Tag Archives: New York Mets

Notes on Nothing: 25 Years of SeinLanguage

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the debut of Seinfeld, as the genre-redefining sitcom first graced our television screens as The Seinfeld Chronicles, with very little fanfare, on July 5, 1989. It went from an afterthought, a summer run-off and near footnote, to a comedic juggernaut that indelibly altered the television landscape. Since I noticed many websites and bloggers and critics providing their valuable insight and analysis, I thought I’d throw in my two cents as well. Because if there’s anything the internet needs, it’s more of the same.

First, if not for Seinfeld it might have taken me another couple of years to understand masturbation, or least be aware of its existence. It’s no exaggeration to say that one of my initial brushes with self-pleasure came courtesy of “The Contest,” the landmark episode that somehow danced around jerking off for 22-minutes but never explicitly said it. Later, I’d come to realize what a masterful performance it was, what a majestic ballet to say so much without every saying it. It was truly bit of brilliant lingual gymnastics (and even later I’d realize that they maybe applied their cunning linguists to cunnilingus, but that was far behind my realm of understanding at that time (and possibly at this time)). Even if I didn’t fully comprehend what they were discussing, it was an eye-opening experience to just barely grasp that these people were talking about what seemed like the most adult of activities, at 9pm, on NBC, when I was sitting in my bedroom eating ice cream (I was lucky enough to have a television of my own from a very young age, which allowed me to probably watch a lot of TV that I shouldn’t have (see: Silk Stalkings)). I was used to Full Houseto Growing Pains, to Saved by the Bell, where the epic romance between Zack and Kelly seemed as important and real as anything could ever be. This is was a different kind of show, with a different kind of language, with a different agenda. Again, I didn’t quite process that at the time – I couldn’t – but I knew it was nothing like the shows I was accustomed to (TGIF, The Disney Afternoon, for the most part). It gave me a view into the adult world, and in many ways it was as formative in my education as Health class and freshman year and my one summer at sleep-away camp. To me, at eleven-years-old, the people on Seinfeld were grown-ups doing grown-up things. Not just masturbating, but sitting in a diner drinking coffee, going to the movies, seeing the baby, arguing over whether or not soup is a meal, dating a different gorgeous woman every week, hanging out with Keith Hernandez, just popping-in at your friend’s Upper West Side apartment. But also masturbating.

<!–more– More Nothing: Jews, Jewiness & Keith Hernandez…>

Secondly, Seinfeld was perhaps the first time I recognized Jewiness on TV, especially Jewiness that was camouflaged as something less overtly Semitic and thus more palatable for the general audience (there was, of course, CBS’s Brooklyn Bridge, a favorite of my father’s, but that was hit-you-over-the-head Jewish, and was more like historical fiction. Also, I think I imagined the Seavers  from Growing Pains as Jewish somehow, for some reason, despite the frequency of Christmas-themed episodes, Alan Thicke’s hair, and, later, Kirk Cameron’s big-time, overwhelming Jesus-ness).  Even as a child I identified with the characters of Seinfeld on a cultural level; their conversations, their cadences, their backgrounds, their outlooks, they just felt natural and familiar, and at the same time it was Jewiness without the Jewish grandmother or the random yiddish phrases or the Shabbat candles or, really, all the guilt. It wasn’t arguing about how long to cook the brisket or who has better matzoh ball soup or why aren’t you a doctor like your brother, it was sitting in a coffee shop arguing about buttons, about sex, about nothing. It wasn’t the Brooklyn Dodgers, it was the New York Mets. It was the modern Jewish experience stripped of all the traditions and customs and weight and distilled down into Jerry Seinfeld’s nasally voice, upturned nostrils and early-90s mullet. And, perhaps more significantly, it wasn’t until years later that I realized, as many others did, that “Costanza” was not a Jewish name, because to me, and to everyone, George Costanza was a Jew, through and through. Yes, growing up on Long Island, the Jewish-American experience felt very similar to the Italian-American experience – I often felt like an honorary Italian – but there was no mistaking George as anything other than a bundle of Hebrew neuroses.  In retrospect, knowing that George was based on Larry David, this seems obvious, but we didn’t know that then, and it was just another way that Seinfeld accomplished something real and spectacular.

Finally, Keith Hernandez is my favorite baseball player of all-time, a fact that was certainly bolstered by his memorable turn in “The Boyfriend, Parts 1&2.” However, even though I was a huge fan of Mex (as his friends call him. His friends and me) following the Mets ’86 World Championship, displaying a Hernandez 8×10 on my bedroom wall and a Starting Lineup figurine on my shelf, I wonder now if Hernandez is my favorite player because of his memorable turn in “The Boyfriend, Parts 1&2.” And, taking that a step further, I wonder if Seinfeld became my favorite show specifically because of Hernandez’s memorable turn in “The Boyfriend Parts, 1&2.” Hernandez, now a Mets broadcaster (and prone to his share of off-the-cuff gaffes), is left-handed and played 1st base, while I, currently unemployed, am right-handed and played the bench, so there’s not much in common that would inspire me to choose Keith as my favorite player, making his appearance with Jerry and Elaine more important than any of his baseball accomplishments. Or, perhaps, was it just my favorite show continuing to provide moments that bolstered its position as my favorite show? Whatever the reason, it was truly an intersection of the Venn diagram of things that I love. Add in JFK assassination conspiracy theories – something I was weirdly into as a kid – then you had, maybe, the perfect episode of television for twelve-year-old Seth, and another example of why Seinfeld seemed to speak to me so clearly.

Looking back, I think that as a child I imagined that I would turn out like Jerry one day; a neurotic Jew living in his Manhattan apartment surrounded by his vapid friends. I also imagined that I would turn out like Danny Tanner, a clean freak raising three kids in the suburbs with the help of my weirdo aspiring stand-up comedian friend who lives in the basement and it’s not at all creepy, but when you’re young and have never really left Long Island those two futures aren’t mutually exclusive. Obviously, my adult life has not turned out like either of those two, because 1) they’re fictional and 2) I can’t afford to live in Manhattan or the Bay area. But, certainly, living in Brooklyn and remaining an uppity, thin, neat, single Jew, I hedge much closer to the Seinfeld side of the spectrum. And I do wonder how much is nature and how much is nurture. The show, no doubt, shaped my life, but I think it was also created, and shaped, for me and people like me. Which is why you can turn on TBS and find any episode of Seinfeld and, laugh track be damned, it’s still brilliant.

It doesn’t take a doctorate in media studies to assert that Seinfeld forever changed, redefined, television. I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last. But the way it gave new meaning, and a lasting meaning, to things like Junior Mints and the Mackinaw peaches and Bosco, and then introduced phrases into our lexicon like “close talker” and “puffy shirt” and “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” is something that perhaps can only be rivaled by The Simpsons.* Over two decades later you can throw out an off-hand quote from Seinfeld and someone will immediately get the reference. The series didn’t just make a contribution to the television, it contributed to our vocabulary, it contributed to our culture. In nothing, they found everything.

*Interesting to note that when I went to sleep-away Jew camp for the first and only time in 1997 I recorded audio from two shows onto cassette and listened to them on my Walkman before bed, my surrogate for an actual television. Repeatedly listening to those poor quality recordings done on my Sony sports radio probably got me through that summer. One of those shows, of course, was Seinfeld, and the other, naturally, The Simpsons (specifically, this one). 
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Filed under Brilliance, Intersection of the venn diagram of things that I love, Matt Christopher Books, Nostalgia Corner, Seinlanguage, Wake Up, SF!, Woody Allen, Bar Mitzvahs & Bagels

‘Survivor: Filippines’ – Deal or No Deal

You may recall in our first Survivor:Filippines recap that we related a story about a friend asking us if and how Survivor can possibly still be entertaining after so many seasons, and we noted that despite over a decade of challenges and Tribal Councils and blindsides, the show manages to somehow, incredibly, keep offering something we’ve never seen before. And this week’s episode was yet another example of that, and it kind of left our jaw on the ground (just COVERED in mud).

It all unfolds at the Reward Challenge (and boy are we happy that, with the three tribes whittled down to two, we’ve narrowed the focus and returned to separate Reward and Immunity Challenges). The challenge begins promisingly enough, first with our first glimpse Jeff Probst, always a delight, and second with the introduction of the challenge course, which is essentially a single-ball version of American Gladiators’ Atlasphere. However, unlike his namesake, Michael “Two Skupes” Skupin, is not as successful in navigating the field as legendary Gladiator champion Wesley “Two Scooops” Berry. Pretty soon, it just turns into a mud stalemate.

And then Howie Mandel appeared, as if out of thin air…

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Filed under Analysis, Century 21 Reality, Crucial Taunt, Mustachio'd, Tribal Council

‘Survivor: Filippines’ Premiere: A Story to Tell

A real man makes his own luck.

-Zane, Survivor: Philippines 

A few days ago, on the cusp of the premiere of Survivor: Filippines: The Rise of Skupin, we were asked if Survivor as a series (not the Survivor Seriesis still entertaining after twenty-four seasons. “How could it possibly be?” they wondered. But we told this person that the show, against all odds, manages to be fresh and new almost every season, that although the game uses essentially the same format that it started with back in Borneo, each season and its cast members offer something new and different, something that makes the show worth watching. Case and point, in the first episode of our new season, we are blessed with Zane, who once again proves that no matter how long this show goes the players will continue to be stupid. And that, my friend, is why, twelve years later, Survivor is still very much worth watching. 

But, in our normal fashion, before we get to end and Zane’s stupidity, let’s start at the start. And we start with Jeff Probst channelling Bruce Willis in Striking Distance and rolling up in a speedboat, looking as confident and determined as ever, putting to rest any worries that one might have had that he’d be preoccupied with this just premiered daytime talker (and, perhaps, in another post it would worth discussing just how much Probst has meant to Survivor, and how much it owes its success to the man in blue). And we get our first look at the new cast, which in addition to the returning players that we’ve already discussed – Mike “Two Scoops” Skupin, Jonathan Penner, and Russell Swan (who, apparently, came directly from a jazz performance) – includes former Facts of Life star Lisa Whelchel and former Major League Baseball MVP Jeff Kent.

A few hundred words on why we hate Jeff Kent and then the game is afoot…

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Filed under Analysis, Be careful what you wish for, Century 21 Reality, Sha la la la, Tribal Council

Capital Critters: Experiencing DC Vu on the New York Sports Pages

Last week the New York Yankees headed down to D.C. for an interleague matchup with the Nationals, just a week after the Mets also visited the nation’s capital to take on their division rivals.  Now we’re generally enormous Mets fans, but this year our enthusiasm is even more fervent than usual, with a roster that’s featured thus far an especially young, gritty and fun team, a Mets team we’re proud to watch.  And not only do we watch religiously, we also spend far too much time following Mets beat reporters on Twitter, obsessively checking the Mets blog, and reading articles by local sports columnists.  So with the amount of attention we grant to NY baseball, we couldn’t help but notice some similarities on the city’s back pages when the Mets and Yankees each took a turn against the Nationals.

It’s not out of the ordinary to see two very similar headlines among the city’s big three commuter papers (and sometimes three similar headlines), but those instances usually occur on the same day, when they can point to the rapid speed of overnight journalism as a reason for the doppelgänger.  When you have three hours to turn around a newspaper, and, often, much less time to write and set the back page, it’s not surprising that the Post may print the same or a very similar headline as Newsday (like yesterday, for example) – great journalistic minds think alike – but in the triad above the Newsday super-headline was printed the day after the Daily News‘s “Capital Pains” headline (and after a different but still excruciating Mets loss).  The Post headline, “Capital Gains,” came nearly a week later (after the Yankees handed the Mets three more excruciating losses), so certainly there was plenty of time to see the two prior “Capital” back pages and brainstorm some other DC-related copy.  But, we reckon, in the newspaper world you just can’t turn down a good pun.  And we respect that.

And just because:

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Filed under Local Flavor, Look-Alikes, Matt Christopher Books, MS Paint, Periodically

Groaning Pains: The Time that Mike Seaver Said He Had a Black Friend

Today we continue our look at some of Growing Pains more memorable – or notorious – moments, especially those bits of dialogue or storylines that surprised (or mildly stunned) us when we rewatched the show as an adult.

One of the episodes of Growing Pains that we remember most from our youth, one that stuck with us all throughout childhood and beyond, is Season One’s “Reputation.”  In this episode Mike Seaver* prepares, fully intends, to cheat on his Civil War exam in Mr. Dewitt‘s history class, writing key dates, names and locations on the soles of his largest pair of sneakers.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the test: he actually learned the answers, and when the time came he didn’t need to take a peek at the bottom of his Reeboks.  He absorbed and retained that information, and in much the same way we absorbed and retained this episode.  It was because of this episode that we’ve known for as long as we can recall that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, and Andrew Johnson took over after Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.  Yes, we’ve always had an aptitude for history, but we feel entirely comfortable crediting Growing Pains with teaching us about this specific and significant event in US history.  And in addition to the lesson this episode provided, we also vividly recalled Mike Seaver’s stirring, high-pitched, plea of innocence to his parents – “I did not cheat!” and Jason Seaver’s surprising but unwavering belief in his son’s word.  If we didn’t already have a father who loved and trusted us, we would have desperately wanted Jason Seaver to serve that role.  And even though we weren’t in the market for a replacement parent, we never forgot or stopped admiring Jason’s unconditional love.

But despite having such a strong connection to this episode, something did take us quite aback when we years later watched the episode on DVD, Mike’s explanation to Ben about the crib-sheet sneakers.

We’re not sure what’s more hard to believe, that they so casually equated a black guy with the basketball team, or that there would actually be a black student in their white, upper-middle class, Long Island suburban paradise (a neighborhood not unlike the one we grew up in).  We’re racking our brains trying to come up with a single black character on the show, and we’re coming up empty (Apparently Growing Pains was the Girls of its day).  But it is the first reaction – the flippant political incorrectness – that really struck us.  We could envision a line like that a few years later on a more provocative show like Married with Children, but it’s not like Growing Pains was ever considered edgy.  But, then again, the TV landscape has changed, and while you can say, do and show more now, you can also say, do and show less.  As the limits of sex and violence and vulgarity have expanded over the last twenty-five years, you can make the argument that the levels of political correctness and racial sensitivity have conversely, almost paradoxically, expanded in kind.  Appomattox Court House, captain of the Dewey High School basketball team, is a perfect example of this.

*We’ve been talking about the New York Mets a lot lately, so it’s worth noting here that the Seavers were named in honor of Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, who just this past Sunday was named to the Mets All-Time Team as right-handed starting pitcher.  Also named to the team as the all-time lefty starter was Jerry Koosman, which not coincidentally is the surname of the Seaver’s next-door neighbors.

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Filed under Growing Pains, Local Flavor, Makes You Think, Matt Christopher Books

The Best Thing We’ve Ever Seen

Easily.

Just yesterday we mentioned how we much revere the World Champion 1986 New York Mets.  And then this comes along.  And just slays us.  And no doubt made everyone else in the coffee shop wonder why we were staring at the computer screen, completely slack-jawed, on the verge of joyful tears.  Our new favorite.

via Grantland

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Filed under Brilliance, Freak Out Control, Matt Christopher Books, Virulent

Gratuitous Search Term Bait of the Day: Not Lorne Michaels

Today some of you ended up here by searching for the term “lorne michaels,” and it’s no surprise that query directed you to this blog, as rarely an SNL post goes by without a mention the father of the Not Yet Ready For Prime Time Players.  But you already know about Lorne Michaels: creator of SNL, executive producer of Late Night, inspiration for Dr. Evil, point of obsession for Marc Maron, Canadian.  So we tried to find something different, something new, and in doing so came across a sketch titled “Not Lorne Michaels.”  Except, upon watching the sketch, we discovered that Hulu must have posted the wrong clip.  The description says “Tommy Flanagan tricks Rosanna Arquette into her thinking he’s executive producer Lorne Michaels,” but what plays is an introduction from New York Mets pitcher Ron Darling, apologizing to the audience for the Mets’ epic game six victory in the 1986 World Series, an extra-innings affair that preempted SNL and resulted in the episode airing on tape delay two weeks later, new but not live.  This fascinated us for three reasons: 1) we’re colossal Mets fans, and basically worship the 1986 team as if they are demigods, 2) we didn’t know their victory had an effect on something we love with almost as much reverence, and 3) a clip that is titled “Not Lorne Michaels” is also not the right clip.  It’s almost as if Lorne was determined to get the last laugh, refusing to let anyone impersonate him.  Either that or someone at Hulu just totally screwed up.

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Filed under Gratuitous Search Term Bait, Matt Christopher Books, Saturday Night Live