Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Off Kilter TV: 
Where Horror Rears its Ugly Head on Family Television

A Critique by Anthony Servante


SEINFELD: The Bizarro Jerry Season 8, Episode 3 

The 137th Episode

Off Kilter TV: Introduction
On family television, we normally expect to find comedy from Sitcoms like I Love Lucy, drama from Perry Mason, adventure from Bonanza, and suspense from Mission: Impossible. What we don't expect to find is Lucy killing a homeless man, Perry Mason defending an android, Little Joe entering a haunted ghost town, or the IM crew outwitting a supernatural criminal. Such shows would be off kilter, introducing elements of horror to otherwise normal family television shows past and present. I'm not talking about "It was all a dream" endings or Scooby Doo finales that have rational explanations for the supernatural villains. No, I'm talking about straight-on oddities or out-of-place events and proceedings that do not fit the expected routines common to the overall timber of the show. For those of you familiar with this column, you know I like to find episodes in popular TV shows that do not fit the mold of the regular format. For those of you visiting this column for the first time, welcome to my examination of "The Bizarro Seinfeld".

Let's get to it.

The Bizarro Seinfeld

The Summary:
After breaking up with Kevin and becoming "just friends", Elaine meets Kevin's circle of friends and experiences his lifestyle; she notices that Kevin's life is the exact opposite of Jerry's life. Meanwhile, Seinfeld dates a woman with "man-hands", huge construction worker's hands that are not indicative of the woman's beauty. George uses a picture of Gillian to enter the "forbidden city", a night-club that is not what it appears to be. And Kramer is swept into a job when he is mistakenly taken for an employee, and he begins to take the work seriously although he doesn't even know what it is he's supposed to be doing there. The work begins to alter his relationship with his neighbor Jerry.

The Cast::
Jerry Seinfeld – Jerry Seinfeld.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Elaine Benes.
Michael Richards – Cosmo Kramer.
Jason Alexander – George Costanza.
Tim DeKay – Kevin / Bizarro Jerry.
Kristin Bauer – Gillian.
Pat Kilbane – Feldman / Bizarro Kramer.
Kyle T. Heffner – Gene / Bizarro George (credited as Kyle T. Heener)

The Critique: 
Season 8, Episode 3 features four elements that make the story stray from its normally “about nothing” format. The first element is the bizarre world where Elaine discovers alternate versions of her primary group of friends. The second is the mythical creature “man-hands”, half beautiful woman, half giant appendages. The third is the supernatural where George Costanza attends a nightclub that doesn’t exist. Cosmo works diligently where he is not employed and begins to take on a "marriage" appearance with Jerry. Let’s look at each element more closely.

In a traditional episode of SEINFELD, Jerry and his friends enter situations where their foibles are exploited for laughs. In one episode, for instance, George buys a cream from China that is supposed to stop and reverse balding. George must have the Chinese food delivery man translate his order to China for the cream and later finds that the hair tonic stinks. Kramer takes pictures of the hair's before and after "growth" while Jerry tries to figure out which of his female fans left him a tape with explicitly suggestive language. That's it. No big denouement. No grand moral to the story. That pretty much describes an average SEINFELD show.

In "The Bizarro Jerry", the elements of horror and the absurd seep into the production. Elaine breaks off her relationship with her boyfriend Kevin and suggests that they become "just friends". Kevin is taken with the idea, starting the whole "bizarro" notion. Bizarro, in the Superman comics (which Jerry collects and admires) is an absurd version of Superman: where Superman appears human, Bizarro Superman has a white face with craggy skin like broken blocks of ice. The most prominent feature of Bizarro is that he inflects his sentences with reverse subjects and objects; "I like her" becomes "Me like her", and so on. When Elaine meets Kevin's friends, Gene and Feldman, she finds that their likes are opposite to Jerry and his male friends' likes (Kevin's group reads, Jerry's doesn't; Kevin's is helpful; Jerry's is selfish). She tells Jerry about this odd duality, and Jerry explains the world of Bizarro Superman to her. Thereafter, Kevin is referred to as Bizarro Jerry, Gene as Bizarro George, and Feldman as Bizarro Kramer. Although Elaine prefers Kevin's group, she finds that her behavior is the opposite of what they expect from a friend, since she behaves as if she were with Jerry's group, where she has always been and has been accepted.

Bizarro Mirror Images

Note: It is odd that there is no Bizarro Elaine in this episode, but that one should exist that we don't meet since Elaine clearly has stepped out of her "human" realm to hang around with the Bizarro friends. Elaine returns to Jerry's group, but Kevin's group remains Elaine-less, neither human nor Bizarro.


The second element to emerge from this off kilter episode is the "creature" Jerry describes as "man-hands". On his first date with Gillian, Jerry is taken aback by the monstrous size of her hands. He later tells Elaine of Gillian, "The hands of a man. Like a creature out of Greek mythology. She was part human, part horrible beast." As Seinfeld tries to concentrate of Gillian's lovely countenance, she finds ways to intrude her hands into the date, cracking a lobster with her bare hands and wiping a smudge from Jerry's face with her calloused fingers. After he decides to stop seeing her, he accepts another date with her in order to steal a photo of her for George (we'll discuss that next). Gillian catches him and grabs his hand holding the photo. Later we see Jerry's arm in a sling, suggesting that her grip was so powerful that she caused his arm damage.

The third element is a mysterious nightclub that only appears to the super-famous and beautiful people. George refers to the place as "the forbidden city". He gains entrance when he shows a picture of Gillian (Jerry's date) to a beautiful receptionist and tells her it is a photo of his late fiancee, Susan (who died licking the envelops for her wedding event to George and is poisoned by the old glue that seals the invitations). At the nightclub, George continues to show the photo to other pretty girls and is invited back to the club. He shares his success with the beautiful people at the club with Jerry and invites his friend to join him on his next visit. However, George accidentally destroys the photo and asks Jerry to get him another from Gillian. Jerry does not succeed and when George returns to the nightclub alone with a photo cut from a magazine, his charade is discovered and he is escorted from the club. He does return though with Jerry in tow just to prove to Jerry that he was at this forbidden club, but finds that the place is a meat-packing factory and there is no sign whatsoever that a club ever existed. George knows there was a club, but Jerry assumes he was lying--again. Ironically, as they leave the factory, the camera moves over the photo that George clipped from the magazine. We know that George was there. But was the nightclub there? The term "forbidden city" takes on a whole new air of meaning. Was it real or do the "beautiful people" have their own reality? And did George glimpse their reality? The question in the episode remains a mystery.

The Forbidden City

The last element involves Kramer and the job he undertakes. While Cosmo is standing in an office, he is swept into a meeting at the corporation. The other employees never question his appearance and accept him as one of the team. Kramer is so taken by the job that he begins going to work every day. The odd element here isn't that Cosmo is working for no pay whatsoever, but that his relationship with Jerry turns absurd in the classic sense of the word. Think of the word as the "bizarro" of today. Something peculiar that one would find in a David Lynch film: a little person speaking in reverse, a stranger walking into a strange house he's never been in and sitting down to dinner, while everyone at the table (mom, dad, daughter and son) accept him without question. The reversal in this case is that Kramer and Jerry begin to act like a married couple. Jerry complains of Kramer's late hours at work and that his dinner got cold. He also complains that Kramer never takes him out anymore and that their relationship may be in trouble. Kramer begins to develop an ulcer from working too hard (although he's only been there a few days). Eventually someone at Kramer's job realizes that Cosmo doesn't know what he's doing and terminates him. Kramer says that he never really worked there, and his boss repeats the words with the secondary meaning that, "No, he never truly was working there (as have all the other hard workers)".

Jerry Complains about Kramer's New Job

Jerry's group returns to normal once Elaine, George and Kramer return to their normal roles, and the episode ends with the Bizarro group (Kevin, Feldman, and Gene) giving a group hug while Kevin says in Bizarro World fashion, "Me so happy".

As an Off Kilter episode of family TV, The Bizarro Jerry utilizes elements of bizarro absurdity, grotesque mythological creatures, supernatural nightclubs, and an absurd role reversal for Jerry and Kramer. The visit to the Bizarro World is short-lived for our heroes, but, as we see at the end of the episode, it continues for Kevin and his friends. Me so happy too with this episode.

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