1.3: The Stakeout
Jerry “stakes out” the lobby of an office building in order to contact a woman he met at a birthday dinner.
It’s true to say that Seinfeld only hits its stride during Season Three. There are a couple of standouts before that but the standard is mostly agreeable but not quite “gold dust”; it’s always watchable for the characters but rarely hits high notes in plotting.
The Stakeout features the first classic conversation between George and Jerry. Waiting in the lobby, George attempts to confabulate a narrative that will explain their presence, so giving birth to one of the series great aliases; Art Vanderlay (“He’s an importer-exporter, okay?”). His desire to pass himself off as an architect also makes its first of many appearances, and Alexander is always at his best conveying George’s childish excitement/frustration/exasperation.
The dinner party establishes Jerry’s affable social breeziness (“I didn’t bring anything”), which operates distinctly to Kramer’s straight-up lack of awareness. Jerry’s unruffled self-confidence is regularly used to reap comic dividends through commenting on behavioural norms. Unlike Kramer, Jerry is only selectively free from embarrassments or faux pas, but he still tends to emerge unconcerned by his encounters by the end credits (because he’s the optimist, things work out); this will even be the subject of an episode in a later season (The Opposite).
Louise-Dreyfus is a wonder, and the scene where she recounts her bizarre dream to a disinterested Jerry is a highlight of the episode. The dinner party scene was based on Larry David’s experience of going to a party with an ex- and not feeling comfortable hitting on a woman there whom he found attractive. At this point the emphasis on Jerry and Elaine as exs is more “current”, with Jerry concerned about what she will hear and his parents going on about her (although they will continue to do so). Their small talk during the opening video store scene takes in porno movies, but as ever with the series does so buy not directly stating them as such.
Liz Sheridan is the familiar face of Jerry’s Mom but Ron Steelman plays Artie for one time only. You can see why they recast the part, as he’s entirely affable with no edge at all. Jerry’s forthright way of changing the subject of Elaine is amusing (“And there was a little problem of physical chemistry”).
Not a great Kramer episode, but his inventive approach to Scrabble gets a few laughs (“No, we need a medical dictionary”). Lynn Clark shows great comic timing, so its little surprise that she returns a couple of episodes later (David has noted that he’s a strong advocate of continuity, which goes to explain the revisions of errors or casting changes in some of the earlier episodes to make them more unified).
Vanessa: What do you design?
Jerry: Do you date immature men?
Vanessa: Almost exclusively.
Elaine: You were you, but you weren’t you… You turned around, but you had these wooden teeth.
Jerry: (internal monologue, repeating the name of Vanessa’s law firm in order to remember it) Sagman, Bennett, Robbins, Oppenheim and Taft. Sagman, Bennett, Robbins, Oppenheim and Taft. Sagman, Bennett, Robbins, Oppenheim and Taft.