and Tatiana is about all we have here, and we never even see her. We know that it’s gone far enough to where George nearly sealed the deal, which is pretty big considering just a few episodes ago he said he couldn’t envision a scenario where he would ever have sex again. But since she’s not even on screen, I can’t give this much of a score. Relationship Grade: 2/10

What Worked

Justin: The banter is firing on all cylinders and moving at a great pace; The setting was brilliant and relatable and gave a nice bustling backdrop to set the story against; The weaving of storylines and bits through the episodes was perfect, as we kept on point with the main goal but kept getting stopped along the way for various developments in the side stories; George’s bathroom story was our Vintage Costanza moment of the episode; The maitre’ d was great, as mentioned above, and I love that he never sold anything the group tried; Elaine’s building desperation and hunger cresting to her lashing out and bailing on the movie was fun; Mr. Cohen was aces; Jerry’s awkward interaction with Lorraine was something we have all dealt with; George’s cheapness is developing as he choses the short stake of the bribe; Elaine botching her attempt to try to bribe her way to a table was enjoyable as was Jerry’s talk with the maitre’ d that leads to relationship advice; Cartwright is legendary.

Aaron: I love the “real time” element of this one. It’s no surprise that this is one that’s constantly cited as an example of a show about nothing, as this is exactly the kind of situation that we’ve all been in, but most shows would be too scared to attempt to do. It also kind of shows how unreasonably impatient we are as they were really only forced to wait twenty minutes for their table. As much as I enjoyed George, Elaine was also wonderful in this one as well. Her descent into a rage filled “big sweaty hog waiting for them to fill up the through” is relatable on a fundamental level. The guy playing the Chinese maître’ d is magnificently aloof, and his turn to relationship advisor warrants a mention here as well. The social commentary is great in this one as well, whether they’re talking about what police officers should be doing or basic manners when it comes to public phones. The wait at the restaurant is keeping them all from something they want. It’s objective versus obstacle in the clearest way possible, it’s brilliant in its simplicity.

Andrew: This is the first episode where everything is clicking at the same time. The writing is just about perfect, weaving the various threads of the story together at an excellent pace from start to finish. All the characters and situations are relatable, from George’s pay phone frustration, to Jerry trying to duck a family dinner, to Elaine just wanting to eat. I especially liked the awkwardness of trying to bribe a maitre’ d for the first time. Elaine and George are at the top of their game, the maitre’ d and Mr. Cohen were great as well, and we even hear the voice of Larry David for the first time.

Jordan: I’ll tell you in…5-10 minutes. I gave the best character to George who I talked about above, but Elaine was not far behind. Her descent into madness because she was hungry was hilarious, comparing the childhood joy of restaurants to being a hog now. Jerry running into a woman he recognized but couldn’t place is a very relatable moment, as is the long wait in a restaurant where it seems like everyone is called ahead of you. These are instances that the show gets SO right, and they knock it out of the park every time. The maitre’ d was terrific as he came off as both innocent and happy, but also seemed to take great joy in messing with Jerry and the gang. I also love episodes like this – the ENTIRE episode took place in the waiting area of a restaurant, and they pulled it off.

What Didn’t Work

Justin: Elaine’s weird voice over during the bet has always bugged me as I don’t get why they couldn’t just have her actually whisper instead of that odd clenched teeth thing she does; Jerry is still whiny and concerned about what his family thinks, fretting about his uncle discovering why he cancelled after he runs into Lorraine.

Aaron: I guess Kramer wasn’t in it, he could have maybe put it completely over the top as a masterpiece. Some of the long range camera shots were weird. I’m stretching here…

Andrew: Justin already mentioned this, but the scene where Elaine goes up to the strangers’ table bothers me so much that I’ll mention it again. It always takes me a few moments to realize she’s talking, not just having a dialogue in her head. Considering how many times I’ve seen this episode, that doesn’t say much for the effectiveness of the scene. (It admittedly doesn’t say much for me, either). It’s also frustrating to have no Kramer in this one, but considering how tightly woven the main story is, maybe they couldn’t find room for him.

Jordan: Something, or SOMEONE, was missing…oh yeah, some guy named Kramer? He’s still not really a “main” character and seems to be more of a Newman type role, but we’ll get there. For me, the biggest thing about this episode is something that I know will come up again in future episodes – one of the main issues makes it seem very dated. George’s phone problems would NEVER happen in 2014: He could call Tatiana, Facetime her, text her, tweet at her, Facebook her, skype her…he wouldn’t be at the mercy of other people finishing their phone calls and wouldn’t be so outraged with society as a result.

Key Character Debuts

N/A

Iconic Moments, Running Themes & Memorable Quotes

– Jerry suggests combining the jobs of garbagemen and police officers

– “Will be five, ten minutes” – Maitre’ d

– “Yeah, I want to get into a rumble” – Jerry

– Elaine suggests patrons should be seated based on who is hungriest, not order of arrival

– Elaine attempts to cash in on a bet to walk over and eat food of a random person’s plate

– “For $50? I’d put my face in their soup and blow!” – George

– “Hey! What stinks in here?” – Mr. Cohen

– “No, just bring me a plate and I’ll eat here!” – Mr. Cohen

– “Mr. Cohen always here…Mr. Cohen very nice man. He live on Park Avenue!” – Maitre’ d

– “In a Chinese restaurant do they take money?” – Jerry

– “I’m counting your shrimps!” – Jerry

– “I yell Cartwright, Cartwright, nobody came up, I hang up.” “Well, was it for Costanza?” “Yes, nobody answer, I hang up” “Well, was it a woman” “Yes, yes, I tell her you not here, she say curse word, I hang up” “She called, he yelled Cartwright. I missed her.” “Who’s Cartwright? “I’m Cartwright” “You’re not Cartwright” “OF COURSE I’M NOT CARTWRIGHT!” – George, Maitre’ d & Jerry

– “Seinfeld. Four.” – Maitre’ D

Oddities & Fun Facts

– First episode without Kramer

– Pay phones play a major role in this episode

– This is the first episode that entirely takes place in one setting

– Jerry mentions having a sister

– Larry David’s voice can be heard among the group of elderly people Elaine talks to on the bet

Overall Grade (Scale 1-10)

Justin: Pure love from me here. This has always been one of my favorite episodes and it is pretty high in the canon of legendary installments. There are tons of memorable moments and quotes littered throughout and we also continue to get George and Elaine developing into equals with fleshed out characters as opposed to just being Jerry’s wacky friends that support his story. This was relatable, filled with laughs and leaves you hungry for more. I don’t think there is a TV show quote I have repeated more than “Cartwright”. Final Grade: 8/10

Aaron: I thought this was a great episode. It’s the purest definition of what the show is. I can’t in good faith though put it higher than my favorite episodes that will come later in the series. In fact I’m not sure it’s the best episode I’ve seen so far in this rematch. That being said I can totally appreciate the brilliance of the writing and the balls it took to put this on the air. I think my score may seem to some that I didn’t like it, but try to remember it’s all on a scale and with a show this strong, the weight on one side has the potential to be enormous. Final Grade: 6/10 

Andrew: This is one of the most memorable and quotable episodes in Seinfeld history, and is a pretty significant milestone in the show’s development. They’ve been exploring the humor of mundane social situations from the beginning, but this is the first episode where literally nothing happens; they go to restaurant, give up on waiting for a table, and leave. I can understand why network executives didn’t like it all that much. But that’s the beauty of Seinfeld: finding the humor in relatable, unexciting, real-life moments. It’s a pretty ambitious move for the “show about nothing”, and let’s all be glad that it worked out. Final Grade: 8/10

Jordan: I liked this a lot, and for a lot of reasons, but the best word I can use for this episode is relatable. Sometimes Seinfeld suffers with “New York” humor, where if you aren’t from there, it falls flat. Early episodes focused a lot of humor on people’s obsession with what others paid in rent and the dry cleaners – this was the opposite of that. Anyone who’s ever been in a busy restaurant knows what it’s like to wait, and it always feels like you’re going to be there forever. Funny observations and reactions to everyday situations is what Seinfeld is all about. Tempted to give it an 8 which would be my highest rating yet, but knocking off a point for not having Kramer in it. Final Grade: 7/10

Author: Place to Be Nation Staff

Place to Be Nation Staff pieces feature any number of our contributors who are multifaceted when it comes to Pop Culture expertise.