The Most Obscure Seinfeld Motifs, Factoids and Absurdities
CREDIT: EVERETT COLLECTION; INSET: NBC
A Seinfeld trademark is the brilliant intertwining of absurdities to create immortal storylines—Festivus, the Soup Nazi, and the Contest are among the many canonized. This dissertation zeroes in on some of the lesser known Seinfeld motifs, factoids, and even oversights that deserve recognition.
Elaine’s Unfortunate Name Change Suggestion
In The Masseuse (Season 5), Elaine is dating Joel Rifkin, who happens to share the name of the fictitious serial killer terrorizing New York. Understandably uneasy with dating a murderer’s namesake, Elaine tries to pressure Joel into changing his name.
One suggestion she throws out is…wait for it…O.J.
The episode aired in November 1993—just a few months before O.J. Simpson was implicated in the murder of the century. The writers' accidental prescience and unrealized irony are stunning.
Does Kramer Like Baths?
In The Wife (Season 5), when George is embroiled in a gym shower peeing scandal, Elaine polls the others on their shower urination etiquette. Jerry, of course, is repulsed by the idea, while Kramer responds that he takes baths.
However, in The Shower Head (Season 7), after a newly installed low-pressure shower head forces Kramer to take drastic measures, he fumes, “I just took a bath…It’s disgusting, I’m sitting there in a tepid pool of my own filth.”
How does one reconcile Kramer’s change of heart on baths? Aside from revealing a probable mistake by the writers, this is one of the more consequential questions for humanity to ponder.
Kramer’s Currency Issues
While not his oddest quirk, Kramer’s recurring issue with understanding currency exchange rates is a titillating minor motif.
First, in The Maestro (Season 7), Kramer reproaches Jerry for giving a cab driver in Italy 75,000 lira. Next, in The Checks (Season 8), after Kramer entertains a group of Japanese tourists at their expense until they run out of money, he laments, “Manhattan can be quite pricey, even with 50,000 Yen.” When Elaine asks, “isn’t that just a few hundred dollars”, Kramer replies, “evidently.”
From the beach cologne to the oil tanker bladder system, Kramer’s range of quixotic invention ideas is admirable, if not practical. On the other hand, Bizarro Kramer, aka Feldman, actually came up with an idea that materialized in real life.
In The Bizarro Jerry (Season 8), Feldman wows Elaine with his idea for an alarm clock “that automatically tells you the weather when you wake up.” [Editor’s note: I couldn't find a YouTube clip of the scene, but you can confirm the exchange here.] Today, Alexa’s default alarm setting does precisely what Feldman envisioned in 1996. Pretty amazing.
Kramer’s questionable track record as an inventor notwithstanding, he was undoubtedly ahead of his time when it came to disavowing mail.
Fed up with receiving Pottery Barn catalogs (The Junk Mail, season 9), Kramer marches into the post office to demand his mail be canceled. When Newman presses him on how he plans to replace mail's various uses, Kramer rattles off alternatives, including email—a relatively novel communications medium at the time the episode premiered in 1997. The digital revolution that unfolded since then has rendered physical mail even less necessary—proof that Kramer was a true visionary on this front.
George’s bottomless arsenal of lies includes fictional characters whose trade is “Importer-Exporter”. First employed in The Stakeout (Season 1, incidentally it’s the same scene where George invents Art Vandelay), the gag is revisited in The Maestro with impeccable subtlety. When Frank Costanza travels to Tuscany, the man he misidentifies as his cousin is sweeping outside a storefront whose sign reads, "Costanza Import Export". Shown unfocused in the background, it's easy to miss this brilliant allusion the first fifty times you watch the episode. On the fifty first watch, you finally see it and it mesmerizes you much like Constantine the Great was mesmerized by a hallucinated image of the cross that compelled him to mercilessly destroy his enemies and reunify the Roman Empire.
Stay Out of Del Boca Vista and Tuscany!
A minor yet perfectly absurd motif is the attempt by Seinfeld characters to keep others from certain destinations. The Maestro, for reasons that are never revealed, tries to keep Jerry out of Tuscany, alleging that there are no available rentals in the entire region.
The Seinfelds, in turn, try to keep the Costanzas out of their new retirement community, Del Boca Vista, (The Cadillac, Season 8) because as we first learned in Season 5, they don’t like them.
Elaine’s Dog Problem
Elaine has numerous unpleasant run-ins with canines. In The Glasses (Season 5), she is bitten by a potentially rabid dog. Then in the Season 7 opener, The Engagement, after being kept up every night by a neighbor’s ceaselessly barking dog, she enlists Kramer and Newman to orchestrate a dognapping plot that ultimately goes awry and lands all three in the can.
In The Wink, unaware that the coat she borrowed from Jerry had its pockets stuffed with her cousin’s mystery meat aka mutton, Elaine is chased by dogs, leading her to surmise that perhaps these mutts were avenging their dognapped friend.
In The Frogger (Season 9), when Jerry and George learn that their old highschool hangout—Mario’s Pizza— is closing, they decide to pay a final visit. Two likely mistakes in the episode stand out.
The first is that the storefront sign reads "Five Roses Pizza", not Mario’s (watch the clip below).
The second is that when George finds out that his top Frogger score still stands, he exclaims, “I cannot believe it’s still standing, no one’s beaten me in like ten years!”
Assuming George set the record as an 18-year-old high school senior, it would make him and Jerry 28 at the time of the episode, which is impossible. While the Seinfeld characters’ ages are rarely mentioned, by Season 9, they are over 40.
Buddy, Take It Up With Consumer Affairs
In The Wig Master (Season 7), George finds out that the “Jiffy Park” parking lot is a front for a prostitution ring and demands his deposit back. Instead, he is rebuffed by the owner who blithely tells him to “take it up with Consumer Affairs.”
The following season, Kramer agrees to help dispose of Elaine’s unwanted muffin stumps while leading his J. Peterman Reality Bus Tour (The Muffin Tops). Arriving at the “Jiffy Dump”, Kramer runs into the same owner from “Jiffy Park”, who demands to know what happened to the muffin tops before refusing to accept the stumps.
As the exasperated Kramer climbs back on the bus, he yells, “maybe I will take it up with Consumer Affairs!”, suggesting that the Jiffy Dump/Jiffy Park guy hit Kramer and George with the same sarcastic jab.
In The Caddy (Season 7), George learns that thanks to Steinbrenner wrongly assuming George works preposterously long hours, he’s on the verge of a promotion to Assistant General Manager. The problem? George’s position is Assistant to the Traveling Secretary. The absurdity of such a promotion is only exceeded in The Millennium (Season 8), when George is recruited by the Mets to be their Head of Scouting.
In The Dealership (Season 9), Jerry is trying to buy a car from Elaine’s boyfriend David Puddy, who we learn had been “promoted” from car mechanic to car salesman—an improbable career arc.
Perhaps less improbable but still far fetched is Elaine’s promotion to president of the J. Peterman catalog following Peterman’s mental breakdown and absconsion to Burma where he morphs into Colonel Kurtz. As a mere writer for the catalog with no management—never mind executive— experience, Elaine would not have been at the top of the list to succeed Peterman. Although to be fair, Peterman was the one who hastily appointed Elaine to run his company right as he was descending into madness. (FYI, J. Peterman Catalog is real.)
Steinbrenner’s Far Reaching Authority
One hilarious oddity of George's relationship with his boss, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, is the authority Steinbrenner has over George’s personal and professional life.
In The Bottle Deposit (Season 7), Steinbrenner has George committed to a mental institution following a “special project” submitted on George’s behalf by his senile boss. The idea that an employer has the legal authority to commit a subordinate to an insane asylum over a botched project is Seinfeldian gold.
Steinbrenner later trades George to Arkansas-based Tyler Chicken in exchange for only selling chicken-based snacks at Yankees Stadium (The Muffin Tops).
George’s Infeasible Wedding Timeline
In The Invitations (Season 7 finale), Elaine excitedly tells George, “You know what I just realized? The wedding is like a month away!”
George and Susan had just ordered their wedding invitations—a mere month before the wedding. The standard timeline is four to five months out.
Kramer, Newman and Cannibalism
Refusing to go to a doctor to treat his cough (The Andrea Doria, Season 8), Kramer opts to see a vet, deeming veterinarians to be superior physicians for their ability to cure “a lizard, a chicken, a pig, a frog…all on the same day.”
After taking dog medicine, Kramer begins to exhibit canine qualities, including extreme fear of abandonment. When Newman tells Kramer about his transfer to Hawaii, where “the air is so dewy sweet, you don't even have to lick the stamps”, Kramer locks on to Newman’s ankle with his teeth “like it was a soup bone.”
In The Butter Shave (Season 9 premier), Newman is intoxicated by the smell of a butter-covered Kramer sautéing on the roof. Later, when Kramer is in the hot tub squirting butter on himself to “stay juicy”, Newman is sitting next to him reading the novel Alive, the story of plane crash survivors who infamously had to resort to cannibalism in order to…well, you know, stay alive.
The cannibalistic theme culminates when Newman, no longer able to control his urges, bites an oregano and parmesan-covered Kramer.
George the Philanthropist?
In the iconic Festivus episode (officially called The Strike, season 9), George fabricates the charity “Human Fund” to get out of buying coworkers gifts. When his boss makes out a check to the Human Fund for $20,000, George contemplates embezzling the money, declaring that he would make “a kick ass philanthropist! I would have all this money, and people would love me. Then they would come to me.. And beg! And if I felt like it, I would help them out.”
Underscoring the philanthropist pipedream is George’s previous foray into philanthropy as the board member of the Susan Ross Foundation—a position that he dreaded and botched every step of the way. Furthermore, in The Label Maker episode (Season 6), after Jerry regrets giving away his Super Bowl ticket to Tim Whatley, George argues that Whatley has to return the tickets during the “grace period”. Jerry's response—“are you even vaguely familiar with the concept of giving? There's no grace period”—is a devastating indictment of George's philanthropic credentials.
George’s Rhetorical Gift
George’s fondness for old man metaphors helped spawn one of the show's most memorable quotes. In The Marine Biologist (Season 5), George tells the story of how he saved a whale, noting that "the sea was angry that day, my friends; like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli."
In The Andrea Doria, George mocks the survivor of the eponymous shipwreck by observing that "the ship took four hours to sink; it eased into the water like an old man into a nice warm bath."
Kramer’s Wallet Situation
Much like Kramer’s inconsistent bathing preferences, his take on wallets also appears to be contradictory. In The Strike, Kramer pulls out a wallet to show Jerry his business card from his past stint as a bagel shop employee. However, just two episodes later in The Reverse Peephole, Kramer mocks Jerry for carrying a wallet, claiming “they went out with powdered wigs.” So unless powdered wigs were in just a few weeks earlier, this is a hard-to-rationalize turnabout by Kramer.
Jerry, George and Kramer were all at some point wrongly implicated in prostitution scandals. In The Wig Master, Susan misconstrues George’s interaction with one of the prostitutes working at “Jiffy Park”, while Kramer’s flamboyant wardrobe and run-in with the same prostitute leads to his arrest for being a pimp.
And when Jerry tries to mend fences with his maid/girlfriend (The Maid, Season 9) by handing her money through his car window, he is pulled over on suspicion of being a John.
Kramer’s Candidate Platform
After retiring to Del Boca Vista on the heels of selling the rights to his coffee table book to Hollywood (The Wizard, Season 9), Kramer is recruited by Jerry’s dad to be his puppet candidate for condo board president. In the video montage of his campaign, Kramer's only discernible platform is to increase social security. The notion that a condo board president has oversight over social security is a delightful absurdity. As is Jerry’s mom’s lament that Morty could never run for office himself because “the press would bury him” given his ignominious resignation from the presidency of their old condo. When Jerry incredulously asks, “what press?”, his mom says, “The Condo Newsletter, the Boca Breeze”, which Morty quickly dismisses as “pinko commie rag”.
And Finally...Newman’s Impossible Mail Route
Newman's mail route taking him from Manhattan’s Upper West Side all the way to the Bronx is absurd to the point of being provably impossible.