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

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Right! Let’s restore some bloody logic!

It Couldn't Happen Here (1987)
(SPOILERS) "I think our film is arguably better than Spiceworld" said Neil Tennant of his and Chris Lowe's much-maligned It Couldn't Happen Here, a quasi-musical, quasi-surrealist journey through the English landscape via the Pet shop Boys' "own" history as envisaged by co-writer-director Jack Bond. Of course, Spiceworld could boast the presence of the illustrious Richard E Grant, while It Couldn't Happen Here had to settle for Gareth Hunt. Is its reputation deserved? It's arguably not very successful at being a coherent film (even thematically), but I have to admit that I rather like it, ramshackle and studiously aloof though it is.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

You kind of look like a slutty Ebola virus.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
(SPOILERS) The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians – in the US at any rate, thus far – might lead one to think it's some kind of startling original, but the truth is, whatever its core demographic appeal, this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel taps into universally accepted romantic comedy DNA and readily recognisable tropes of family and class, regardless of cultural background. It emerges a smoothly professional product, ticking the expected boxes in those areas – the heroine's highs, lows, rejections, proposals, accompanied by whacky scene-stealing best friend – even if the writing is sometimes a little on the clunky side.

They make themselves now.

Screamers (1995)
(SPOILERS) Adapting Philip K Dick isn’t as easy as it may seem, but that doesn't stop eager screenwriters from attempting to hit that elusive jackpot. The recent Electric Dreams managed to exorcise most of the existential gymnastics and doubts that shine through in the best versions of his work, leaving material that felt sadly facile. Dan O'Bannon had adapted Second Variety more than a decade before it appeared as Screamers, a period during which he and Ronald Shusett also turned We Can Remember It For You Wholesale into Total Recall. So the problem with Screamers isn't really the (rewritten) screenplay, which is more faithful than most to its source material (setting aside). The problem with Screamers is largely that it's cheap as chips.

Well, we took a vote. Predator’s cooler, right?

The Predator (2018)
(SPOILERS) Is The Predator everything you’d want from a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator (or Yautja, or Hish-Qu-Ten, apparently)? Emphatically not. We've already had a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator – or the other way around, at least – and that was on another level. The problem – aside from the enforced reshoots, and the not-altogether-there casting, and the possibility that full-on action extravaganzas, while delivered competently, may not be his best foot forward – is that I don't think Black's really a science-fiction guy, game as he clearly was to take on the permanently beleaguered franchise. He makes The Predator very funny, quite goofy, very gory, often entertaining, but ultimately lacking a coherent sense of what it is, something you couldn't say of his three prior directorial efforts.

My pectorals may leave much to be desired, Mrs Peel, but I’m the most powerful man you’ve ever run into.

The Avengers 2.23: The Positive-Negative Man
If there was a lesson to be learned from Season Five, it was not to include "man" in your title, unless it involves his treasure. The See-Through Man may be the season's stinker, but The Positive-Negative Man isn't far behind, a bog-standard "guy with a magical science device uses it to kill" plot. A bit like The Cybernauts, but with Michael Latimer painted green and a conspicuous absence of a cool hat.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

The possibilities are gigantic. In a very small way, of course.

The Avengers 5.24: Mission… Highly Improbable
With a title riffing on a then-riding-high US spy show, just as the previous season's The Girl from Auntie riffed on a then-riding-high US spy show, it's to their credit that neither have even the remotest connection to their "inspirations" besides the cheap gags (in this case, the episode was based on a teleplay submitted back in 1964). Mission… Highly Improbable follows in the increasing tradition (certainly with the advent of Season Five and colour) of SF plotlines, but is also, in its particular problem with shrinkage, informed by other recent adventurers into that area.

What a truly revolting sight.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (aka Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) (2017)
(SPOILERS) The biggest mistake the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels have made is embracing continuity. It ought to have been just Jack Sparrow with an entirely new cast of characters each time (well, maybe keep Kevin McNally). Even On Stranger Tides had Geoffrey Rush obligatorily returning as Barbossa. Although, that picture’s biggest problem was its director; Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge has a pair of solid helmers in Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, which is a relief at least. But alas, the continuity is back with a vengeance. And then some. Why, there’s even an origin-of-Jack Sparrow vignette, to supply us with prerequisite, unwanted and distracting uncanny valley (or uncanny Johnny) de-aging. The movie as a whole is an agreeable time passer, by no means the dodo its critical keelhauling would suggest, albeit it isn’t even pretending to try hard to come up with …