The Summer of Seinfeld: ‘The Fatigues’

By: Dan Grant

We here at the Same Page are huge Seinfeld fanatics. Any time we are shooting the breeze, inevitably we will come to a point where we start tossing around Seinfeld quotes and references. To honour our favourite sitcom of all time, we’re launching a new weekly feature for the summer to document the most memorable episodes. What happened? What was said? Who was there? And what has managed to become part of our everyday cultural language?

Episode Information

Title: The Fatigues

Season: 8

Episode: 6 (Episode 140 of the series)

Air Date: October 31, 1996

Written by: Gregg Kavel and Andy Robin

Watch the full episode here.

What’s the Deal with this Episode?

Each week our gang of New Yorkers were put into and then got out of (well, sometimes) uncomfortable situations. Here is the episode recap of their exploits.

This particular Seinfeld does a great job giving each member of the main cast equal screen time. The episode opens with Jerry on a date with his new love interest, Abby. She explains to Jerry that she has a mentor, thereby making her a protégé. Jerry struggles with the concept as she explains it, but finds it interesting.

In the next scene, back at his apartment, he mentions it to George, who immediately starts asking what the responsibilities of the protégé would be:

George: Would they pick up stuff for the mentor?

Jerry: I guess if it was on the way to the mentor’s place?

George: Laundry, dry cleaning?

Jerry: It’s not a valet, it’s a protégé!

George then introduces us to his secondary plotline, wherein he needs to read a book on Risk Management so that he can do a presentation for Steinbrenner and the Yankees brass. When asked by Jerry why they think he’s an expert on Risk Management, George replies “uh, it might say it on my resume’.

George struggles because he claims the nice voices of books on tape have ruined reading for him, and that when he reads this book, he can only hear his own voice in his head, which he hates.

Elaine gets her first look at the fatigues.

Elaine gets her first look at the fatigues.

Elaine then calls and introduces us to the third plotline. She calls to ask Jerry if he’s going to a party, thrown by the legendary Bob Sacamano, which Jerry informs her was three nights ago. She then realizes it was a screw-up by the mailroom clerk at J. Peterman, which she is currently running, as Peterman is off in the Jungles of Burma. When she calls up the mailroom clerk to discipline him, she meets Eddie Sherman, who is dressed in full military fatigues, with the sleeves cut off his jacket. He speaks in a gruff, intimidating voice, which scares Elaine and causes her to promote him to copywriter, rather than firing him.

Elaine and Jerry then meet in the coffee shop, where Elaine is explaining what happened with Eddie Sherman. Kramer enters in typical Kramer fashion, for our fourth plot lot, slamming down flyers for  a Jewish singles night, which he is running for his friend Lomez. (Lomez and Bob Sacamano in one episode! Home run!). He then mentions that he’s running it at the Knights of Columbus lodge, where Frank Costanza is a member, and has helped him rent a room. He also lets them know that he’ll be preparing all the food himself.

Speaking of which, Jerry is out for dinner with Abby. Abby mentions that the duck is outstanding at the restaurant and was recommended by her mentor. Her mentor then enters the room by chance, and Abby asks her and her boyfriend to join them for dinner. Jerry agrees, but when the boyfriend enters the restaurant after parking the car, he is revealed to be Jerry’s nemesis, hack comedian Kenny Bania. He then recommends the duck to Jerry vigorously, which leads Jerry to question the mentor’s judgement, both for the duck recommendation, but more importantly for dating Bania.

Discussing this back at his apartment with George, Jerry expresses his distaste for dating a protégée who’s mentor is dating Bania. He rages:

‘How could she look up to a person that voluntarily spends time with Bania?! If anything, I should be dating a mentor and Bania should be setting pins a bowling alley!’

We see Frank Costanza and Kramer across the hall. Frank is picking up his cheque for the hall that Kramer is renting for singles night. He mentions to Jerry that he’s had 183 responses, to which Jerry responds that he’s going to have to make a lot of food. Kramer then becomes worried and asks Frank if he knows anyone who might be able to help, to which Frank reacts as if he’s having a war flashback, and runs out of the room. George then explains:

George: My Dad was a cook during the Korean War. Something very bad happened, and now you can’t get him near a kitchen.

Kramer: Shell shocked?

George: Oh yeah… but that has nothing to do with it.

We then jump to Eddie Sherman’s first day as a copy writer for the Peterman catalogue. They’re about to break for the day when he mentions that he hasn’t had a turn to speak yet. Elaine acknowledges that it’s his first day, but Eddie say he is ready. He then drops this gem:

It’s a hot night

The mind races

You think about your knife

The only friend who hasn’t betrayed you

The only friend who won’t be dead by sun-up

Sleep tight in your quilted Chambray nightshirts.

At the coffee shop, Elaine doesn’t know what to do. Eddie is both terrible and terrifying. Jerry suggests promoting him again, which Elaine think’s is a great idea, as long as ‘he stops freaking me out man!’

Meanwhile, George is on the subway, where he sees a blind man reading a textbook, which George didn’t think you could get on tape. George finds out the blind can get anything on tape and immediately goes to intentionally fail an eye test, so he can get his Risk Management book on tape.

We then cut to Jerry’s apartment, where food is burning over on the stove. Kramer comes flying in with a pot of boiling water. After relating to Jerry that he has three kitchens going, Jerry and Kramer both try the food, which is awful. Kramer: ‘My recipes were all for 4-6 people, I had to multiply!’. Kramer then tells Jerry he’s going to ask Frank for help because he’s desperate.

Abby shows up at the apartment and her and Jerry argue about Bania. Abby doesn’t think her mentor would date a hack, but Jerry refuses to spend any more time with Bania.

We then cut to Elaine’s writers meeting, where she lets them know she’s promoted Eddie to Director of Corporate Development. The writers mutiny and all walk out.

George is back at Yankee Stadium, listening to ‘Risk Management’ on tape. The voice on the tape sounds exactly like George’s voice, just more nasal. George is  massively frustrated by this and running out of time.

Back at the Costanza residence Kramer is trying to find out what happened to Frank in Korea. Frank eventually relents, which leads to a rare Seinfeld flashback scene. Frank is in Korea, acting ‘arrogant, brash’ and tried to serve 600 pounds of expired meat to his troops. He ‘over-seasoned’ and ‘sent 16 of my own men to the latrines that night!’ ‘I’ll never cook again! Never!’.

His flashback (and a later one) are set to Barbers ‘Adagio for Strings’, which was featured prominently during the movie Platoon.

Back at Jerry’s apartment, Abby has now seen Bania’s act and was so appalled that she broke things off with her mentor. Abby then breaks things off with Jerry, as she is disoriented by not having a mentor. George enters near the end of their conversation and hears Abby saying that she needs guidance, and runs after her.

We’re then treated to Elaine, with only Eddie Sherman left on her staff, trying to write the entire catalogue together. Eddie gives us:

Eddie: I think I got something here! For the Bengalese galoshes.

It’s tough keepin’ your feet dry

When you’re kicking in a skull.

Elaine: Eddie… that might be just a tad harsh, for women’s wear.

Eddie: Well I’m not married to it.

Elaine then gives him some suggestions. Eddie seems nonplussed but receptive.

Meanwhile in the Costanza household, Estelle is making Frank an omelette. All the talk about cooking has Frank up in arms, and he tells Estelle that her cooking sucks. He then cracks an egg in a pan, declaring ‘I’M BACK, BABY!’, a play on the popular Viagra ads at the time.

Back at Yankee Stadium, George has fashioned himself as Abby’s new mentor, in a ploy to get her to read the Risk Management textbook and explain it to him.

Jerry runs into Bania on the street, after which Bania laments that the mentor dumped him because she saw his act. Jerry tries to extend an olive branch, telling him to lighten up on all the jokes about things that dissolve in milk. Bania responds enthusiastically, asking Jerry to help him with his material, to which Jerry begrudgingly acquiesces.

Jerry can’t believe Abby has George as a mentor, as he knows George’s true character and motivations. Abby has no respect for Bania, who Jerry is now mentoring. We also see that Jerry’s notes for Bania get switched up with Abby’s notes on Risk Management for George.

Away from the unrest, Elaine and Eddie are having chocolate shakes at the coffee shop. They’ve finished the catalogue and now that she’s more comfortable:

Elaine: What’s with the fatigues and all the psychotic imagery?

Eddie: Well I was seeing this woman. I thought she really liked me. And then things kind of cooled off.

Elaine: That’s it?!

Eddie: It’s tough meeting someone you like! Let alone somebody Jewish

So now: Kramer’s Jewish singles night, where all our plotlines come to fruition. Frank is cooking up a storm and the food is fantastic. They see Bania who tells Jerry that the material he wrote on Risk Management was great and that he’s back with Abby’s old mentor. We then see the mentor talking to Eddie Sherman. When she hears that he went from mailroom clerk to Director of Corporate Development in two days, she offers to double whatever Peterman is paying him. Eddie then informs Elaine that he is quitting. Elaine grabs him and tells him that he can’t quit, which causes Eddie to choke on something he’s eating. When Frank sees a man in fatigues choking, he has a flashback to Korea, which causes him to run around the room and grab food out of people’s hands, eventually ending the episode by flipping the buffet table.

As the credits run, we see George giving his presentation to the Yankees about Risk Management. As he pulls out his notes, it becomes apparent that while Bania got the Risk Management notes, George has received Jerry’s reworked Ovaltine bit that he wrote for Bania. George freezes as the brass look on; his inept boss Mr. Wilhelm leans to a coworker and says ‘He’s my protégé!’ as the credits finish.

It’s Really Just Something You Say

That sweater, that face, those eyes: Bania.

That sweater, that face, those eyes: Bania.

There are a ton of memorable quotes and back and forth in this episode. I’ve tried to include many of my favourites in the summary above, because there is a quote, like in so many Seinfeld episodes, that dwarfs them all. I’m talking, of course, about Kenny Bania’s reaction when Jerry first reads him the new material he’s written about Ovaltine.

Bania: Why do they call it Ovaltine? The jar is round. The mug is round. They should call it Roundtine.

Jerry nods knowingly

Bania: THAT’S GOLD, JERRY! GOLD!

Everything about that interaction does it for me. The way Bania’s face lights up after he reads the joke. The way Jerry gestures methodically as Bania is going through the bit.

The quote has become something I and many of my friends will say when something is mildly good, as opposed to actually tremendous. It’s an overreaction to minutiae, which is where the hilarity comes from. It’s gold, Jerry. 

You Know Who I Ran Into Today?

Aside from its hall of fame main cast, Seinfeld had an amazing gallery of side characters. Each episode has a favourite worth talking about.

This episode features multiple great performances from supporting Seinfeld characters, a couple recurring and one as a memorable one-off. I’ve ranked the performances here:

Frank thinks about being #1.

Frank thinks about being #1.

4. Kramer’s imaginary friends – Bob Sacomano and Lomez – get mentions in this episode. We also find out a rare detail about Lomez:

Jerry: Lomez is Jewish?

Kramer: Oh yeah. Orthodox! Old school.

3. Kenny Bania, played by Steve Hynter, is perfect in his role as the hack comic. We’ve already discussed him in the quotes section, and while Bania makes me laugh at all times, this isn’t one of his top episodes. That said, having him working in conjunction with the other performances only adds to the depth of the episode.

2. Eddie Sherman (played brilliantly by character actor Ned Bellamy), is the namesake of the episode, the man in the fatigues. From his first intimidating appearance to his hilarious interactions with the increasing frustrated Elaine, his performance is both understated and perfect. His dry delivery of the quoted lines above is excellent but even funnier is his reception when Elaine suggests:

‘Why don’t we change ‘hail of shrapnel’ and ‘scar tissue’ to ‘string of pearls’ and ‘raspberry scones!’

Just totally vacant. It would be hard for me to enjoy it more.

1.The best performance of the episode however, comes from the immortal Frank Costanza, played by the legendary Jerry Stiller. His initial freak out in Jerry’s apartment bodes well for what’s to come, and his finale at the Jewish Singles Night is the cherry on the episode. However, it’s his flashback that gets me every time. He clearly states at the beginning of the story that it’s taking place in 1950. However, no effort is made to have him played by a younger actor, or even make him look younger. He’s simply mid 70’s Frank Costanza, back in time. He states:

‘I was the finest cook Uncle Sam ever saw, slinging hash for the Fighting 103rd!’

They then cut to Frank trying to salvage the spoiled meat, saying ‘I thought if used just the right spices…’ over an image of him dumping some nondescript spice on the meat in massive quantities and then hammering it with flat side of an enormous cleaver.

His interactions with Estelle Costanza, played by George’s mother, are also fantastic.

Estelle: Here’s your omelette.

Frank: This is dry!

Estelle: That’s the way I always make it!

Frank: Well it sucks!

Estelle: What did you say?!

Frank: Your meatloaf is mushy, your salmon poquettes are oily and your eggplant parmesan is a disgrace to this house!

This leads to the aforementioned Viagra spoof and Frank’s rebirth as a chef.

When Kramer asks him if he wants a break during the Jewish Singles Night, he delivers his finest line of the episode:

‘No! No breaks! I feel reborn! I’m like a Phoenix, rising from Arizona!’

I just can’t take it. It’s too good.

Yada Yada Yada

Every classic episode has at least one element that has become part of the cultural lexicon somehow. Here is where we discuss those random elements.

In this episode the piece of the cultural lexicon is actually the quote we’ve previously discussed. However, the idea of a harsh military veteran placed in a non-harsh environment is something that Seinfeld explored in hilarious fashion.

From Damon Wayans’ Major Payne to John Goodman’s Walter Sobchak in the Big Lebowski to Bill Hader’s Vietnam vet puppeteer on SNL, this character pops up from time to time in popular culture. Generally military comedies feature non-military persona placed in a military environment: Sgt. Bilko, Stripes, etc…this just flips the roles. While Major Payne actually pre-dated this episode by about a year, it was a commercial flop and the popularization of this type of character can certainly be linked back to Seinfeld, which was at the height of its power when ‘The Fatigues’ aired.

At the time it went on the air, a military veteran talking about kicking in skulls, even in comedic fashion, would have been quite a risqué choice, and something that only a show with as much cache as Seinfeld could have gotten away with. We forget, even these later episodes are verging on 20 years old now; the television landscape then was pre-Soprano’s, even pre-Oz. This would have made the character of Eddie Sherman even more shocking to the people watching it live. The fact that Elaine eventually becomes comfortable enough with a character like this to call him ‘Ed’ and give him a friendly punch on the shoulder only exacerbates the ridiculousness of the situation and gives the character an air of absurdity that only Seinfeld can accomplish.

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