Seinfeld: The PTBN Series Rewatch – “The Understudy” (S6, E24)

Welcome to Seinfeld: The PTBN Series Rewatch! On a regular basis, JT Rozzero, Aaron George, Andrew Flanagan, Jordan Duncan and Jason Greenhouse 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

JT: It is hard not to give it to Frank Costanza here, but Kramer made me laugh the most consistently. His sheer joy at being near Bette Midler, his jaunt around NYC looking for Italian Ice, his maniacal key jingling and monologue ripping Jerry, George & Gennice and then completely taking over Bette Midler’s recovery were all fantastically executed. He was on point and closed out the season on a strong note.

Aaron: I feel like I really haven’t done the bullshit pick more than one person thing yet so I’ll go with the lovely pairing of Kramer and Bette Middler. Were they the funniest pairing? Debatable. Were they a joy to watch operate together? Absolutely. I adore Kramer’s kindness in the face of Bette’s necessity to be the diva that she is. It’s just such a fantastic contrast. He’s just there for her. Be it holding her flailing body after she was pulverized into a fence, running all over Manhattan to acquire the simply unreasonable pineapple ice treat or just singing gleefully together as he holds her hostage in what I can only assume is a “Misery” situation; these two tell a love story for the ages. Had Gennice seen it on film she would have blown her brains out all over the kitchen table for her family to see. Could they be any better together? “Now that’s impossible.”

Andrew: I’ll go with George. He doesn’t have a ton of screen time in this one, but I really enjoy his softball performance. That’s pretty much exactly how I would expect his character to act during an athletic competition: aggressive, trash-talking, and taking everything just a little too seriously. Nicely done.

Jordan: Let’s break down who it isn’t first. Frank was really solid, but his outburst was about 0.4 on the Costanza scale. George seemed a little MIA here, and Elaine put in a good effort but was not out of this world. Jerry was fun this time around, having no sympathy for Gennice and shooing George from the mound. Then there is Kramer. Oh, Kramer. His love of Bette knows no bounds, and he IS the wind beneath her wings. Chasing around the city for pineapple Italian Ice almost sealed the deal…except for Bette. Bette was incredible, and you know what puts it over the top? Wearing that giant blue Ric Flair type robe in a hospital bed. What a star.

Jason: There’s a few solid choices here. Frank was a force of nature helping Elaine spy on the nail salon crew and then reuniting with Kim. Bette Midler was, well… Bette at her best. However, Kramer wins it for me. His love of Bette Midler from the second he finds out she’ll be at the softball game, to his search for a pineapple Italian ice and his taking control of everything while she was in the hospital was superb.

Best Storyline

JT: The nail salon stuff was really good thanks to Frank and the fact of how real the situation felt, but I can’t go against Kramer & Bette. Their chemistry was amazing and thanks to six seasons of Kramer character development, it all felt very natural and real that he would act the very way that he did. That fucking key jingling and “… or it’s your ass, buster” get me every time.

Aaron: Forget storylines, I just want to see the Rochelle Rochelle musical. If Bette Middler is going on a strange erotic journey from Milan to Minsk I am on board. I would like to hope that the producers of the show had the balls to give us full penetration but then again there are so few real artists left in the world.

Andrew: I like the nail salon story the most. It taps into the very real fear experienced when people are talking about you in a language you don’t understand. Plus, this storyline has Frank Costanza, and Frank is the best. Seeing him compelled to “unburden” himself to Elaine, and then watching his new backstory play out in the present day is probably the best part of the episode.

Jordan: Kramer and Bette was the best and it isn’t even close for me. The nail salon stuff was fun, but Kramer taking care of Bette and then apparently taking her captive was just too much fun. It even started off great, with his giddy response to hearing she would be at the park.

Jason: I have to go with the Kim being the woman that Frank had an affair with in Korea. The look on her face when she first hears his voice is priceless. A great spin on things as Frank heads to the nail salon to help Elaine spy on things.

Ethical Dilemma of the Week

JT: Should George be allowed to play in the show league game? He doesn’t work for The Improv and he doesn’t perform there. He is a ringer. And a hanger on. Sit in the bleachers, George, or start hitting the stage and cracking some jokes.

Aaron: You know who the scum of the Earth are? Asian women. Wait… let me rephrase that: the Asian women from the episode. Is there anything worse than someone who is clearly in the wrong and yet goes on the attack refusing to accept blame all the while villanizing you for calling them out. I once worked at a gym and a woman was clearly trying to scam her way into a free entry (which I probably would have given her as I gave very little shits). However she concocted a stupid story about how she had lost her punch card and even pantomimed going through her purse to find it. Problem is as she was going through said purse the punch card floated to the top. I said “Isn’t that your punch card right there.” She replied in the only sane way by bellowing, ” ARE YOU LOOKING THROUGH MY PURSE????” Then she told me to get cancer. What a shit day that was. So I’m sorry Korean ladies but if you’re going to assume people don’t speak Korean before you bash them you are at fault and you should probably go hang yourselves in the basement for your children to find.

Andrew: Is it OK to laugh at nail salons? That New York Times article from last year about how manicurists are essentially treated as slave labor was in my head the whole time. That’s not the Seinfeld writers’ fault, necessarily, but I still feel bummed out.

Jordan: Why was Bette playing catcher in the first place? She’s a celebrity, you want her there for attention. So you put her in the only position that requires her to wear a mask over her face? Poor decision by Team Rochelle Rochelle The Musical. Stick her in right field like you do with your defensive liabilities.

Jason: If you’re playing softball and the catcher of the opposite team is a celebrity, do you plow into them in order to score a run for your team? HELL YES! YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!

Relationship Scale (Scale 1-10)

JT: Kramer and Bette are meant to be together. What a dynamic couple. They seriously have the strongest chemistry of any couple on this show since Jerry and Courtney Cox. I could watch them sing and eat Italian Ice all day long. Relationship Grade: My Wings/The Wind

Aaron: Look I’m sure Gennice must be incredibly hot or incredibly talented in bed for Jerry to put up with the crying but all respect must have flown out the window when she was finally given the chance ‘that no one would give her,” and fell flat on her frankfurter. Come to think of it he probably should have dumped her the minute she used the word frankfurter. Who does that???? Does she call his dick a frankfurter? Does she demand his frankfurter inside her? I really shouldn’t write these when I have a fever. Relationship Grade: 2/10

Andrew: Gennice was clearly cast for her resemblance to a crying Tonya Harding, so she was never going to do well in this category. On the other hand, I would absolutely watch a movie about Kramer caring for a convalescent Better Midler. Relationship Grade: I’m having adventures all over the place/10

Jordan: The entire shows run is kind of built on this squad of four being careless, heartless people. That works when they respond to situations differently than normal people would, thanks to their calloused, black hearts. But here’s the problem: NOBODY would console Gennice. Jerry was actually a saint for sticking with her this long. My only guess is she may have been a method actor, and since she was the understudy for Rochelle, she needed to get in the erotic journey frame of mind, and Jerry was her sex canvas. Still not worth it. Relationship Grade: WEEPING IDIOT/10

Jason: Jerry is wasting his time with Gennice. What a whiny, rotten human being. Too bad Frank and Kim never had a kid. As I type this, the idea of a Korean George sounds perfect. Relationship Grade: Tutti-Frutti/10

What Worked:

JT: Jerry debating to himself about consoling Gennice was a nice start; I always enjoy when Jerry and George are suddenly stars or participants in random stuff, like softball here; That noise of excitement Kramer makes about Bette Midler; The reemergence of Rochelle, Rochelle is great; “Sunny tell knock knock joke” always makes me laugh just for the delivery; Gennice riding the pine because Bette was playing was great; Kramer running through New York looking for pineapple Italian Ice was fun; Just Cherry, Lemon and Tutti-Frutti!; George meeting with Jerry on the mound was good; This is not my kind of guy; George’s home run is one of my favorite scenes of the season, capped with Kramer coddling Bette with the melting Italian Ice; Gennice assuming Jerry and George whacked Bette on purpose was a nice twist; Kramer’s epic rant was awesome, including him unlocking all the doors and shaking the key ring; The slow reveal by Kim that she was Frank’s long lost love was really well done; Kramer and Bette in the hospital is so good; PETERMAN; Jerry, Gennice and George in the cab slowly losing it; Macaroni Midler!; The final Tonya Harding scene is good way to wrap things up

Aaron: Jerry starts the show off great with his silent rage as Janice cries to Beaches. He’s just not having any of it. What do you expect, this guy made out through Shindler’s List. George has a fantastic outing here. His breakdown of the move from chair to couch is almost as inspired as his takedown of Beaches in hopes to get a third strike. He just creams Bette Middler and it’s glorious. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention his silent argument that since Jerry is banging Gennice HE has to be the one to go and comfort her. Frank Costanza is his usual belligerent self; quickly burdening Elaine with the unwanted truth that he cheated on Estelle with a Korean woman. Bette Middler is probably the best actress they’ve had on the show in a one off and she nails every line. Her face as she’s presented the Macaroni Middler can only be described as confused terror. Of course Kramer kills every moment too as he fawns over the “For The Boys” star. His rant about the Broadway “he knows,” is clearly the calling card of a man who’s now “calling the shots.” Of course we’re also treated to one of the best character introductions of all time as J Peterman suggests that not knowing where you’re going is “The best way to get some place you’ve never been.” It crystallizes the character so perfectly in ten words.

Andrew: A lot of the camera work was unusual for the show, and I kind of enjoyed the change in routine. Jerry talking directly to the camera, the softball action scenes, the long distance chase shot, the pan over Jerry’s locks opening one by one; it all gives the episode a unique feel, which is nice. There’s no Seinfeld theme in the opening scene, which is unique on its own, and makes this feel like an older episode. Other than that … The Rochelle, Rochelle callback is fun, making it into a musical is appropriately ridiculous, and the song is great. Better Midler and Kramer are fantastic together, with her good-naturedly playing into the diva persona and Cosmo being enjoyably overprotective. I also love his chit-chat: “So, what’s the scoop on Bob Barker?” And Peterman’s intro is solid.

Jordan: I liked that this one ventured out of Jerry’s apartment and the diner more than usual. Not that the show is hurt by them being there, it was just a nice change of pace with most of the episode taking place at the park, the nail salon or the hospital. Jerry trying to figure out the right move with Gennice was a good start and really let us know everything we needed to about her immediately. Rochelle Rochelle being made into a musical is funny on it’s own, but since I basically envision it as a porn that somehow got an NC-17 rating, I am interested in what this show would be like. How many sex scenes does Bette Midler do? George talking trash to Bette, and her returning the favor was excellent. Kramer searching all of Manhattan for a pineapple Italian Ice was fun, and he returns just in time to be Bette’s shining knight. J. Peterman’s introduction is pretty much perfect. Bette is great in the hospital, allowing Kramer to do her nails. Speaking of nails, I enjoyed Elaine’s quest to find out if she was being mocked. I loved Jerry in the taxi saying people have been calling him “Gillooly”. A dated reference, but one I still remember.

Jason: Jerry’s heartless stare at Gennice while she cries watching Beaches. Kramer’s overjoy about Bette Midler being at the softball game. Kramer’s bit about understudies; “They’re the substitue teachers of the theater world.”  The nail slaon talking smack in Korean about Elaine; “Sunny tell knock-knock joke.” Kramer’s search for the pineapple ice. Frank’s foot odor problem. George and Bette talking trash to each other; “Big mouth shrimp on special today!” Kramer singing Wind Beneath My Wigs to Bette after George plows her over. The Rochelle Rochelle  team chasing George and Jerry through the park. The Bette incident being the top story on the news. Kramer’s rant to George, Jerry and Gennice about Broadway. The crew getting kicked out of the cab; “STOP YOUR CRYING, WILL YA!” Kim’s reaction when she hears Franks voice; “Quick tempered with a strange halting way of speaking.” Kramer taking control of everything with Bette at the hospital; “If I see one piece of dark meat on there. It’s your ass buster!” MACARONI MIDLER!!! Elaine’s bumping into J. Peterman on the street in the pouring rain was the perfect setting. Frank stopping short with Kim. The nail salon girls anger that Bette isn’t appearing at Rochelle Rochelle. Gennice no selling her grandmother dying.

What Didn’t Work

JT: Gennice really is unbearable; How did Elaine track Frank down for lunch so quickly; The weird dub of Kramer singing to Bette on the field always bugged me; Kramer wheeling Bette out of the hospital is a little too much to accept; Who the hell notifies someone that the grandmother died via telegram?

Aaron: I think there were some major problems with the editing here. One minute Elaine is asking George on the baseball diamond IF his father speaks Korean, then we skip ahead to Elaine in the coffee shop with Frank, fine, but then we go back and the game still isn’t over. Either Frank Costanza is in fact The Flash or that’s the longest softball game in recorded history. Again later Elaine meets Peterman at night in the rain and we cut to Jerry, Janice and George in a cab in the afternoon THEN WE SEEMINGLY GO BACK TO THE SAME NIGHT. It just feels sloppy coupled with the fact that it really feels like a tale of two separate stories that don’t intersect at any point. Also those Korean women were truly the worst. Their freak out at Middler’s injury ranks them slightly below Jim Jones on the hateability meter. Just die already. Why couldn’t they have been at Jonestown?

Andrew: Why is George bringing a wooden bat to softball? What was the joke with the “chin music”: does George really think Jerry can brush someone back with an underhand toss, or was he just being annoying? I enjoy the “stop short” callback, but it feels like Kim overreacted a bit. Playing up accents for humor isn’t the best look. The “Gillooly” reference comes before the big Tonya Harding reveal, which seems like a mistake. The payoff with Gennice not crying over her grandmother has always fell flat for me. And what kind of name is Gennice? It sounds like a horrible malt beverage.

Jordan: I didn’t care for Frank’s subplot with his Korean love interest. Gennice is awful, but she is supposed to be, so I can’t list her here…but I can list her calling a hot dog a FRANKFURTER. Still, there’s something that didn’t work in a bigger way. How do I put this delicately? I’ll just say it. We all know Rochelle Rochelle is a young woman’s erotic journey from Milan to Minsk. A young woman’s erotic journey. A YOUNG woman. YOUNG. Bette Midler can sing with the best of them and she is a tour de force, but…I question casting her as the lead character in a coming of age sex story.

Jason: I absolutely HATE Gennice. she ranks up there with Toby as most annoying character in the series so far.

Key Character Debuts

– Bette Midler

– J. Peterman

Iconic Moments, Running Themes & Memorable Quotes

– “Bette Midler is going to be in the park today? Yeeee. Jerry, don’t tease me.” – Kramer

– “Oh, understudies are a very shifty bunch. The substitute teachers of the theater world.” – Kramer

– “Just once I would like to tell someone they stink. You know what? I doidn’t like the show. I didn’t like you. It just really stunk. The whole thing…real bad. Stinkaroo. Thanks for the tickets though.” – Jerry

– “He sold religious articles the statues of Jesus, the virgin Mary, that were manufactured in Korea.” – Jerry “George, does your father speak Korean?” – Jerry “Yeah, he once bumped into reverend Yung Sun Moon.” – George

– “No pineapple. Just Cherry, Lemon and Tutti-Frutti” – Ice Cream Vendor

– “I once talked to the reverend Yung Son Moon. He bought two Jesus statues from me. He’s a hell of a nice guy.” – Frank “Uh, ha…” – Elaine “Ever see that face on him? Like a biiiiiig apple pie.” – Frank

– “No, I feel I need to unburden myself. I loved her very deeply. But the clash of cultures was too much. Her family would not accept me.” – Frank “Mr. Costanza, I, …” – Elaine “Maybe it was because I refused to take off my shoes. Again, the foot odour problem. Her father would look at me and say, ” eno enoa juang “. Which means, “this guy – this is not my kind of guy”.” – Frank

– “So my dear you think you can get to Broadway. Well, let me tell you something. Broadway has no room for people like you. Not the Broadway I know. My Broadway takes people like you and eats them up and spits them out. My Broadway is the Broadway of Merman, and Martin, and Fontaine, and if you think you can build yourself up by knocking other people down… …GOOD LUCK…” – Kramer

– “A turkey sandwich. A side of slaw, … you want whit e meat or dark?”- Kramer “White meat.” – Bette “Yeah, white meat. And if I see one piece of dark meat on there. It’s your ass buster.” – Kramer “Get me one of those Black and White cookies.” – Bette “Yeah, all right, yeah… They don’t have any. But don’t worry I’m going to get you one somewhere.” – Kramer “Good. Because if I don’t get a Black and White cookie I’m not going to be very pleasant to be around.” – Bette “Now that’s impossible.” – Kramer

– “So what? Somebody dropped an egg on my head as I went into my building last night.” – George “Hey, I’m being heckled on stage. People are yelling out Gillooly!” – Jerry

– “Wait. Wait. I know you. You knocked Bette Midler out of Rochelle Rochelle the Musical. I want you creeps out of my cab.” – Cabbie “Hey, I had nothing to do with it.” – Jerry “Get out of my cab. You should go to prison. You should be in prison for the rest of your life. Get out, each of you. Each and every one of you get out of my cab.” – Cabbie

– “Then in the distance I heard the bulls. I began running as fast as I could. Fortunately I was wearing my Italian Captoe Oxfords. Sophisticated yet different; nothing to make a huge fuss about. Rich dark brown calfskin leather. Matching leather vent. Men’s whole and half sizes 7 through 13. Price $135.00.” – Peterman

– “Here you got a telegram. Well, look who’s here.” – Stagehand “Listen buddy…” – Jerry “What are you going to do? Break my legs? You don’t scare me. You or your goons.” – Stagehand

Oddities & Fun Facts

– Rochelle, Rochelle was previously referenced in The Movie (S4, E15) & The Smelly Car (S4, E22)

– J. Peterman is portrayed by long time actor John O’Hurley

– Macaroni Midler and The Stop Short move are both callbacks to The Fusilli Jerry (S6, E21)

– The Gennice/Bette Midler storyline is taken from the Tonya Harding arranged attack on Nancy Kerrigan prior to the 1994 Winter Olympic Games.

Overall Grade (Scale 1-10)

JT: There is so much good mixed in here but as a complete package I think it falls just a little short of the overall standard we have come to expect since season four. Bette Midler was tremendous and I can’t get enough of her and Kramer. Frank always delivers and George was a lot of fun too. There are some strong one liners and unique camera shots and scenery in this one, which help bump the grade up. The Tonya Harding stuff was timely and all tied up nicely but Gennice was so awful to watch across the board. Maybe that was the point. Plus… Peterman debuts! Season six is a wrap and it has been a great one that delivered a lot of memorable episodes. We enter the final third of the series and take a very unique turn right off the bat. Final Grade: 7/10

Aaron: Look this episode is really great with a fantastic guest star and truly is a great way to end a season. The writing and the editing hurt it a little bit but make no mistake this one is pretty timeless. Season six has been a blast and I enjoyed it way more than I remembered. Going into the project I always assumed that season seven was my favorite but I may have to rethink things after this one. It’s awesome that at over a hundred episodes in I’m still as excited about the project as when we started. What a great show. Final Grade: 8/10

Andrew: This episode has it’s moments, but falls short overall. I feel like they were going for something different with the camera work and scene setting, and the episode feels very unlike the rest of the season, which I enjoy. But it’s not the funniest we’ve seen, and I don’t think it works that well overall. I enjoyed rewatching it, but this episode doesn’t rank very high for me. Final Grade: 7/10

Jordan: This was fine, but I felt like we didn’t get really anything from George, and wasn’t a huge fan of the Frank stuff. I feel like I’m judging it more harshly because it was the season finale, and maybe I shouldn’t. This isn’t a show that has story arcs and cliffhangers, but you still kind of expect the premier and the finale to be big efforts. This one feels like it would have fit anywhere in the season. Having said all that, Kramer and Bette is an all time storyline and Jerry was above average this time around. Final Grade: 7/10

Jason: Man, what a strong finish to this unbelievable season. Bette Midler was fantastic! J. Peterman was a beast in his debut. The storylines blended very well, especially the nail salon stuff with Frank and Kim. Gennice is the absolute worst, but I’m not gonna let that hurt the joy I have for this episode. See everyone next season!  Final Grade: 8/10

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