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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:


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