Seinfeld: The PTBN Series Rewatch – “The Letter” (S3, E20)

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: Kramer takes this one in a walk. He was great throughout and even his painting led to some of the best lines of the episode. I loved him demanding Jerry reach out to Nina after the letter as well as his concussion symptoms leading to him calling people wrong names but being coherent enough to shit on the painting. The Armstrongs were funny too and George had a few good lines but there wasn’t much else there.

Aaron: It’s impossible for me to not give this one to Kramer. After one look into those rich Columbian coffee eyes you instantly know that his is the struggle of man. He’s the perfect combination of a child crying out for love and a parasite, all the while transcending time and bookending this episode perfectly. I feel the elderly couple’s critique of the Kramer would be hugely less funny if Michael Richards’ performance didn’t portray every single thing they said about him. I’ve also never seen anyone take a baseball to the head so well. 

Andrew: Elaine wins this one. Her nervous patter when she’s about to get in trouble has always been a favorite of mine, and this episode has some great examples of it in her scenes with Lippman. I also liked her refusal to take off the Orioles hat. The unwillingness to back down gets her into trouble, as it usually does for these characters, but I’m totally on her side in this case; that guy was being a dick.

Jordan: Kramer. Here’s why. He is a man child crying out for love, an innocent orphan in the post modern world. His struggle is man’s struggle. He lifts my spirit. He transcends time and space. Or perhaps he is a parasite. A sexually depraved miscreant who is seeking only to gratify his basest and most immediate urges He is a loathsome, offensive brute. He sickens me. Yet I can’t look away.

Best Storyline

Justin: The Kramer painting takes it here for me. The Nina/Jerry stuff was a bit much and the Elaine hat story was good at times but I found it mostly annoying. Just the descriptions of the painting alone make this the best part of the episode.

Aaron: Friend excursion takes this one for me. I love everything with George, Elaine and Kramer going to the game from Kramer instantly saying he wants the tickets to Elaine being taken to another game and forced to play out the Oriole tragedy for the second time.

Andrew: I have to go with the Kramer painting; it may not get a ton of screen time, but it’s easily the most memorable part of the episode. It provides a consistently funny sub-plot throughout, and even bookends the action with the opening and closing scenes. Most importantly, the old couple’s descriptions of Kramer always make me laugh.

Jordan: It’s The Kramer. Some may argue there wasn’t a lot to the story of the painting itself, but I will take quality over quantity here. I did like the Elaine at the baseball game story, but the Armstrong’s description of the painting is better than anything else in the episode.

Ethical Dilemma of the Week

Justin: Should Jerry have kept trying to make things work with Nina when it was immediately clear to all that she wasn’t going to tolerate his relationship with Elaine? Probably not. She was never going to change and neither was he and they didn’t seem to be gaga enough to force things. It was even worse that he hung George out to dry to buy the shitty painting.

Aaron: Why do we go to watch a child be circumcised? Is it really necessary to pile a bunch of adults into a room to watch an infant get mutilated? Why? What’s the appeal? Is it not already scary/scarring enough to have some old man cut your dick but now we have to humiliate you further by putting everyone you know in the room with you. I’ll be honest here I didn’t expect this one to get this dark…

Andrew: Is it OK to return a painting after it’s been delivered to you? Probably not. I really feel for George here – I know the pain of being pressured into buying something I didn’t really want – but once it’s in your possession, you’re on the hook for the money. Poor bastard.

Jordan: Can you insist on having the clicker in someone else’s home? I feel like Jerry gets control of the remote by default. Elaine fighting with him to the point of physically taking it from him was definitely the wrong thing to do. If you don’t like Jerry’s clicking skills, watch from your own home!

Relationship Scale (Scale 1-10)

Justin: Jerry and Nina were really annoying and I hated their relationship from the get go. I can see both sides but it was clear this was never going to work. Relationship Grade: Plagiarism/10

Aaron: I’ve been in jealous relationships, they are the worst. On that alone Jerry shouldn’t be with Nina. Buuuuuuuut: Within about five years Nina will blossom into Maxine from Being John Malkovich. In the film, Maxine would make someone like Cameron Diaz look like a frizzed up frumpy weirdo who keeps apes in her house. Jerry shouldn’t have let go of Maxine/Nina even for a second. Deal with the jealousy. Just fucking deal with it! You’ll be thanking me when you’re banging her on the seven and a half floor. Relationship Grade: Malkovich/10

Andrew: I’ll always have a thing for Catherine Keener, but there’s not much here. She had to resort to plagiarism to inject some passion into the relationship, and that’s a terrible sign. Relationship Grade: 2/10

Jordan: Boy did Nina ever suck, and it makes me wonder: Do you think the bad relationships in the first few seasons are the CAUSE of all the classic failed relationships in seasons to come? Perhaps Jerry once had a pure heart willing to love, but it was damaged beyond repair by awful women like Nina to the point where he now ends things before he can get hurt, looking for any excuse to get out unscathed? Essentially what I’m saying is – Jerry doesn’t break up with Melanie in the future because she eats her peas one at a time, he does it because Nina has fractured him. But hey, that sure makes for some great moments down the road. Thanks Nina! Relationship Grade: 10/10

What Worked

Justin: I liked the jealousy storyline as it was an obvious way to go at some point; George getting pinned into purchasing the painting; Kramer immediately jumping on the Yankee ticket was funny; I loved George bitching about being in the second row and not the first; Kramer getting pegged with the foul ball was perfectly shot; Elaine trying to steal the newspaper was funny; I love that anytime Jerry questioned things with Nina, George immediately was ready to not pay Nina for the painting; Mr. Lippman dragging Elaine to the game with her Orioles hat on was a great way to wrap that story.

Aaron: The “Kramer ” stuff is legendary and the old couple really make it all work. I thought this one worked really well because they let the “support” players carry it. Elaine was wonderful in her complete inability to lie well, while George was his usually excellent stuff lying about his love of art and unwillingness to “steal” the painting from Nina. They really are fantastic mirrors of each other. The way they handled the Lippman stuff was pretty inspired as well. We’ll never know for sure, but the fact that Lippman never seemed to find Elaine’s lie out (until presumable the second security fight) added so much brilliant tension to the scenes. Elaine’s calm squirming is a work of art. The letter being stolen from a Neil Simon film was a cool touch but it’s Kramer’s impassioned “Fight for her Jerry! She’s sure as hell fighting for you!” that makes it all work. Of course he’s be moved by Simon.

Andrew: I’ve already mentioned the Kramer painting, and Elaine’s interactions with both Lippman and Leonard West, but those two stories alone would be enough to make this episode a winner. George is also solid, and his established cheapness gets put to good use when he’s forced to buy a painting against his will.

Jordan: The Kramer painting is incredible. I liked the scene at the ball game – George being upset he’s in the second row and Kramer getting drilled in the head, then wearing a bandage the rest of the episode. I call that Dallas Page’ing an injury. Kramer randomly sneezing on George’s artwork while Jerry is reading Nina’s letter was so random and funny. George’s theory about being forced into a friendship was solid, and something I’m sure we can all associate with. I like that he was insistent he would buy nothing, then immediately does. I don’t know why, but I laughed hard at Elaine saying, “That’s so…impudent!” as Lippman was telling her the story of the ball game.

What Didn’t Work

Justin: Jerry was kind of a dick in not bailing George out of buying the painting; Elaine not understanding why she shouldn’t wear an Orioles hat in the owner’s box always bothered me and felt like being bitchy for no reason and it was shitty of her to toss George’s hat on the field; Jerry agreeing with Elaine pissed me off even more; The Kramer painting and the discussion of it by The Armstrongs is iconic; Jerry being so affected by Nina’s letter instead of mocking it is un-Jerry; Even though I thought the storyline was a good way to go, Nina was annoying with the jealousy and Jerry was stupid to get back with her knowing he wasn’t going to stop hanging out with Elaine; The odds that Jerry would see the exact line from the movie upon turning on the TV are not likely.

Aaron: I’m not sure who Marsha Mason is and I can’t be bothered to look it up. Is it a dated reference? Who knows? Well I suppose Google. But I’m not going to look it up. Nina’s dad could have been a little nicer in asking Elaine to take the hat off. They were also trying very hard to get “pop in” over. I will agree with Justin, seeing the exact Neil Simon movie is a bit of a stretch and hole in the plot. I guess the thing I’m most disappointed about is that there is no sex tape featuring the cast of Being John Malkovich.

Andrew: Jerry’s performance was the weakest of the main characters, which is unfortunate given that his is the main story.

Jordan: I thought Elaine was a real jerk throughout this one. She was wrong at the baseball game where she should have taken off the hat and she was wrong fighting with Jerry over the remote. And in both of those situations, her friends suffer. George doesn’t get to watch the game, Kramer is probably concussed, and the remote struggle leads to Jerry discovering that Nina is a plagiarist.

Key Character Debuts

Nina

Iconic Moments, Running Themes & Memorable Quotes

– “Button fly! Why do they put buttons on a fly? It takes ten minutes to get these things open!” – George “I like the button fly.” – Jerry “What?” – George “That is one place on my wardrobe I do not need sharp interlocking metal teeth. It’s like a mink trap down there.” – Jerry

– “Tell me about Elaine.” – Nina “She and Jerry were a big thing, like Abe Lincoln and Mary Todd.” – Kramer

– “Yeah I’m fine… hiya Carol.” – Kramer

– “There’s nothing to read, it’s just yesterday’s news. You know, the Yankees won, the Mets lost, Ricky Henderson’s unhappy…” – Elaine

– “I sense great vulnerability. A land child crying out for love, an innocent orphan in the post-modern world.” – Mrs. Armstrong “I see a parasite. A sexually-depraved miscrient, who is seeking to gratify only his most basic and immediate urges.” – Mr. Armstrong “He is struggled, he is man-struggled. He lifts my spirit!” – Mrs. Armstrong “He is a loathsome, offensive brute, yet I can’t look away.” – Mr Armstrong “He transcends time and space.” – Mrs. Armstrong “He sickens me.” – Mr. Armstrong “I love it.” – Mrs. Armstrong “Me too.” – Mr. Armstrong

– “Are you telling me you couldn’t paint this?” – George “Do you want me to paint you something? I’d love to paint you something!” – Jerry

– The Kramer painting makes its debut

– “YES! YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT YOU SHOULD! Fight for her, Jerry, she’s sure as hell fighting for you!” – Kramer

Oddities & Fun Facts

– Catherine Keener portrays Nina

Overall Grade (Scale 1-10)

Justin: Outside of the all time classic Kramer painting stuff, I really didn’t dig a lot of what they were serving up here. Jerry and Nina were annoying and the Elaine story drove me nuts that she didn’t see why she was wrong. So much felt forced here  and following up on a middling episode it feels like this fantastic season is losing some momentum late. We will see if they can finish strong, but this was one of my least favorite episodes of the season by far. If it wasn’t for the painting, it would have been a real dog. Final Grade: 3/10

Aaron: Great writing coupled with fantastic balance among the Seinfeldians makes this one an easy winner for me. Final Grade: 7/10

Andrew: This was a pretty solid episode, boosted by the glory that is “The Kramer”. The main story isn’t bad, but is mostly forgettable. (It was for me, anyway; halfway through the episode I was still trying to remember what “letter” the title was referring to). But Elaine’s story more than makes up for it, and Kramer’s is the stuff of legend. An excellent recovery after the disappointment of the last episode. Final Grade: 6/10

Jordan: In the last episode, I lamented our lack of Kramer. He didn’t have a LOT more here, but it was enough. This show is better when Kramer has something to do, even if it is just being painted. Outside of Elaine and Nina being a jerk, this was a solid effort. Final Grade: 5/10

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