Seinfeld: The PTBN Series Rewatch – “The Merv Griffin Show” (S9, E6)

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: Kramer was amazing throughout this whole thing. The start of the story was a bit contrived but once he got that old TV set into his apartment, the magic flowed through him. It was an inspired performance as he lived inside his own little old school TV world, creating an entire production out of nothing that eventually became too much to handle. Dance like nobody is watching, they say? How about cos-play Merv Griffin when nobody is watching, budro.

Aaron: As the sole member of the adult cast that doesn’t participate in the toy fiasco, Kramer walks away with this one. I feel I’ve been railing against the character turns in the last few episodes, but as absurd as it is the whole Merv Griffin business seems to work for the K-Man. For years he’s been a psychopath. He assumed he was Batman after driving one bus, he selfishly burned a cabin to the ground; there’s no doubt that he would fish a dirty set out of the trash and begin to question his friends as though they were guests.

Andrew: I’ll give it to Elaine this time. To me it felt like she was having the most fun in this episode, particularly when it comes to the gestures and looks that elevate otherwise mediocre storylines. For example, her laugh at Kramer’s talk show flirting really clinches the whole scene. Kramer was excellent as well, but Elaine’s work really stood out to me.

Jordan: Kramer. I love everything about the Merv Griffin show. His fascination with the set, his sleeping “backstage”, finding Merv Griffin’s cigar in a dumpster. Maybe the best part is when he decides to take a short break while everyone is over, and he just stops to eat some chips and drink a Coke, then says, “We’re back!” This is one of my all time favorite Kramer storylines.

Best Storyline

JT: This was a nice bounce back across the board but the Merv Griffin stuff takes it for me. Kramer was awesome as he went through all the stages of hosting a talk show, from excited, to serious, to depressed to… edgy? All of his small tics and quips while navigating through the every day updates of his friends carried the episode. It was a fresh, unique idea that still fit within Kramer’s personality.

Aaron: The evolution of Kramer’s show from basic interview program to “Scandals and Animals” was nearly perfect. George staggering unto the set to that triumphant music is an all time moment.

Andrew: The Merv Griffin stuff was easily the best part of this one. It’s a really good showcase for Kramer, and it’s definitely the best plotted story, with the most satisfying payoff of the episode. I thought that framing a lot of the expository dialogue as talk show banter was a nice touch, and the show’s devolution into a Jerry Springer style confrontation series was pretty inspired.

Jordan: It’s the Merv Griffin stuff and it’s not even close, for a couple reasons. First – The Merv Griffin storyline is really, really funny. But also, the other ones are… not so great. Jerry drugging a woman so he can play with toys is stupid and doesn’t age well thanks to Bill Cosby. George and the pigeons doesn’t really do anything for me either. Elaine and the sidler is fun enough, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Kramer digging old furniture out of a dumpster and turning his apartment into a talk show set, complete with guests and music.

Ethical Dilemma of the Week

JT: Should you drug a woman to play with her toy collection? That would be a no, Jerome.

Aaron: GI Joe or Army Pete? Obviously Joe would bust down Pete’s door and have his way with him while his family watched on in terror. Seeing their father taken to brown town across the same table that Mama Pete had her stroke on would surely be enough to push those little Petes over the edge. The rest of their childhood would be a haze, leading to a snake-filled life of crime and terror. Sometimes you have to sleep in the bed you made Joe.

Andrew: At what point should George have cut his losses and let Miranda go on thinking he was an animal hating sociopath? Once the vet bills hit triple digits, I would think.

Jordan: Is George really a monster for hitting those pigeons at the beginning? I will swerve for an animal on the ground – dogs, cats, rabbits, squirrels. But I think I’m with George here – if it’s a bird, I assume it can fly away. Those birds were suicidal, and George was simply helping them end their life.

Relationship Scale (Scale 1-10)

JT: I am glad they didn’t have Elaine just start hooking up or falling for Lou. It was nice to see her in a non sexual relationship storyline for a change. Relationship Grade: Tic/Tac

Aaron: Both relationships we’re shown involve a reasonable person dealing with a god damn monster. Remember when Jerry was just upset over peas not being eaten properly? Relationship Grade: It’s enough.

Andrew: Once again, any storyline featuring a metaphorical sexual assault does not age well. Everything in the Jerry and Celia relationship felt gross, and there is no way Miranda was worth all the hassle. Relationship Grade: Still getting nothing/10

Jordan: Jerry is seriously gross here. No, he’s not sexually assaulting her, but it’s still assault. This one is much worse with age as well. And he brings George in on it too! And Elaine! What a scumbag! It is NOT a victimless crime. GI JOE WOULD NEVER DO THIS/10

What Worked:

JT: I enjoyed the inane Cain and Abel conversation to open the show; “Merv Griffin’s cigar” cracked me up too; Jerry cutting Celia’s sad story off to celebrate her toys is perfect Jerry; Kramer immediately acting like a TV show host is tremendous; Kramer hitting zingers and playing the entrance music cracks me up every time; And then him sitting and having a snack during “commercial” and saying “ok we’re back” is an all timer; Peterman trashing Lou’s work was funny; George was vintage Costanza at the vet office: cheap and whipped; As dark as the whole thing is, the scene with George and Jerry force feeding Celia wine and turkey was well executed; Newman’s wax bean tale; George getting changed by his parents on the home movie

Aaron: Pretty much everything with the Merv Griffin show was gold. What made the whole thing work, though, was how everyone is visibly uncomfortable with it. Elaine demanding “what ‘s wrong” with Kramer is the only sane question anyone should be asking. Michael Richards nails everything. The one-liners, the snide looks to the “audience.” It’s a near perfect Kramer performance, right down to lauding the sound of gravel. If ONLY he had tripped and destroyed the set! George denouncing the “deal” with the pigeons is also wonderful. We know the man is a murderer and this one takes it a step further. Cheap, angry and full of feathers. I never knew this was the George I needed. Peterman’s fear of Elaine possibly being undead hit nicely, as did Frank fostering George’s trauma in the four hour home video. I don’t know what Haitian Voodoo Rattle Torture is, but I want to learn how to do it to my wife. Finally Jim Fowler and his Hawk ended up being a tremendous straight man to George and his invalid squirrel.

Andrew: The Merv Griffin stuff is kind of the platonic ideal of late Seinfeld storylines: an admirably wacky idea, with solid escalation (I especially liked Newman as sidekick, and the “shut down and retool”) and a fun ending. I thought Elaine and Kramer gave excellent performances in this one, Peterman is solid as well, and the cast playing with children’s toys is funny. And putting the allusions to date-rape drugs aside, Celia repeatedly gorging herself on wine and turkey and passing out on the couch is a pretty good gag, and Jerry’s complete lack of shame is a funny way to play it.

Jordan: “El Paso, I spent a month there one night!” – what a great line. Seriously, the Merv Griffin stuff is an all timer for Kramer. It makes no real sense, yet it makes total sense as it plays out with the theme music, Newman as a sidekick, it’s just all perfect. Jerry and Kramer not knowing the story behind Cain and Abel is pretty fun, especially Kramer thinking it was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I don’t really care for the storyline with George and the pigeons, but George actually makes it work fairly well. The squirrel turn works out pretty well, with George having to care for a wild invalid that knows he tried to kill it. The lengths he will go to for an OK looking woman is commendable. Dead Tooth is a nice little side venture for Elaine, and it gives us some Peterman! She can sidle up to me any time she’d like. “Well Stinky, this is your lucky day!” was a good line from Elaine. Jim Fowler wondering where the cameras were is a nice line.

What Didn’t Work

JT: Lou Filerman… eh; Fuck Jerry for mocking Hakuna Matata and Cup O’ Soup; I love the concept and it goes glorious places but how does Kramer fit the entire TV set in his living room?; Miranda is annoying AF, George should have just bailed; Celia had to catch on to this scheme at some point, right? How much turkey and wine can she ingest before it clicks?; Also, I appreciate them trying to tie everything together, but Elaine bringing Lou to Celia’s was overkill at the end and made Celia look even dumber

Aaron: I hated the playing with toys storyline, and not for the metaphorical rape. I get that they’ve presented Jerry like a man-child for nine years but this is fucking ridiculous. He REALLY needs to step away from a woman who’s giving him “crazy” sex to go “Pew Pew” with Army men? They aren’t even interesting toys! One is a wind up monkey.  And how stupid is Celia? She knows she was drugged for her toys with turkey and wine then the very next night she’s being force fed again to get some Mickey Mouse gum. Just break into her house at night and steal from her you morons! How many canker sores does Fillerman have and why do I have to hear about them. Peterman would have called this incoherent drivel!

Andrew: I can talk myself into George going through all the trouble to save the squirrel (he has a documented need to be liked), but they don’t ever bother showing any motivation for the character, so the effort seems unjustified and the whole storyline ends up feeling kind of pointless. Elaine’s “sidler” isn’t especially inspired or memorable, but it does give her and Peterman a chance to land some good lines. I’m not sure the “playing with a woman’s toys” and “forcing a woman into sex” parallels were ever a good idea, but they sure did age badly.

Jordan: It’s the toy storyline. I honestly couldn’t watch it and think of Bill Cosby, so it hasn’t aged well at all. Still, I tried to imagine it from a 1997 perspective… and it’s still stupid. Know why? Those toys are stupid! Someone tell Jerry and George that, by this point, Playstation is out and they can play better football video games. Jerry showing zero remorse fits the character I guess, but it still sucks. At least it had a nice finish with Kramer bringing her in as a surprise guest.

Key Character Debuts

– Miranda

Iconic Moments, Running Themes & Memorable Quotes

– “Look at this. Boy, one minute Elliot Gould is sitting on you and the next thing – you’re yesterday’s trash.” – Kramer

– “Oh, the sex is wild but she’s got this incredible toy collection and she won’t let me near it!” – Jerry

– “Wha-You never see him. He sidled me again in my office. I was sitting there making Cup-A-Soup singing that song from “The Lion King”. – Elaine “Hakuna Matata?” – Jerry “I thought I was alone.” – Elaine “That doesn’t make it right.” – Jerry

– “You, sidle? Y-You … you stomp around like a Clydesdale!” – Jerry

–  “I don’t get these birds! They’re breaking the deal. It-it’s like the pigeons decided to ignore me!” – George “So they’re like everyone else.” – Jerry

– “So when I saw George on the street with an 18 pound turkey and a giant box of wine, I thought: … What a coincidence. We’re just about to eat.” – Jerry

– “Lately, though, I’ve been, uh, – I’ve been buying the generic brand of waxed beans. You know, I rip of the label… I can hardly tell the difference.” – Newman

– “Oh, we’re discharging the squirrel. We think he’ll be better off at home.” – Doctor “He has no home. He’s a squirrel.” – George “Hmm-hm. Your home, Mister Costanza. Just make sure he gets his medicine six times a day and keep his tail elevated.” – Doctor

Oddities & Fun Facts

– Wild Kingdom’s Jim Fowler plays himself on the set

Overall Grade (Scale 1-10)

JT: Last episode we talked about how the characters were doing stuff outside of the scope of their normal behavior. That was all corrected here as even though these stories were a bit outlandish, all of the actions were solidly within their personalities. Jerry is definitely the type of man-child that would go to great lengths to play with toys. George is the type of pussy whipped loser that would become caretaker to a squirrel just to be with an attractive woman. Elaine dealing with workplace nonsense is right in her wheelhouse and Kramer, well, this storyline was perfect Cosmo. I am prepared to be told I am overrating this one, but the Merv Griffin stuff is some of all time favorite Seinfeld foolishness: in that sweet spot of nonsensical but sensical within the universe. Kramer was pitch perfect throughout it all and this may be one of his finest episodes as a character. Final Grade: 8/10

Aaron: So, way better than the last few weeks. This may be a ten with a better Jerry segment, but as it’s sheer stupidity I can’t go near the full monty. The toys storyline is like the AIDS that GI Joe gave army Pete. It poisoned everything until his children were forced to build something called a Trouble Bubble. Final Grade: 8/10

Andrew: This is a tough one for me to rate, as my memories of it are a lot fonder than my reaction on rewatching. I’m not overly impressed by the writing, the majority of the storylines are disappointing, and the date-rape allusions really cast a pall over the whole thing. Any yet, when I recall the image of George running over a bunch of pigeons, or getting clawed by a hawk on a talk-show set, I chuckle. Maybe that says more about me, actually. I think the important thing to remember here is that the Merv Griffin stuff rules, and this is a big improvement over last week. Final Grade: 7/10

Jordan: I love this one, and have some personal affinity to it as my dad loved it a lot, so I always think of him when I see it. Still, it’s carried heavily by the Kramer stuff and the rest kind of drags, but not so badly that it ruins the episode. I really just don’t like the Jerry stuff, where the George and Elaine stories are just forgettable. After last episode, forgettable is a bounce back, and an all time storyline vaults this even further. Grade: 8/10