Seinfeld: The PTBN Series Rewatch – “The Van Buren Boys” (S8, E14)

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!


Best Character

JT: Tremendous performance across the board here but I will rank my top three choices. #3 is Georgie Boy, who was great in picking a loser for the scholarship and then having it backfire on him, leading to a showdown with the Van Buren Boys. #2 is Peterman, who was a tour de force here, living a mundane life at home while spinning tales of his wild escapades for his catalogue. The scenes with him and Kramer was tremendous, especially the brief phone call where they sever their partnership. And speaking of the K-Man, he is my #1 here. Between the odd clicking noises, the fantastic pants story, the settling of the Van Buren Boys incident and his golf ball pratfall, this was vintage Cosmo from start to finish.

Aaron: I like George for half the episode. Then he loses all appeal for me.

Andrew: I think it’s George. I love his soaring spirit at the thought of having a protégé, a young man he can mold into “everything I claim to be, only for real.” And his attempt at the Van Buren Boys gang sign is a thing of beauty. He adds quite a bit outside of his storyline, too: his performance in the intervention for Jerry is excellent.

Jordan: This is a tough call because I’m battling heavy nostalgia. I have quoted George’s guts spilling line with my dad hundreds of times, and that is no exaggeration. I love George’s story arc here in finding his young self, being betrayed and then roughed up by a gang. My gut says go George – yet, when I watch it, I can’t help but think Kramer is the best. He got mud all over the very pants he was going to return!

Jason: This is a close call. As much as this episode is remembered for George, I’m going with Peterman here. I loved that he was nothing like office JP while at home. Flipping through the TV channels, forgetting to buy plant food and digging for coupons. Plus, everything with him buying Kramer’s stories for his book was gold.

Best Storyline

JT: As much as I love the Van Buren Boys, Kramer’s stories has always been the heart of this episode. The K-Man’s tales are his very livelihood and once he sells them off for a mere $750 he realizes his whole life is in shambles. Fuck, the pants story alone would have been enough but there was so much more depth to the story beyond that.

Aaron: Jerry dating loser Christine Taylor takes it for me. He foolishly tries to find something wrong with her when all he needed to see was the approval of his parents. Sometimes art imitates life.

Andrew: It’s a tough call, but I like the loser girlfriend storyline the best. I just love the idea of her having this indefinable loserness that everyone but Jerry can see. And the climax with his parents’ glowing opinion being what finally turns him off is great. Lampshading the eeriness of it as “like that Twilight Zone” could have been too much exposition, but the “they were all like that” joke makes up for it.

Jordan: Here’s where George gets the credit deserved. Steven vs. George has potential as a nice midcard feud. George mentors him, grooms him, sees the raw talent he has in lying off the cuff… only Steven leaps ahead of George, going for the role of city planner. George, fueled by jealousy and anger, makes sure Steven gets no help from the foundation. Confused and troubled, Steven turns to the only help he can find – the blood thirsty Van Buren Boys. Steven hunts George down and threatens him with the beating of a lifetime, but George has one chance to escape – savagely pummeling Morty Seinfeld. It doesn’t work, and we can only assume George got a beating, VAN BUREN STYLE.

Jason: It’s gotta be the Van Buren Boys! Everything tide in so well with the gang, Kramer and George and Steven. The eight finger sign, Steven joining them and having George mug the Seinfelds all made for a very underrated plot in the series.

Ethical Dilemma of the Week

JT: Should you trust your loser friends to give an evaluation that the girl you are dating is a loser? No. Trust your gut here, Jerome. Ellen was perfect and you wasted it all for no good reason!

Aaron: Does finishing an entire book prove ANYTHING? I mean I guess it proves… something… I got to the end of Lord of The Rings and I guess it proved that I enjoyed pages upon pages of descriptions of leaves falling to the Earth. It also proved that I could decipher the god damn council of Elrond where he doesn’t bother to tell us who’s speaking and everyone has three names. Why can’t he tell us Gandalf’s ten names before people start calling him them?

Andrew: If your loser friend is going out with someone, is it cool to go up to their date and tell them how “sweet” they are to do this? Nah, man. That’s some real sabotaging behavior. At least give her a fighting chance.

Jordan: Should an autobiography be filled with lie after lie? Probably not, but I’d still read it. BECAUSE I CAN READ.

Jason: How much are life stories really worth? I find $750 a little low. Kramer should have bargained with Peter-boy some more.

Relationship Scale (Scale 1-10)

JT: Ellen was perfect. Jerry got clouded by nonsense and pissed away a potential wife. Even if she was a loser, what does Jerry really care? He hangs around with losers all day. Put a ring on it! Relationship Grade: 0 Messages/10

Aaron: Jerry’s dumb. Christine Taylor is wonderful. She’s too good for him and she’s too good for Ben Stiller. Also the suggestion of Elaine being “thrown in” to Peterman’s erotic memoires is insulting to my princess Laine. Relationship Grade: This category was a poor choice for us.

Andrew: Christine Taylor is not hard to look at, which makes the storyline that much funnier to me. Relationship Grade: And so much personality!/10

Jordan: Jerry sucks. Ellen is hot and normal. Jerry should look in the mirror – literally. He’s goofy looking and dresses terribly, and he’s a terrible person. What a chump. Relationship Grade: Chump/10

Jason: Jerry should have told Kramer and George to screw off. Ellen is in the top tier of Jerome ladies. I’d love to know if Steven’s parents are anything like Frank and Estelle. Relationship Grade: 2.0 GPA/10

What Worked:

JT: As a presidential history buff, I dug the opening scene, especially George making one up; I also loved George talking about male overcompensation and then Jerry calling him out on his lifts; “Frog is wrong” is an all time favorite line of mine and the whole scene of George interviewing the candidates is awesome; The Van Buren boys story is peak Kramer; I love Jerry’s moment of thought before letting George’s comment about Elaine being the loser the group slide; Jerry’s hamburger dream line is another all time favorite; Peterman being a complete bore at home is a nice twist and him being completely at ease to rip off Kramer’s story for his book was good too; “Meaty part of the curve”; Steven’s heel turn by trashing architects was funny; Kramer’s tongue click when he says erotica is amazing and the fucking pants story is right there with it; Kramer and George bringing up the Bloomingdale’s management program was a good callback; Kramer bragging about the “real au jus” sauce; Kramer calling Peterman “Peterson”, vagabond and Peterman telling Elaine to put herself in the erotica section; George mugging the Seinfelds

Aaron: The George stuff with the foundation is always solid. The fact that he finds a younger version of himself is wonderful and is only enhanced by Steven Costanzaing him by denouncing architects all over the world. I love the image of Kramer being backed up against a cartoon map of Italy. I kind of dug the Peterman/Kramer interactions. I really dug Peterman calling him a vagabond. The best thing to come out of those interactions was Elaine begging him to get on with the Bob Sacamano story.

Andrew: This is among Peterman’s best appearances, and probably the one I find myself quoting most often (“Put that in the book”). That whole storyline is a winner, and the Newman stories bit got the biggest laugh from me this time through the episode. The intervention was a close second; the concern from George and Kramer was excellent, and the “Bloomingdales executive training program” callback really got me. Kramer’s Van Buren Boys story is a classic, as is George interviewing the scholarship candidates.

Jordan: I love George’s relationship with everyone at The Foundation. They clearly hate him, and it could have easily been written where George is vying for their approval or even oblivious, but instead he just hates them right back. It always delivers. His interview process is fun – “Frog is wrong.” Great stuff. Kramer’s Van Buren Boys encounter is a nice story, and I’d actually forgotten why he held up eight fingers, so that was a nice refresher. Of course, the entire storyline with selling his stories to Peterman was well done – Peterman being a normal dude who gets mad when the cable channels change their numbers was funny, as was Kramer trying to tell his stories and Elaine shutting it down. Newman’s bunyon stories were truly awful in the best way. And I have to mention the end – George fake mugging the Seinfelds was my dad’s favorite scene in the history of the show. George trying to get angry and screaming out that he’d spill their guts all over the pavement is so ridiculous and great, and it’s played perfectly by Morty and Helen, who just blow him off completely.

Jason: Jerry and George’s presidential beard conversation; Ellen dropping that her and Jerry’s first date was her birthday; Jerry’s line about Ellen’s birthday and Lincoln; George shaming the over-achiever candidates; Steven mumbling his favorite chess player; Jerry’s gag about ghost reading Peterman’s autobiography; Kramer getting the stink eye and his physical comedy during his Van Buren boys story; George calling Elaine the loser of their group; Jerry’s dream about a hamburger eating him; Kramer’s pants story; Kramer slipping on the golf ball; George denying Steven the scholarship because he wants to be a city planner instead of an architect; George and Kramer’s intervention with Jerry about Ellen; Kramer can’t telling his stories anymore after selling them to Peterman; Jerry asking if his toaster was on the list of items in Kramer’s apartment; Kramer buying Newman stories for eight dollars; Elaine trying to embelish Kramer’s stories; Peterman telling Elaine to toss her name into the mix with his erotic escapades; George’s gestures when the gang asks him to flash the sign; Morty’s line about Ellen being smart, like a computer; George trying to mug the Seinfelds in vain

What Didn’t Work

JT: For the life of me I will never understand why everyone knows Ellen is a loser, I am fine with not having every plot hammered over our heads, but this one felt just too vague and ambiguous, I would have liked some level of explanation, but that may just be me

Aaron: I didn’t find anything I didn’t mention above particularly funny. I mean I guess the Van Buren thing with the hand signals is clever but it never really grew beyond that for me.

Andrew: As much as I like the loser storyline, it does feel like it’s building up to a reveal that never comes, and I wish they had found a way to mitigate that.

Jordan: I understand the point of Ellen was that there WAS nothing wrong with her, but one thing that bugged me was George and Kramer thinking of her as a loser immediately upon sight. If anything, they should have been just as enamored as Jerry was, only to quickly discover from a conversation with her that she was a loser. But to sell it that they saw Christine Taylor of all people and pegged her as a loser is a massive stretch.

Jason: How come Jerry and Ellen didn’t discuss their birth dates prior to the first date? That seems like a general act people would discuss beforehand. The green leather chairs in the foundation are real ugly.

Key Character Debuts

– Ellen

– Steven Koren

– The Van Buren Boys

Iconic Moments, Running Themes & Memorable Quotes

– “Well, maybe she decided to celebrate her birthday on the Monday after the weekend.” – George “She’s not Lincoln.” – Jerry

– “Quick, what’s your favorite animal?” – George ” I… I don’t know.. frog?” – Student “A frog?” – George “Well, I… I…” – George “Frog is wrong.” – George

– “The Van Buren Boys? There’s a street gang named after President Martin Van Buren?” – Jerry “Oh yeah, and they’re just as mean as he was!” – Kramer

– “So, she’s the loser of the group. Every group has someone that they all make fun of.. Like us with Elaine.” – George

– “He knows how to read. And he also knows finishing an entire book doesn’t prove anything. And get this: he’s into architecture.” – George “Hey! Just like you pretend to be.” – Jerry “Yes. With a little guidance, Steven Koren is going to be everything I claim to be, only for real. That’s my dream, Jerry.” – George “I had a dream last night that a hamburger was eating me!” – Jerry

– “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Steven Koren. His G.P.A. is a solid 2.0! Right in that meaty part of the curve – not showing off, not falling behind.” – George “George, the quailifications for this scholarship were suppose to be.. largely academic.” – Wyck “I’m sure we’re all aware of the flaws and biases of standardized tests.” – George “These aren’t standardized tests – these are his grades.” – Wyck

– “No, I slipped – and fell in the mud. Ruining the very pants I was about to return.” – Kramer “I don’t understand… you were wearing the pants you were returning?” – Elaine “Well, I guess I was…” – Kramer “What were you gonna wear on the way back?” – Elaine “Elaine, are you listening?! I didn’t even get there!” – Kramer

– “You know, this is liek that Twilight Zone where the guy wakes up, and he’s the same – but everyone else is different!” – Jerry “Which one?” – Kramer “They were all like that!” – Jerry

– “Oh, I bought a bunch of bunion stories from Newman – but they all stink!” – Kramer “How much did you pay for them?” – Elaine “Eight bucks! I think I got ripped off!” – Kramer

– “Well, it started out nicely: “I’m returning some pants.” A very identifiable problem… “I set of down a train tunnel.”… But that’s where the story takes a most unappealing turn.” – Peterman “Oh, no, no! That’s where it gets interesting! Don’t you see? The – the train is bearing down on you, you – you dive into a side tunnel – and you run into a whole band of underground tunnel dwellers!” – Elaine “It just seems so cliched, and obvious. It’s not interesting writing.” – Peterman “Yeah… yeah. I know. Um… how about if, instead of… diving from the train, you… uh, you, I don’t know, you slip and, and fall in some mud, and… ruin your pants?” – Elaine “The very pants I was returning. That’s perfect irony! Elaine, that is interesting writing!” – Peterman

Oddities & Fun Facts

– Christine Taylor, who portrayed Ellen, is the real life daughter-in-law of Jerry Stiller (Frank Costanza). She is married to Jerry’s son Ben Stiller.

– The kid who gets the scholarship is named Steve Koren, which is the name of a Seinfeld writer.

Overall Grade (Scale 1-10)

JT: This is an all time classic and one of my favorite episodes from the series. I can pick out at least a handful of quotes that we would repeat over and over after this originally aired. The only thing that stands out as a negative to me is that we never really understand why Ellen is a loser. But I guess that is the joke and it is just over my head. The rest is pretty much flawless. The Van Buren Boys and pants stories are legendary, including Peterman’s take on the latter, and the frog line is a hidden gem as well. So much to love here, with memorable stories, great one liners and over the top nonsense. This to me is the epitome of nailing a “show about nothing”. Final Grade: 10/10

Aaron: Perhaps it was the buildup but this one didn’t click for me at all. I think if they had focused more on the George protégé story I’d be more on board. One of the weaker episodes in a long time for me. I’m not just trying to be different. Final Grade: 3/10

Andrew: This one is a personal favorite, and on the short list for episodes I’ve quoted the most. The three storylines rate high on the memorability scale, and feature some great Peterman moments. I have to admit that this episode feels like it’s just a notch below the show’s very best work, but it makes an especially positive and lasting impression, and that should count for something. Final Grade: 10/10

Jordan: This is a really good episode that only suffers because it follows an episode that I feel was better. I love The Van Buren Boys, I love Steven, and I love Peterman taking Kramer’s life stories from him. Can’t go full 10 because I didn’t think the Jerry and Ellen stuff was particularly well done, and I think Elaine was just OK, not great. Still though, a really, really good one. Final Grade: 8/10

Jason:  This was a lot of fun.  An episode that rarely shows up in syndication for some reason.  The title plot still holds up well as does the sub-plot with Kramer and Peterman. 1997 Christine Taylor is smoking hot and she did a fine job as Ellen.  I found there to be little down time and every scene served a purpose.  Overall, revisiting this episode after not watching it in quite some time was a pleasure. Final Grade: 9/10