What’s Going On? Nothing. Then It Must Be Seinfeld.

August 13 is International Left Handers Day. Looking at classic television shows, there are plenty of famous left handers to celebrate including Pierce Brosnan from Remington Steel, Lisa Kudrow from Friends, Sarah Jessica Parker from Square Pegs, Goldie Hawn from Laugh In, Bruce Willis from Moonlighting, Mary Kate Olsen from Full House, Drew Carey from The Drew Carey Show and Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Tim Allen from Home Improvement and Last Man Standing, and Ed O’Neill from Married . . . with Children and Modern Family.

Any of these actors would be worth writing a blog on, but today we are going to concentrate on a show that featured two left handers: Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander. Seinfeld celebrated the continuing misadventures of neurotic New York City stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his equally neurotic New York City friends.

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This show, always defined as being about nothing, was on for nine years, producing 173 episodes. The show featured one of the most unique concepts for a sitcom.  Like Burns and Allen, Jerry Seinfeld stars as himself, a comedian. He and three of his closest friends live in New York City and we get to listen in to their conversations, adventures, and boring daily chores. Each of the main characters has his or her own quirky traits.

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Debuting in 1989, the show was created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David. The characters were based on people they knew. Jerry’s best friend was George Costanza (Jason Alexander). His ex-girlfriend and now close friend Elaine Benes (Julia Louis Dreyfus) was often stopping by his apartment to discuss life. Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), known as “Kramer,” lived across the hall from Jerry.

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Jerry is usually the calm in the storm in the group, handing out advice and being the voice of reason. He is a germaphobe and a neat freak. He always has a box or two of cereal on top of his refrigerator and we often see him eating it. He also loves the Mets. Jerry was an Abbot and Costello fan in real life and if you watch the show closely, you will see many references to the show and the actors.

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George has been Jerry’s friend since high school. He has a lot of poor traits including being cheap, a liar, and often petty. He often uses an alias, Art Vandelay, as part of his elaborate lies. However, he is loyal to Jerry.  Other actors considered for the role were Danny DeVito, Nathan Lane, David Alan Grier, Kevin Dunn, and Brad Hall.

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Elaine is trying to find Mr. Right but has to date a lot of Mr. Wrongs to get there. She is sometimes to honest for her own good. She has several jobs during the course of the series. Dreyfus beat out Rosie O’Donnell, Patricia Heaton, Mariska Hargitay, Jessica Lundy, Amy Yasbeck, and Megan Mullally for the role.

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Kramer is his wacky neighbor. He wears vintage clothes and is a bit naïve, but intelligent and caring.  As Kramer (Michael Richards) became more popular, his entrance applause grew so prolonged, that the cast complained it was ruining the pacing of their scenes. Directors subsequently asked the audience not to applaud so much when Kramer entered.

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Another recurring character on the show is Newman played by Wayne Knight. Newman lives in the same apartment building as Jerry. He’s a mailman. He bonds with Kramer but doesn’t like Jerry at all.

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Many episodes are based on real life experiences of Seinfeld and David.  Characters and plots from past shows are often referenced or expanded on. Like real life friends who have inside jokes, several themes reappear. Plots are often everyday activities. In one show, Jerry, George, and Elaine spend the episode waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant.

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Like Friends, it truly was an ensemble cast. While the audience loved Kramer, each of the characters was equally important. In a May 14, 2018 Variety story, authored by Scott Huver, who was reflecting on the popularity of the show, Jason was discussing the last episode. His quote sums up how crucial they all were: “And he (Jerry) said this really beautiful thing. He said, ‘For the rest of our lives when anybody thinks of one of us, they will think of the four of us, and I can’t think of any people that I would rather have that be true of.’ And as we all began to weep over the fact that Jerry had said that, that’s when they started calling our names and we had to go out and pretend that everything’s just hunky dory.”

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Unlike many other shows, Seinfeld was slow to gain a fan following. In season four, they finally it the top 30.  However, the show ranked number one for its entire final year.

Jerry Seinfeld received five Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, but never won. The show was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series from 1992-1998 but only won the Emmy in 1993.

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Jerry Seinfeld turned down an offer from NBC that would have made him one hundred ten million dollars for a tenth season of the show.  There was talk this past year about a Seinfeld revival. After watching Will and Grace’s revival, I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Rarely do revivals live up to their predecessor’s quality.

The finale was viewed by 76 million people. Many fans found the show offensive. The entire group of friends are taken to jail for violating the Good Samaritan law in Massachusetts. They watch an overweight man being robbed and instead of getting help, they mock him.

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None of the friends did the right thing, but perhaps Seinfeld and Alexander can be excused since they were left-handed. Finales are tough especially for a much-beloved show and this one did not do the show justice. In my opinion, it deserved a more creative going away party.

All Hail to the Grief

Monday is Presidents Day, and as I mention that fact, I can hear the collective groans.  Whether you’re in the Hate Trump or Love Trump camp, you are probably thoroughly sick of politics.  Believe me, I hear you. However, today we are going to look at presidential moments in television. And before you exit out, be assured I am not talking about the Nixon-Kennedy debates.  We’re going to look at my top television episodes that featured a president.

Several series have included presidents with people dressed in costumes at Halloween parties.  George Washington showed up on Growing Pains in 1990 and on the first episode of The Munsters in 1964, while Thomas Jefferson appeared on Mike and Molly in 2011. I mention the roles, but we’re not going to concentrate on them.

Several candidates also made whistle stops campaigning on television.  Thomas Jefferson was on Simon and Simon in 1986 when they were trying to recover a family journal, Teddy Roosevelt was on The Virginian in 1962 fighting with the Rough Riders, and Franklin Roosevelt was a minor character on Wonder Woman in 1975, when she used her super powers to return a wounded WWII pilot to Washington. In 2002, Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson all made an appearance on Sabrina the Teenage Witch to convince her aunt not to run for city council. Because these were minor appearances and the shows were not about the presidents, I did not include them in my top five.

Here are my top five television episodes featuring a president as a character.

No. 5 – Bewitched: “George Washington Zapped Here” – 1972. When I saw a Bewitched episode that starred George Washington, I was sure I had my number 1 show for this blog.  Then I watched the show.  I tend to look at Bewitched almost as two different shows.  I love the first five years and include them in some of my all-time favorite tv episodes.  It was one of the best fantasy shows ever created, but by the last season the fantasy had died. The last season, including this episode, is like trying to watch a wrinkled, saggy grandmother trying to pull off wearing a mini skirt and go-go boots.  It’s a bit frustrating, a bit humorous, fairly sad, and extremely uncomfortable. If George Washington had a premonition about appearing in this episode, I’m sure he would have found a way to ban television in the Constitution.

Trying to help Tabitha with her homework, Esmeralda zaps George Washington to the present time. George is played by Will Geer. I feel like this theme of zapping historical figures happened more often than it should have during this show’s run.  Also, Esmeralda is not as likeable a character as Aunt Clara or Uncle Arthur. Of course, Washington wanders off and is arrested for speaking without a permit.  The only thing more painful than watching this show was the realization that it was a two-parter; the second episode has George going before a local judge and finally being exonerated by the truth. Talking about truth reminds me when George said, “I cannot tell a lie”, and I have to admit this episode is dreadful. Apparently, politics was just as painful 45 years ago as it is today.

No. 4 – Dharma and Greg: “Dutch Treat” – 2001. Numbers 3 and 4 are really a toss-up.  Abraham Lincoln stars in both shows, and he appears in dreams in both episodes. This sitcom was on the air from 1997 to 2002 starring Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson as a young couple who eloped on their first date.  She was raised by hippy parents and he comes from a wealthy family. The show earned eight Golden Globe and six Emmy nominations, and Elfman won the Best Actress Golden Globe in 1999. This episode was a bit too formulaic for me, so Drew Carey beat it out for number 3 in my list.

In this show, Dharma and Greg argue about being a role model for their young college friend.  During the argument they both claim to be independent, so they decide to go dutch for a week to find out which one is truly independent. Of course, they end up realizing they are dependent on each other during the experiment.   Peter, Greg’s coworker, has some weird dreams during the show.  At the end of the episode, Peter leaves for lunch with a bunch of Victoria’s Secret models who think he’s hot (he’s not), and Abraham Lincoln arrives at the office for a consultation with Peter. Dharma and Greg inform him Peter is out and invite him to lunch with them.  He takes off his hat to reveal it is full of waffles. At this point, Dharma informs Greg that they are now in Peter’s dream and the show ends. Abe is played by Ryan Stiles and, by chance, our no. 3 show features Stiles as a cast member.

No. 3 – The Drew Carey Show: “Drew’s in a Coma” – 2001. From 1995-2004, Drew portrays the average guy. He works at a department store and has a group of friends he hangs out with, primarily at the Warsaw Tavern.  Ryan Stiles is one of these friends, who played Abe Lincoln in the Dharma and Greg episode. He also appeared on Drew’s improv show, Whose Line Is It Anyway?.

In this episode, Drew is in an auto accident and goes into a coma.  His friends and family try to bring him out of it, but he is enjoying his unconscious dreams.  We see him in an apartment with a bunch of sexy women. Mimi is his sister-in-law who wears flamboyant make-up.  They have a love/hate relationship, but in his dreams, she is very conservative looking and tells him she is his slave, being very respectful.  He has a pizza tree, a beer fountain, and a door that opens to the greatest moments in sports featuring himself.  After several attempts to bring him out of the coma, his family gets ready to pull the plug to see if it shocks his body into waking up.  When they unplug the respirator, Drew is in the middle of a Trivial Pursuit game with William Shakespeare and Abe Lincoln.  (Abe is played by Charles Brame, and he also was Abe Lincoln on the Growing Pains episode mentioned in the second paragraph of the blog.)  Abe is excelling at all the history questions, until Drew reads him a shocking question.  The card asks “Who shot Abraham Lincoln?” The shock Abe feels equals the one Drew feels when he is unplugged and it forces him to realize he has to choose between going on to heaven or back to his life on earth. In the words of his fellow gamer, he had to decide “to be or not to be” and he chooses to return to earth for a while.

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No. 2 – Spin City: “A Tree Falls in Manhattan” – 2001. Spin City is about a group of city hall employees who work to help the mayor.  Mike, played by Michael J. Fox, is great at his job but he is leaving to get married and travel around the world.  The staff covers up for the mayor who is not very competent, but they struggle with their personal lives.  I did not watch Spin City a lot when it was on the air from 1996 to 2002. This was a funny episode, so it came in at number 2, even though Washington is only an on-air character for a minute or two.

Trying to impress his new girlfriend so they can watch the sun rise over the East River, the mayor orders a tree outside the mansion to be cut down, not realizing that it was a tree planted by George Washington and is protected. Charlie tells a girl he picks up that night about the tree story, not knowing she was the campaign manager for the opposition.  She tells her boss, and they go on the air to make an announcement.  When Charlie sees her, he realizes what has happened. Four George Washingtons appear in this episode played by David Hayman, Jack Wright, Gelbert Coloma, and Anthony Provenzano Jr. They are part of the Revolutionary War Society picketing city hall. After all this mayhem, Mike realizes he needs to be back in city hall and returns to his job. He arranges for the mayor to go on television saying “I cannot tell a lie, I chopped down George Washington’s tree, but I used the wood to build a shelter for the homeless.”  At this time, Fox was dealing with Parkinson’s Disease and announced he would be leaving at the end of this season.  When he did eventually leave the show, the explanation was that he accepted a job as an environmental lobbyist who moved to Washington, DC.  He met a senator there named Alex P. Keaton, the name of Fox’s character on Family Ties.

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No. 1 – My Friend Flicka: ”Rough and Ready” – 1956. I had heard of the book and movie My Friend Flicka, but I did not know that it was ever a television show. It was only on the air one year, and only 39 episodes were made, airing between February 1956- February 1957. It was a mid-season replacement for The Adventures of Champion, a show starring Gene Autry.  Unfortunately, neither show could compete with The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin which was on another channel during this time slot. The show was later aired Monday nights on the Disney Channel in the mid-1980s. Ken McLaughlin, played by Johnny Washbrook, is devoted to his horse Flicka.  He and his parents live at the Goose Bar Ranch in Coulee Springs. After this show was cancelled, Washbrook appeared on several shows, including three different characters on My Three Sons, but then went into the banking profession and moved to Martha’s Vineyard.

This episode was a delightful and charming show featuring Theodore Roosevelt played by Frank Albertson. Young Ken McLaughlin decides to write a letter to the president because there is too much overgrazing going on due to the government failing to put restrictions on the lands. A couple of weeks later, the newspaper has an article about Vice President Roosevelt coming to Coulee Springs for a vacation.  In the meantime, several families are forced to put their ranches up for sale and move because there is no place for their cattle to graze.  Ken meets a man fishing and shows him lures he makes himself.  The man is quite impressed, and they make plans to meet again in the morning to fish.  The next day, Ken explains what is happening with the land, saying he wrote the president but never heard back, and then tells the man that his family had now put their ranch up for sale also.  The man tells Ken to have his father come to town, and he will arrange for him to talk to the vice president.  He also has Ken take his picture with a large fish they caught.  When he and his father go to town for the meeting, he realizes that the man he has been fishing with is Vice President Theodore Roosevelt who takes care of the situation, putting regulations in place.  A few weeks later, Ken gets a letter.  Theodore Roosevelt is now President Roosevelt and he wanted to make sure Ken did get a letter back from the President. He also included the photo that Ken took of him and the fish. Albertson did a bully good job playing Teddy.

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Hopefully watching some of these episodes will convince you that it is possible to have a Happy Presidents Day.  Watching the influence these men still have in our modern-day history reminds us that our Constitution and government were created and modified by great men such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt, creating  a strong foundation that is hard to destroy. All you have to do to enjoy politics today is to choose one of these five episodes to watch. And wearing red, white, and blue while you do so wouldn’t hurt.