The Summer of Seinfeld: ‘The Parking Space’

By: Dennis Reynolds

Episode Information

Title: The Parking Space

Season: 3

Episode: 22 (Episode 39 of the series)

Air Date: April 22, 1992

Written by: Larry David and Greg Daniels

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.

The most common thread in any discussion about Seinfeld is that it was “the show about nothing.” Of course, given the numerous catchphrases and cultural touchstones Seinfeld spawned over its nine-year lifespan, it’s clear that Seinfeld was a show about a lot of things. It may be easy to view Seinfeld as a collection of hilarious, yet mostly trivial happenstances, taking place in the lives of four uniquely deranged and self-absorbed individuals. Though this concept lies somewhere close to Seinfeld’s core, it does not tell the whole story.

Seinfeld nine-year existence can essentially be divided into two overarching narratives. The first (seasons 1 through 7) describes the lives of four characters justifying their ill-advised, amoral choices to the equally irrational and unforgiving environment of New York City. What makes these seasons so funny is watching Seinfeld’s four social deviants attempt to adjust to unpredictable social rigours of 1990’s New York City, and how often their environments adjust back. It’s in this world that George aggressively pursues the use of a public phone, only to be more ruthlessly undermined by someone even quicker and more impolite than him.

The second narrative (seasons 8 and 9) follows mostly the same guideline but on remarkably more unbalanced footing. In these two seasons, George and Jerry, especially, become mediators in the elaborate conflicts of an increasingly surreal landscape. It’s in this world in which George’s dreams of saving an ancient Frogger machine are nearly ditched due to a cast of helpers more comically inept than him[1].

George vs. Mike: The Epic Showdown.

George vs. Mike: The Epic Showdown.

In “The Parking Space”, much of the episode takes place on the street in front of Jerry’s building, and practically all of the episode’s conflicts occur on this street in New York. Like several others in the third season (The Parking Garage, The Limo, The Subway), “The Parking Space” is as much about their non-traditional, transient settings as they are about the conflict themselves.

The basic premise of “The Parking Space” is that Jerry is having people over to his apartment to watch a boxing match on TV. George and Elaine have borrowed Jerry’s car for the day and are returning to the city from a flea market to join Jerry and Kramer. Kramer, however, has invited a mutual friend of his and Jerry’s, Mike (played by Lee Arenberg)[2]. Jerry is apprehensive about having Mike over, given that Mike previously called Jerry a phoney to Kramer.

It’s Really Just Something You Say

Endlessly repeatable and immediately recognizable, here is were we discuss the episode quotes to remember.

Amidst the search for parking, George engages in the episode’s most amazing sequence in a typically, Larry David-like exchange:

Elaine: Oh, you’re never gonna find a space on Jerry’s block, just put it in a garage.

George: Look, I have my system. First I look for the dream spot right in front of the door, then I slowly expand out in concentric circles.

Elaine: Oh come on, George, please put it in a garage. I don’t want to spend an hour looking for a space.

George: I can’t park in a garage.

Elaine: Why?

George: I don’t know, I just can’t. Nobody in my family can pay for parking, it’s a sickness. My father never paid for parking; my mother, my brother, nobody. We can’t do it.

Elaine: I’ll pay for it.

George: You don’t understand. A garage. I can’t even pull in there. It’s
like going to a prostitute. Why should I pay, when if I apply myself, maybe I could get it for free?

George eventually locates the perfect spot outside Jerry’s building. For a moment, George’s maniacal parking methods are redeemed. Unfortunately, George spends so much time gloating about his distinguished resume as a parallel parker that another driver gets halfway into George’s dream spot. The driver, of course, is not just anyone, but Jerry and Kramer’s friend Mike, who is unfamiliar with George.

Thus begins the episode’s central debate: Who says a driver can’t go head first? No one, really. But by challenging George’s ideals, Mike is challenging the loose social laws of New York City, thereby devolving New York City into chaos, as later described so eloquently by Newman:

You wanna know why you can’t go in front first? I’ll tell you why, because it signals a breakdown in the social order. Chaos. It reduces us to jungle law.

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.

Mike makes his case.

Mike makes his case.

In many ways, Mike is the perfect nemesis for George Costanza. Both are unemployed, bald, and assumedly single. When Mike threatens to sleep in his car to get the space, George triumphantly says, “I’ll die out here.” In George’s eyes, he is a hero. He is a man armed with nothing but his ideals, a man always ready to stand up against the injustices of society, however self-serving these injustices may be.

Eventually, two police officers arrive to provide a verdict. Initially, the first cop awards George the space, stating quite clearly that no driver should go headfirst. The second officer, however, quickly challenges this claim, as he can see no reason why a driver should not be granted this ability. An agreement is never reached and Mike and George continue bickering into the night. Law, it would seem, is no match for chaos in the concrete jungle.

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.

If anything, this episode’s New York City backdrop provides the most compelling cast of side characters. For one, there’s Mike, a man audacious enough to steal a parking space and call someone a phoney. There’s the woman who complements George’s hat, only to have her turn on him moments later. Then, of course, there’s the irrelevantly named Sid, who inadvertently delivers the episode’s most underrated line.

The episode closes with Jerry escaping into his apartment to catch the fight on TV. He closes the window to block out the yelling and catches only the final seconds from his couch. Jerry is defeated, but George continues defending his right to park backing in. If this signifies anything, it reminds us of the essential aspect of the Seinfeld universe, that, you know, we’re living in a society and this society has rules, and without these rules we descend into chaos, or at least our own ridiculous version of it.

[1] This is also why Puddy nearly graduates to full-fledged cast member in the later episodes. He’s essentially a walking punchline whose buffoonery fits seamlessly into the cartoonish landscape that seasons 8 and 9 embrace.

[2] Mike is most commonly remembered as the guy whose thumbs Jerry accidentally breaks in “The Susie”, a later episode but a gem nonetheless.

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