Seinfeld Recap of “The Phone Message” Season 2 Episode 4
Akiva and Rob got together once again to discuss the next episode of Seinfeld called “The Phone Message”. Akiva pointed out that this episode is quite ubiquitous, in that through reruns, he’s seen it roughly 70 times. Rob opined that it probably does not hold up well for those watching that are under 30, since they may not even know what an answering machine is. Both agreed that this was a great episode, and Rob slated it number three so far, just behind “The Pony Remark” and “The Jacket”. Akiva agreed that “The Pony Remark” still holds the proverbial belt.
They gave a brief synopsis before dissecting the episode in detail. Rob said that the episode involves the perils of the love lives for Jerry and George. Both have dates on the same night, and both go wrong in their own ways. Jerry gets into an argument about a television commercial, where George mistakenly assumes an invite up to her apartment for coffee was just for coffee and not anything more. He tries to get a hold of her to rectify the mistake, but gets her answering machine each time.
The episode opens with Jerry doing a bit about the ridiculous enthusiasm people show in commercials. Even if a person is drinking the same soda from the commercial, there is never the excitement happening in real life. Rob and Akiva debated if it is the same in 2014, but Akiva said with DVRs and smartphones, he doesn’t ever see a commercial anymore. The beginning scene has Jerry and George walking into Monk’s Diner discussing how they both have dates on Saturday. George talks about how his self esteem with women is so low, he can never tell if when the smile at him, it’s because they like him or some other reason. He goes on to tell Jerry how when he makes the phone call to ask her out, he likes to eat something like an apple so he can seem casual. Akiva noticed how they chose to sit at the counter and not the booth that would become their main spot over the course of the series.
We see the dates. George is talking to Carol about how he hates doing laundry so much, his goal is to get 365 pairs of underwear so he only has to do it once a year. His date seems to think this funny rather than gross. Meanwhile, on Jerry’s date, he jokes with Donna about trying out a funny accent. Rob wondered about this, since Jerry is not known for impressions. The scene cuts back to George, who is doing really well. Carol invites him up for coffee, which George declines since coffee keeps him up if he has it this late. After the awkward pause, George realizes that she didn’t want coffee, that the invite was for something more. Akiva and Rob discussed if Carol really meant coffee, sex, or something in between. They both agreed that it was not for coffee, but sex was probably not happening since George would have said something to ruin it anyway.
Jerry’s date would invite him up to her apartment, but it’s being painted, so she suggests they go back to his place. Jerry jokes with her that there is no cake there or anything. Rob and Akiva wondered why it was okay for her to be in her painted apartment, but he couldn’t come up. Rob thought perhaps the show just didn’t want to build a set for Donna’s apartment, and this was a way to keep Jerry from asking her to come up. Back at his apartment, Jerry and Donna are watching TV and chit chatting. Jerry laments wearing tan pants, which makes them both think of the cotton Dockers commercial. Jerry hates it and Donna really likes it, which turns Jerry off. Akiva was surprised that anyone would take such a strong stance like Donna did about a commercial. Rob read an excerpt from Wikipedia that explains how this storyline was based off of Jerry’s real life dislike of the cotton Dockers commercial.
Between scenes, there is another Jerry standup routine. In this one, he talks about the scrutiny and magnification of all things when on a date. Rob and Akiva felt that scrutiny on a date is important, in that it helps weed out the ones that have deal breakers. Next, back at Jerry’s apartment, Elaine and Jerry are discussing Donna. Jerry laments how could he date someone who likes this commercial. Elaine mentions how she once broke up with a guy because he had a messy bathroom.
George then walks in with some Pepto-Bismol, and is still rambling about his stupidity in turning down the “coffee”. Replaying the conversation over and over, he shares that people as stupid as him shouldn’t be allowed to live. They continue to debate whether coffee meant coffee or not. Elaine tries to convince George that it could have meant coffee. Rob noticed how Elaine, in later seasons, would have had a more definitive voice on this issue as the female of the group. Akiva referenced the Yada Yada episode where she gave a definitive answer on what yada yada meant. Then they discussed how in the early episodes, George is generally triumphant and Elaine is a bit of a loser, but then it flip flops right around when George gets fired. They both did feel that George is as close to who the character eventually turns into more so than any of the others.
Elaine tries to convince George to call Carol right away, but George wants to wait until Wednesday to not appear desperate. Elaine says she likes when a guy calls the next day, but George points out that she probably likes this guy, and that he’s not a guy who would turn down an invite for coffee. Kramer comes in with a joke about ambulances in New York City, and how no one gets out of the way for them anymore. He offers it to Jerry to use in his act, but Jerry says he writes his own jokes. Kramer argues that it’s as good as any joke Jerry does. Akiva mentioned that this is the only scene that had Kramer and Elaine in it. He thought that they are still trying to figure out how to make Kramer a part of story lines at this point in the series.
George seems to take Elaine’s advice, as he kicks everyone, including Jerry out of the apartment so he can call Carol. He asks Jerry for an apple, but Jerry tells him to skip the eating. Rob decided that it would be best to read word for word the gold that is George’s message to Carol. “Hi, it’s George, George Costanza. Remember me? The guy who didn’t want to come up for coffee? You see, I didn’t realize that coffee didn’t really mean, well, whatever. Anyway, it was fun, it was, um, it was fun. So, oh boy, so, um, call me back. If you want. It’s up to you. You know, whatever you want to do. Either way, the ball’s in your court, so, take it easy!” Rob called it a rough message, and Akiva said while it’s a minute to watch it, it felt like an hour of painfulness. He added that this is Jason Alexander at his very best.
When everyone comes back in, George says he’s a “dead man” for the message he left. Elaine gives him the idea to go to her apartment and switch out the tape. She talks about how her brother in law saved himself a ton of money by pulling this off, since the message had some private business information. Akiva pointed out that this is the third time that a character has mentioned a nonexistent sibling in the early episodes. Meanwhile, George is getting more and more upset, but hasn’t decided if he should go through with the switching of the tapes.
The next day, back at Jerry’s apartment, Donna is there. George comes in, and when he meets Donna, he mentions that she must be the lady who likes the cotton Dockers commercial. She is mad about this, and George tries to backtrack by telling her he really likes the commercial too. She calls Jerry out for sharing this with his friends, and continues to defend her stance on it, while Jerry continues to tease her about it. Kramer then walks in, and immediately says “cotton Dockers!” to Donna, who has had enough and storms out. Akiva and Rob did not care for the Donna character. Akiva said it’s a goodbye to Jerry girlfriend number two out of the 67 total in the series. This scene was also the first mention of someone being a “vault” when it comes to keeping secrets.
In Monk’s Diner, Jerry and George talk about how George continued to call back Carol over the last few days, with each message getting more and more desperate. He proclaimed that in the last message, he sounded like Mussolini shouting from the balcony. Among his other rants, one of the things he says in the messages is how he doesn’t like coffee, and that he would hope for her to offer him it again, so he could spit it in her face. It turned out that she wasn’t ignoring him, but she was in the Hamptons, and hasn’t checked her messages, but wanted to meet up again with him when she’s back in town. George officially decides that he needs to get into her apartment so he can switch the tapes. He convinces Jerry to help with the plan, stating that he thinks he might be in love with her, so it’s very important.
While George and Jerry are sitting on the front stoop waiting for Carol to return to her apartment, they discuss a code word for if she tries to walk back into the room and spoil the plan. George suggests “tippy toe”, but Jerry wasn’t having it. Next George suggests he could sing “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria” from The Sound of Music. This was the second reference to a Broadway musical in as many weeks, fitting since Jason Alexander’s roots are in the theater. Jerry then suggests “Lemon Tree”, but before they could decide, Carol walks up. After several attempts to try and get into her apartment, George takes Carol aside to reveal that Jerry has a phobia of public bathrooms, so could they please use hers. Rob and Akiva both shared that they aren’t crazy about public bathrooms. Akiva would trade six months of laundry doing in exchange for not having to take his kids into a public toilet. Carol agrees to go up, since she can check her phone messages anyway.
When up in the apartment, Jerry says it’s the darndest thing, but he doesn’t have to go anymore. When Carol makes a move for her answering machine, George quickly deflects, telling her he has to share something very important in the other room. Jerry makes a quick move to the machine, but Carol comes back out quickly to tell him she recognizes him as a comedian, with George running behind her yelling “tippy toe, tippy toe, lemon tree”. George tells her that it was very rude to barge out when he has something so important to share, and escorts her back to the other room. Jerry gets the tapes switched, and when Carol and George come out, Carol wonders why it was so important to tell her that his dad wears sneakers in the pool. Akiva and Rob felt that this was the perfect thing for George to say. Akiva added that you could totally see Frank Costanza wearing sneakers in a pool.
Carol checks her messages, which there are none, and shares with them that her neighbor played her previous messages, and the ones George left were so funny, she likes jokes like that, making all their work, all their scheming for not, which is a common type of ending to many Seinfeld episodes. In the end credits, Jerry’s standup is about how he wishes he could be a phone machine, that way, if someone came up to him on the street, he could just say how he can’t talk right now. Akiva felt that it was a weak joke, but did find his second joke about not being able to slam down a cordless phone funny.
The guys take a voicemail question from Travis who asks them what they think is weirder, buying 365 pairs of underwear, or wearing sneakers in the pool. Akiva thought that sneakers in the pool is weirder, since having that many pairs of underwear is not a glaring thing for others to see. Next they read an email from Doug Reiser who asked them who they thought left better phone messages, George Costanza, or Mikey from the movie Swingers. Rob answered George, since Mikey left the messages all in a row, and his lady told him to get lost, whereas George’s lady found his messages funny.
A few production notes Akiva researched about the episode were discussed. This episode was written in two days by Larry and Jerry after an episode they intended to go with was deemed too inappropriate at the table read. Another tidbit was that the actress who played Carol never appeared in anything else after this role.
Next week, Akiva and Rob will talk about “The Apartment”. Send in your questions and feedback by voicemail at postshowrecaps.com/voicemail, or by emailing them at [email protected]. You can follow each of them on twitter @robcesternino and @keev26.
Next week, Akiva and Rob will talk about “The Apartment”. Send in your questions and feedback by voicemail atpostshowrecaps.com/voicemail, or by emailing them at [email protected]. You can follow each of them on twitter @robcesternino and @keev26.
Thanks to Mike Moore for this week’s episode recap!