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…

Espionage isn’t a game, it’s a war.

The Avengers 3.3: The Nutshell
Philip Chambers first teleplay (of two) for the series, and Raymond Menmuir’s second (also of two) as director, The Nutshell is an effective little whodunit in which Steed (again) poses as a bad guy, and Cathy (again) appears to be at loggerheads with him. The difference here is how sustained the pretence is, though; we aren’t actually in on the details until the end, and the whole scenario is played decidedly straight.

Set mostly in a bunker (the Nutshell of the title), quarter of a mile underground and providing protection for the “all the best people” (civil servants bunk on level 43; Steed usually gets off at the 18th) in the event of a thermo-nuclear onslaught, the setting is something of a misdirection, since it is also a convenient place to store national security archives, known as Big Ben (Bilateral Infiltration Great Britain, Europe and North America). Big Ben has been stolen. Or rather, the microfilm with details of all known double agents on bot…

Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.

The World is Not Enough (1999)
(SPOILERS) The last Bond film of the 20th century unfortunately continues the downward trend of the Brosnan era, which had looked so promising after the reinvigorated approach to Goldeneye. The World is Not Enough’s screenplay posseses a number of strong elements (from the now ever present Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, and a sophomore Bruce Feirstein), some of which have been recycled in the Craig era, but they’ve been mashed together with ill-fitting standard Bond tropes that puncture any would-be substance (Bond’s last line before the new millennium is one Roger Moore would have relished). And while a structure that stop-starts doesn’t help the overall momentum any, nor does the listlessness of drama director Michael Apted, such that when the sporadic bursts of action do arrive there’s no disguising the joins between first and second unit, any prospect of thrills evidently unsalvageable in the edit.

Taking its cues from the curtailed media satire of Tomorr…

I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life is an unassailable classic, held up as an embodiment of true spirit of Christmas and a testament to all that is good and decent and indomitable in humanity. It deserves its status, even awash with unabashed sentimentality that, for once, actually seems fitting. But, with the reams of plaudits aimed at Frank Capra’s most enduring film, it is also worth playing devil’s advocate for a moment or two. One can construe a number of not nearly so life-affirming undercurrents lurking within it, both intentional and unintentional on the part of its director. And what better time to Grinch-up such a picture than when bathed in the warmth of a yuletide glow?

The film was famously not a financial success on initial release, as is the case with a number of now hallowed movies, its reputation burgeoning during television screenings throughout the 1970s. Nevertheless, It’s a Wonderful Life garnered a brace of Oscar nominations including Best Picture and…

Perhaps I am dead. Perhaps we’re both dead. And this is some kind of hell.

The Avengers 5.7: The Living Dead
The Living Dead occupies such archetypal Avengers territory that it feels like it must have been a more common plotline than it was; a small town is the cover for invasion/infiltration, with clandestine forces gathering underground. Its most obvious antecedent is The Town of No Return, and certain common elements would later resurface in Invasion of the Earthmen. This is a lot broader than Town, however, the studio-bound nature making it something of a cosy "haunted house" yarn, Scooby Doo style.

What if I tell you to un-punch someone, what you do then?

Incredibles 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Incredibles 2 may not be as fresh as the first outing – indeed, certain elements of its plotting border on the retread – but it's equally, if not more, inventive as a piece of animation, and proof that, whatever his shortcomings may be philosophically, Brad Bird is a consummately talented director. This is a movie that is consistently very funny, and which is as thrilling as your average MCU affair, but like Finding Dory, you may understandably end up wondering if it shouldn't have revolved around something a little more substantial to justify that fifteen-year gap in reaching the screen.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Well, in this case, the cats are going to kill the curious.

The Avengers 5.8: The Hidden Tiger
Another of the season's apparent run-on ideas, as the teaser depicts a character's point-of-view evisceration by aggressor unknown. Could this be the Winged Avenger at work? No, it's, as the title suggests, an attacker of the feline persuasion. If that's deeply unconvincing once revealed, returning director Sidney Havers makes the attacks themselves highly memorable, as the victims attempt to fend off claws or escape them in slow motion.

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 …

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…