Skip to main content

Tippy-toe! Tippy-toe!


Seinfeld
2.7: The Phone Message

The Premise

George and Jerry both have dates on the same night. Neither goes quite as planned, and in George’s case it results in him leaving an abusive message on his girlfriend’s answerphone. The only solution is to steal the tape before she plays it.

Observational

Further evidence of the gaping chasm between George and Jerry’s approaches to the world. George neurotically attacks his problems and makes them worse, while Jerry shrugs and lets them go. It’s nice to see the latter’s anal qualities announcing themselves, however; he’s so bothered that his girlfriend likes a terrible TV advert that he’s mostly relieved when she breaks things off (“To me the dialogue rings true”).

Neither Gretchen German (as Donna, Jerry’s date) nor Tory Polone (as Carol, George’s) make a huge impression, but German has more screen time and better dialogue. The main attraction is Jerry’s reactions, which include trying to impress her with his Scottish accent (“Irish, Scots. What’s the difference, laddie?”), his predilection for tan pants, and his apropos nothing account of how he has never seen I Love Lucy. Donna is outraged that he told his friends about their disagreement (“Where the Hell do you get the nerve?”) but, even though he’s on a back foot, there’s an easy-come, easy-go diffidence to Jerry’s defence (“No, I had to tell my friends. My friends didn’t have to tell you”). He’s less confident in George’s tape-swap scheme at first (“I can’t get involved in this”), until George labels him a “wuss” (a great reaction from Jerry as he has to rise to the provocation, even with such a ridiculous insult). But, when it comes to the operation, he’s as cool as a cucumber.

The tape heist involves the lamest of excuses for getting into Carol’s apartment (“He has this phobia of public toilets”) leading to Jerry’s sudden lack of bursting (“You know, it’s the damnedest thing. It went away”).

But this is George’s episode, and this is the best realisation of the character so far. Alexander is such a natural performer that you never question his timing or comic physicality. He’s hugely impressive here, as he moves from disdain at his idiocy in not recognising the invitation for sex from Carol (“People this stupid shouldn’t be allowed to live”) to a carefully strategised but idiotic plan not to call her until Wednesday (“Women don’t wanna see need”). Which meets with a classic Elaine put-down (“I don’t know what your parents did to you”; in time, we will find out).

The first answerphone message he leaves is utterly excruciating (“I don’t know what the hell I said”). Unfortunately, we only hear George’s account of the second but it’s enough to get the idea. His desperate spitballing as he attempts to distract Carol so that Jerry can make the switch involves a hilariously surreal take on the “I have to tell you something in private” confessional (“Is that what you had to tell me? Your father wears sneakers in the pool?”).

Best of the best is his never-ending ability to come up with a crappy idea that becomes legendary due to how awful it is. In this instance, it’s the signal to let Jerry know that Carol is coming back in the room (“The signal is, I’ll call out “Tippy-toe””). When Jerry doesn’t bite, we get another taste of George’s decidedly un-butch penchant for musicals (“I’ll sing, “How do you solve a problem like Maria?””)

If there’s a fault in this storyline, it’s that the pay-off doesn’t quite wash. It’s a nice idea to learn that, after all this effort, Carol has heard the messages and isn’t annoyed, but it doesn’t completely play; we don’t really believe it, other than as a gag (“You were hilarious. They were cracking me up. I just love jokes like that”).

Other George tics include his idolisation of Jerry; he’s so pleased that they have dates on the same evening, as it makes them equals and brothers. Then there’s “the vault”; George’s inability to keep a secret will frequently mess up Jerry’s plans in future. In this episode, the first thing he does when he meets Donna is gabble away about the advert (“Oh, you’re the one who likes that commercial!”). This is also an early mention of the Hamptons, a location that will feature in several classic plots.

If George hadn’t, Kramer was next in line to talk about the ad (“Cotton dockers!”), but David and Seinfeld are still getting the hang of sharing episodes between the characters. Kramer and Elaine are on the side-lines. We discover she has a brother (whom we never meet).

Jerry’s stand-up routine on soda is a bit flat (ahem), perhaps because it’s a riff that’s been heard a thousand times. But there’s also a reality poking through that, when delivered in slivers in the series, his bits often fizzle (which may be part of the reason for phasing them out). Kramer’s piss-take (although meant genuinely) suggestion for a routine is far funnier than any of the framing club sequences in the series thus far (“It’s as good as anything you do”). You have to admire how game Seinfeld is for self-mockery; it’s only his career he’s dismantling.

Quotable

Carol: Would you like to come upstairs for some coffee?
George: Uh, no thanks. I don’t drink coffee late at night. It keeps me up.

George: Coffee’s not coffee. Coffee’s sex.
Elaine: People drink coffee that late.
George: Yeah, people who work at NORAD, who are on 24-hour missile watch.

George: Tippy-toe! Tippy-toe!

Verdict:


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

Did you not just hand over a chicken to someone?

The Father (2020) (SPOILERS) I was in no great rush to see The Father , expecting it to be it to be something of an ordeal in the manner of that lavishly overpraised euthanasia-fest Amour. As with the previous Oscars, though, the Best Picture nominee I saw last turned out to be the best of the bunch. In that case, Parasite , its very title beckoning the psychic global warfare sprouting shoots around it, would win the top prize. The Father , in a year of disappointing nominees, had to settle for Best Actor. Ant’s good, naturally, but I was most impressed with the unpandering manner in which Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton approached material that might easily render one highly unstuck.