By: Patrick Grant
Title: The Race
Episode: 10 (Episode 96 of the series)
Air Date: December 15, 1994
Written by: Tom Gammill, Max Pross and Larry David
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.
There are essentially two kinds of Seinfeld episodes. On one hand, there is the episode where everything continually goes horribly awry for everyone involved despite their best and most subversive efforts. On the other, there’s the episode where, no matter what idiotic situation our heroes get into, things work out swimmingly against all odds. “The Race” falls into the latter category. (I understand that this is a bit of a generalization. I will address later how the failure in the C & D plots of an episode can contribute to success in the A plot).
Jerry, finally, starts dating a woman named Lois who works for his high-school nemesis (his Lex Luthor), Duncan Meyer. Meyer is single-mindedly obsessed with a race that he lost to Jerry in the 9th grade. He (correctly) suspects that Jerry had a head start, but Jerry refuses to acknowledge that this could possibly have been the case and has refused to run in any race with anyone since.
Elaine complains about a food order and gets blacklisted at Hop-Sing’s, which is later revealed to have been a haven for her Communist boyfriend Ned’s blacklisted father. She, in turn, gets him blacklisted because “she names names” in order to get around her own ban.
In the mean time, George calls a personal ad in a Communist newspaper (The Daily Worker!) he finds in Elaine’s apartment because it specifies that appearance is not important. When the woman in question calls him at work, it leads to his being suspected of Communism within the Yankees.
Finally, Kramer and Mickey are working at Coleman’s Department Store as a Santa and Elf duo until Ned convinces Kramer to become a Communist and he begins spreading propaganda from the North Pole.
It’s Really Just Something You Say
Endlessly repeatable and immediately recognizable, here is were we discuss the episode quotes to remember.
There are a quite a few exceptional writing moments in this episode. The first happens right off the top of the episode. It happens when George discovers the Communist newspaper in Elaine’s apartment:
George: “Your boyfriend reads the Daily Worker? What is he, a Communist?”
Elaine: “He reads everything, you know, Ned’s very well read.”
George: “Maybe he’s just very well…red.”
Next, there are two complete scenes that deserve transcription. The first occurs when George comes up with the brilliant idea of pretending as though he hasn’t seen Jerry in 20 years in order to be an unbiased source of information about the initial race. George, being himself, takes the opportunity to playact as a millionaire architect:
George: “Have you seen the new addition to Guggenheim?”
Lois: “You did that?!”
George: “Yeah! It didn’t really take that long either.”
The second is Kramer’s attempt to spread propaganda to a kid too wise for his years who fingers him as a Communist when dished the economic realities of his desired racing car set:
Kramer: “Don’t you see kid, you’re being bamboozled! These Capitalist fatcats are inflating the profit margin and reducing your total number of toys!”
Kid: “Hey! This guy’s a Commie!”
Mickey: “Hey, where’d a nice kid like you learn a bad word like that?”
Kid: “Commie! Commie! Traitor to our country!”
Honourable mentions: All of Jerry’s stupid Superman references (“Faster than a speeding bullet, Lois.”) And, “That’s some tart cider!”
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.
The problem with an episode like this is that there are three or four incredible side characters that never show their face in another Seinfeld episode. Even Lois, with her comic-waif stereotype lines (“Race him, Jerry!”) is totally hilarious. The undeniable first choice for this section has to be the Hop Sing’s delivery man, whose growl of “Benes! You’re on our list!” makes the foundation for much of the episode’s conflict and creates a perfect parallel of McCarthyism within the purposefully mundane world of Jerry and his friends. Only the reductive cultural critique of an episode like this could turn a fast food ban into an allegory for a socially destructive witch hunt.
The runner up has to be Ned Isakoff. He has a few prime moments, but the clincher is when he convinces Kramer that the Santas at Bloomfields are making double what he is and exclaims that Kramer should have a health plan to deal with the glue rash caused by his itchy beard. Why does Ned know what other department store Santas are making? All of this, coupled with his refusal to wear anything other than drab colours and his wistful expression when discussing the heyday of the Soviet Union make him a pretty choice and underrated side character.
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.
The funniest part of “The Race” as an episode is the weird tension created by placing Jerry in the role of Superman and Kramer in the role of Santa Claus. Both roles symbolically carry very heavy American Christian Capitalist connotations but are being enacted by the frivolous Jewish heroes of the series. Not only does this shine a mocking light on the North Pole as a sweatshop or on Superman as a silly American myth based on a lie told by a Grade 9 kid to himself and his classmates, it also provides a very apt cultural criticism of a Capitalist society in which, whether by coincidence or contrivance, someone always gets a head start and the rest of us end up in line begging for our gifts from a man in a fake beard. Furthermore, the structure of the episode necessitates Kramer’s failure as a Communist Santa in order for Jerry to win the race and live out his Superman fantasy. If Kramer hadn’t been dismissed from his job (“Get out of here, Pinko, you’re through!”), he wouldn’t have been starting his car at the exact moment Mr. Bevilaqua was getting ready to pull the trigger of the starting pistol. The working man greases the wheels for the Capitalist overlords yet again!
The C plot of the episode with George as Communist in the Yankee organization isn’t actually as important to the totality of the episode, though it does highlight another funny dig at the Communist/Capitalist dialogue set up by the episode. George, who apparently has to work for the Yankees over the holidays, is called into Steinbrenner’s office in order to address the rumours that he’s a Communist. Instead of being concerned or angry, as George expects him to be, he’s actually excited at the opportunity and diversity that this provides the organization. He sends George to Havana to scout Cuban baseball talent, where George discovers that Fidel Castro is essentially the same bigheaded buffoon as Steinbrenner. At the end of the day, the people at the top of the chain continue doing their business outside the bounds of preset political ideologies and basically make their intrepid workers (if George Costanza could ever be called intrepid) shake in their boots about the implications of their actions.
Lastly, the non-stop Superman references, while mentioned previously in the quotes section of this piece, cannot be denied. There are TONS of Superman references in Seinfeld, but this episode has to take the cake. Jerry walks with his shoulders back for the entire thing, for chrissakes. They play the Superman theme when the race is finally re-enacted. He actually runs before the starter pistol goes off, making him literally faster than a speeding bullet. It’s a little off the chain. The fourth-wall breaking wink at the camera to close off the episode is just the icing on the cake.
Find me a better episode of Seinfeld. You can’t do it! I choose not to run!