Seinfeld: The PTBN Series Rewatch – “The Phone Message” (S2, E7)

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: George is easily the choice here. The whole answering machine arc was fantastic, from his initial dejection to his anger at Carol and his explosion via message to his planning and execution of the plan, it was all top notch. He has really taken over the show as of late. Jerry was really good here too, from his sparring with Donna to his gig as George’s heavy, he executed well throughout.

Aaron: While the episode is entirely about George I’m much more inclined to give this one to Jerry. No one blew me away in this one but Jerry playing the awkwardness of the time between you go up to your apartment to the time you start taking clothes off was bang on. Typical Jerry also gets caught up with the trivial jeans commercial and doesn’t get to coffee the shit out of anyone. He also showed his adeptness for flirtation with the lines about there being no cake and his lack of patience for lactose. All in all a strong episode for smug uncaring Jerry.

Andrew: I like George here. Jerry’s pretty good as well, but George has the higher degree of difficulty, as he needs to come across as a scheming, pathetic loser, yet still remain sympathetic, and all the while deliver the best lines. We’ve said it several times, but George is clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the cast early on.

Jordan: It’s clearly a two-man race here between George and Jerry. Both complement each other well, and they really have their chemistry down together – both of them make the other one better. George’s paranoia and schemes are made better by Jerry’s smug condescension and vice versa. I’ll give this one to George though. Both of them had really good lines, but George’s story is just better here. The answering machine messages are funny, and I actually wish we got to hear him leave more of them.

Best Storyline

Justin: George’s battle with the answering machine takes the cake. His description of his escalating and belligerent messages and the entire scene at the apartment was really well done, fast paced and locked in. I loved how Jerry and George had to improv and think on their feet multiple times as it demonstrated how in tune they were with each other. The payoff was classic Seinfeld too, with Carol not even caring after Jerry and George went through all the nerves and hassle of the plan.

Aaron: George trying to get back to the promised land of coffee dominated this one and it was a strong enough arc to carry it. From the start where he brags about his extensive underwear collection to the end where he stages a break in, George is determined to get that Cup o’ Joe.

Andrew: As I was starting this episode, I assumed I wouldn’t like the answering machine plot. I thought it was going to seem out-of-date and be hard to identify with, since it’s been years since those things had any relevance to our lives. But it turns out I was over-thinking it; regretting a communication and wishing you could take it back is universal. I even liked how dated the idea of swapping cassette tapes was. It was almost intentionally nostalgic, even though the plot was totally current at the time. And George’s devious nature really shone through in this one; his face when he proposed the tape switch to Jerry was fantastic.

Jordan: George’s quest to cover up his idiotic behavior wins and it’s not even close. I didn’t feel Jerry’s story with Donna, and actually I think it was only in there so they could both have dates. The whole episode could have been about George’s quest to undo his machine messages and it would be just as good – maybe even better. Their conversation about a code word was good, settling on “Lemon Tree” – and of course once in the apartment George yells his original suggestion of “Tippy toe! Tippy toe! Tippy toe!” Also, for some reason, I love that George’s big secret he had to tell Carol is that his dad wears shoes in the pool.

Ethical Dilemma of the Week

Justin: Were Jerry and George right in switching out the answering machine tape? Probably not, but I get it. A few times now, things could have been easily resolved with a proactive approach, but that isn’t how this crew rolls. Luckily for George, Carol has a good sense of humor. Also, should Jerry have let the pants commercial issue slide? I guess that all depends on how much he was into her. And it seems like he didn’t like her THAT much.

Aaron: Where would you rather have sex? In a place where no cake is offered or an apartment filled with paint fumes. I guess it all depends if there is cake at the place with the paint. So if the chemical filled apartment has some sort of cake for us to indulge in after/during then I’ll brave the potential disease/death. Seriously though paint fumes aren’t even that bad. We also downplay the importance of the sense of smell when it comes to arousal. You get me next to a gas pump or an open marker and we’re definitely having some god damned coffee!

Andrew: When Donna gets angry after finding out that Jerry told his friends about the pants commercial argument, how should he have handled it? On the one hand, I can’t blame her for getting upset about the idea of acquaintances/strangers having unflattering conversations about her. That’s a genuine feeling I can respect. On the other hand, it’s totally unreasonable to act like he shouldn’t be talking to his friends about his date. In fact, she even mentions having a similar conversation with her friends! How is that fair? Still, Jerry could have handled it better. I may not know much about women, but I do know that telling a woman that her feelings are dumb is never the right move. (Although I did enjoy the “Algonquin Round Table” line).

Jordan: This one is pretty obvious and it’s the entire answering machine message issue. I wouldn’t even call it a dilemma, it’s clearly wrong to switch the tapes. How about this one? Is it fine to talk to your friends about the details of your date? I think it is, but Donna was clearly upset that Jerry talked about her to George. I feel she’s a hypocrite here, because you know she talked to SOMEONE about her date with Jerry. George broke that code by repeating what he was told to the person that was being talked about!

Relationship Scale (Scale 1-10)

Justin: After a decent absence, we finally get some on screen relationships. Heck, George even mentions the rarity of he and Jerry both having dates on same night. Jerry & Donna had nice chemistry early on, with some good banter and easy conversation, but things got ugly fast once the khakis commercial debate cropped up. Things got worse when Donna found out Jerry discussed their issues with his buddies. That scene made Donna pretty unlikeable and way demanding for a fairly new relationship. George and Carol were a bit more grounded and Carol proved herself to be pretty cool. She wanted to get it in, she vacations at the Hamptons and she loves jokes. Marry that woman. Relationship Grade: Jerry & Donna, 3/10; George & Carol, 7/10

Aaron: Donna likes the jeans commercial and any woman who likes any commercial is apparently dead to Jerry so that’s a no go. Carol on the other hand is far and away the most reasonable woman that we’ve met on the show so far. On top of which she seems to actually like George and his “sense of humor.” She may be a little too trusting though letting a very new boyfriend into her house with a strange man when they are very clearly lying to her and she may want to be a little more wary in the future. This seems like it’s going to be a great relationship for George but I’d wager we never see her again which means her trusting ways finally caught up to her. Or they broke up. Yeah…that feels less dark. Relationship Grade: Jerry 3/10; George 8/10

Andrew: Is Carol the coolest woman ever? She’s totally laid-back about all the weird excuses and stories George and Jerry make up to get into her apartment. And when it’s finally revealed that she heard George’s spiteful message, we find out she found it hilarious! She seems like the perfect counterpoint to George’s anxiety and inability to let things go. Too bad for him she doesn’t last long. Donna and Jerry had some chemistry, but he couldn’t get past her liking that commercial. I have zero memory of this commercial, but I don’t blame him. Relationship Grade: Jerry 2/10; George 8/10

Jordan: Jerry and Donna didn’t do much for me. I know that Jerry’s MO becomes finding the smallest little thing to break off a relationship – but this one just wasn’t funny and Jerry seemed like a jerk for it. On the other hand, George and Carol was a lot of fun. I will forever be amazed how a guy like George is so hopeless when it comes to dating, yet CONSTANTLY lands dates with women out of his league – and SHE is the one who asks him to her place, rather than the opposite.Relationship Grade: Jerry 2/10, George 7/10

What Worked

Justin: Jerry being unable to accept Donna’s enjoyment of the khaki pants commercial is a great sign of the idiosyncrasies to come from him; George’s relationship concerns as spelled out above were great; The continued chemistry building between Jerry, Elaine and George is great to see and their scene in the kitchen was really smooth and effective; George leaving the message is so cringe inducing that you want to laugh and cry at the same time; Jerry’s banter with Donna is on point even after the initial fight; George accidentally botching Jerry’s date by ratting him out; Tippy toe; The great improv outside and inside the apartment as Jerry and George worked their magic.

Aaron: I loved how relatable the story was in this one. I think it’s very easy for men to not want to be too pushy or presumptuous with women and miss what they feel are clear signals. There’s also an amazing commentary on the stupidity of waiting to call someone that you like. Elaine rightly points out “She’ll just think you like her!” Of course, that doesn’t make any logical sense to any man pining over a woman. George’s obsessiveness carried this one well and the plot to switch the tape is just the right level of crazy for these guys to be tackling. I’ve also spent many minutes arguing with friends about some sort of signal we could have to get ourselves out of trouble. “Tippy toe” really isn’t that bad when mine generally consist of loud bird noises. 

Andrew: Jerry’s acting is improving. I thought he was great in the first fight over the commercial; you can see him thinking “I should probably let this slide”, and he tries to fight it, but just can’t let it go. There’s not much Elaine in this episode, but I did find her charming as hell in her limited screen time. And Aaron said, the dating stuff is so relatable: missing a signal, followed by days of regret; knowing you shouldn’t start a fight, but doing it anyway; the awkwardness of calling someone to ask them out. It’s all great. I even liked the stand-up scenes. They can be a little too expository sometimes, but I didn’t mind that here, and for some reason I really liked the soda commercial bit.

Jordan: Pretty much everything George did and said worked here. Jerry was good when he was on screen with George playing off him, and like I said earlier, they’ve got great chemistry together at this point. Whenever we hear George explain why he does something, I feel like it’s a win. Here we learn that he eats an apple while on the phone to appear calm rather than nervous. The song choices they came up with while talking about code words were so random that I enjoyed it. I loved the payoff to the entire episode – the plan fails miserably but it doesn’t matter because Carol thought George was joking.

What Didn’t Work

Justin: Jerry’s purple shirt tucked into his jeans may be the worst fashion faux pas we have seen yet, which is saying something; Donna is funny early on but gets annoying fast and shows a real ugly side when she gets mad about Jerry discussing their date with her friends; By the end, Jerry & Donna felt shoehorned in and wasn’t really necessary as George’s plight easily could have filled up the whole episode; The show really needs more Kramer.

Aaron: Way too little involvement from Elaine and Kramer in this one. While very true to life, the story really could have used these two for some comedic pops as nothing was really burst out laughter level for me. There’s also the shoe horned conversation about Elaine breaking up with a guy over his dirty bathroom, which felt completely forced. Is it really that unreasonable to think if a guy can’t keep the bathroom clean you shouldn’t be coffeeing him?

Andrew: I know I’m repeating myself, but not nearly enough Kramer. I liked the idea behind him suggesting stand-up material to Jerry, but it doesn’t really get enough time to work. And I like the idea behind him singing the commercial song during Jerry and Donna’s fight, but he had been such a minor part of the episode that I don’t like it landed fully. It really feels like they don’t know what they’re doing with him yet. Also, coming right after the landmark “show about nothing” restaurant episode, this plot feels like a return to traditional wacky sitcom shenanigans, which isn’t great.

Jordan: Hey, remember Elaine? Remember Kramer? Because the people who wrote this one seem to have forgotten about them. Kramer is still a character they haven’t totally figured out. They’re going for quirky, but his insistence on repeating lines from the Dockers commercials actually made him seem legitimately retarded. George’s outfit while waiting for Carol is ridiculous – he is dressed like a 90 year old man, right down to the shoes. I also thought Donna was a real pain. We’re supposed to think Jerry is crazy for finding these tiny details that end a relationship, but when the woman is just awful, it doesn’t work.

Key Character Debuts

N/A

Iconic Moments, Running Themes & Memorable Quotes

– George thinks chewing while on the phone makes you sound casual and not nervous

– George turns down upstairs invitation for coffee

– Jerry submarines a relationship over nonsense for the first time

– “Women don’t want to see need. They want a take charge guy. A colonel, a kaiser, a czar!” – George

– “I don’t know what your parents did to you.” – Elaine

– Kramer pitches a comedy bit to Jerry for the first time

– “I am lactose intolerant. I have no patience for lactose. And I won’t stand for it.” – Jerry

– “I’d like to get one more shot at the coffee just so I can spit it in your face!” – George

– First mention of Frank Costanza wearing sneakers in the pool

Oddities & Fun Facts

– The entire storyline revolves around answering machine tapes

Overall Grade (Scale 1-10)

Justin: Much like The Busboy, I ended up enjoying this one much more than I expected to heading in. George was a one man show here and I was laughing out loud throughout the whole scene where he was describing his messages to Jerry. The apartment caper was really well played too, with some close calls and improv mixed in and capped with a nice payoff. Jerry is slowly transitioning to the acerbic Seinfeld we all love, with just a few hints of whiny Jerry still remaining. Kramer is criminally underused still but at least Elaine is getting more screen time, even if it wasn’t evident here. At this point, you could argue this show should be called Costanza instead of Seinfeld. Final Grade: 6/10

Aaron: I think this one is a step down from what we’ve been getting lately. The writing is solid enough, but in the end I’m watching this show to laugh and if they can’t deliver on that it doesn’t matter how relatable the show is. Still not a horrible way to spend a half hour. It’s like you have Wayne Gretzky (The Chinese restaurant) as your top flight center, but in the two slot you have Guy Carbonneau…boy I’m really stretching with the hockey analogy…KAW! KAW! Final Grade:  4/10

Andrew: This one is tough. I had low expectations going in, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I felt like the humor was totally relatable and well executed, especially the awkwardness of George’s message. I feel like this episode would have seemed like a revelation during season 1. But coming after “The Chinese Restaurant” … I mean, it’s just not on the same level. The grading curve is getting steeper. Final Grade: 4/10

Jordan: This one is a mixed bag, because I definitely enjoyed the episode, but also really thought Kramer and Elaine were underutilized. With Kramer, I understand, as they haven’t figured out his role yet, but Elaine seems to have found her place in the show, and then she’s just totally irrelevant here. I also think if the entire show was just about George and Carol it would be a bit better, as Donna sucked and the Jerry/Donna story didn’t bring a lot to the table. Final Grade: 5/10

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.