12) The Contest (Seinfeld)

SeinfeldFlickBeanChoking the chicken. Never Never Land tourism. Flogging the dolphin. Beating the meat.  Rubbing one out. Rubbing one in. Polishing the pearl. Ménage à moi. Visiting the Bat Cave. Debugging the hard drive. Boxing the Jesuit. Looking for clues with Fred and Daphne. Calling yourself collect and accepting the charges.

I will admit that I made one of those up. Hopefully, you are familiar with at least one of the other ones, and therefore you know what these are euphemisms for. Here’s a hint: It rhymes with “faster nation.”

It’s masturbation, something that this entire episode is about, and yet they manage to never say the word, nor even use a direct euphemism for it. That’s half of the fun, honestly; finding out exactly how far these people will go to avoid saying the word, even if it’s really just to avoid the censors. Hell, that first paragraph was fun to write just because I had to look up a list of euphemisms. I really had two options in writing this: try to avoid any further references to “praising Lord Palmerston” (or, for the ladies, “Pitt the Younger”), or to make as many bad euphemisms up as I could. Any guesses which I picked?

If you don’t get this joke, you’re either too old, too young, or a bad person

Seinfeld is supposed to be the “show about nothing,” but people, including Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, point out that that statement isn’t exactly true. It’s a show about where comedians get their material, which, while that’s usually just exaggerated everyday occurrences, is still something. But, whether it’s about something or nothing, it’s still hilarious.

SeinfeldCast.jpgThe cast of the show: Jerry Seinfeld (himself), the comedian who usually tries to be the voice of reason; George Costanza (Jason Alexander), the lying, pathetic, cheating, whining best friend; Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), the friendly, somewhat vain at times, impulsive, and often short-tempered ex-girlfriend and friend; and Cosmo Kramer (Michael “Watch Racism Tank My Career” Richards), the wacky neighbor with frequent get-rich-quick schemes.


The episode begins with George telling the gang that his mother caught him “popping the palm puppet” to Glamour magazine, and is now hospitalized from the fall when she fainted. George promptly swears off “taking the dachshund to the vet.” The rest of the cast, who are beyond amused at the incident, immediately state that he won’t be able to stop “mangling the meat monkey.” They end up making a bet between the four of them. Everyone puts in $100 (Elaine has to put in $150, because they believe a woman is less likely to have to “tiptoe through her tulips” than a man), and the last one to “play Liszt’s Sonata in B minor on violin” wins the pot.

The Wager commences. Now wash your hands.

Each of the four has something that makes this challenge a lot harder. Kramer is being tempted by an attractive, nudist, exhibitionist woman who lives across from his window. Jerry is dating an attractive virgin named Marla (Jane Leeves), who won’t even “play downstairs badminton” (hint: requires two people and 5 of you just checked to see if I spelled badminton right) with him, and also keeps seeing the exhibitionist out of his windows. George, while visiting his mother in the hospital, witnesses a hot nurse sponge bathing another beautiful woman, daily. Elaine, despite the assertion that she would have greater restraint and win easily, finds herself at the gym with the late John F. Kennedy, Jr.

SeinfeldKramerOutKramer folds almost immediately. In fact, Kramer comes into Jerry’s apartment, shows Jerry the nudist, leaves, and then returns 4 minutes later to say that he is out. With only three left, the audience is shown that the remaining participants are having trouble sleeping. Kramer, meanwhile, dozes peacefully.

SeinfeldSleep1Jerry tries to distract himself from “punching big Papa Smurf” by watching Tiny Toons after reconfirming that his girlfriend still wants to keep her virginity. Kramer keeps trying to tempt Jerry with the nudist, but Jerry firmly remains “master of his domain.” Despite how that sounds, this actually means he didn’t “bang the drum quickly.” George keeps visiting his mother, Estelle (Estelle Harris), but ends up being more intrigued with the sponge baths across from her. Elaine keeps trying to find ways to be closer to JFK, Jr., and ends up getting his attention. After being told that he’s going to come by Jerry’s apartment building, Elaine ends up “practicing stenography,” costing her the contest.

Jerry and George are now becoming increasingly irritable. Jerry, however, finally is told by Marla that she thinks the time has come (and so should he), but Jerry blows it (and therefore doesn’t) by telling her about the Contest. She leaves in a huff, and, when Elaine goes upstairs to see what happened, Marla ends up meeting JFK, Jr. They then see Kramer across the way with the nudist. Every member of the group is then shown sleeping soundly, except for Marla, who apparently just lost her virginity in a marathon session with Kennedy.

Nobody alive in the early 90s blames her


Okay, so, why does this episode stand out? Partially because, despite the fact that people were allowed to talk about sex on television at this point, most television shows weren’t allowed to address “playing pick-up sticks on easy mode.” It was a strange, and ridiculous, taboo that this episode managed to highlight. After watching it, you’ll have known exactly what the bet was, exactly what everyone was doing, you’ll have heard how common it is to “blitzkrieg the Fineland,” and yet you’ll have noticed that no one ever said anything explicit. As if the word itself was preventing society from acknowledging a very fundamental truth: It’s fun to “file your I-come taxes.”

SeinfeldCensorAmerica, and much of Western Civilization, has had a long history of wanting to suppress this instinct in people, saying that it cultivates sexual desire, which in turn cultivates immoral behavior, while everyone knows that it’s still fun. Because of this, almost all American media is driven by sexuality, while simultaneously telling us that it’s wrong to acknowledge it. George’s mother even tells him that his behavior is so wrong that he needs to see a psychiatrist. Now, this is a woman who managed to miss all of the other WAY MORE OBJECTIVELY BAD psychological problems that George’s actions would indicate, but she thinks he has a serious problem because he was aroused by a magazine.

The feel of this episode has changed a lot in the last twenty years, and I think it’s for the better. Sexuality is part of being human, and suppressing that does way more damage than acknowledging it. If you want to teach people to handle it responsibly, you first have to address it honestly.

Sex is fun. That’s true. It’s also risky on many levels, from emotional to physical. That is also true. “Letting the Care Bear stare” is fun and has almost no risk when it isn’t treated like a shameful act. That’s also also true. It’s better to just be honest about these things, than to confuse the issue by saying “Sex is bad, but also you should really want to have it right now.” Nothing manages to point this out better than having an entire episode that shows that you can address the subject without ever actually having to mention it explicitly. The thought process telling the audience what they’re discussing is so ingrained that they could fully rely on it in this episode even with the most oblique references, and yet the censors wouldn’t have allowed them to talk about it outright.

It’s “Go Tuck Yourself In,” and you’re the one that made it dirty.

The other strength of this episode is the writing. Since they’re exploring temptation and restraint within the episode, so much of the dialogue reflects the characters as they struggle to maintain their control over their own desires. At the same time, they’re contrasted with Marla the Virgin, who has maintained her virginity into her 30s for no reason aside from her feeling that it’s something to take seriously. Ultimately, Marla, who appears to be the most disciplined and restrained loses her virginity to someone she just met, and shows no regret for it. Appropriate.

In a later episode, they revealed that George supposedly won the contest, and then in a later episode he admits he just lied. He broke down before Jerry did. I think it’s telling that they kept re-addressing this single, random plot line for years. It’s also telling that you can now talk about the subject on television explicitly, rather than saying that someone “gave Dig ‘Em a Sugar Smack.” This episode pointed out a deeply ingrained hypocrisy in a fun, inventive way, and it paid off.

Please vote on your favorite Euphemism in the comments below.

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30) The Innkeepers (Frasier)

Frasier got a heavy dose on this list, and all three episodes work for very different reasons. Up front: It’s because I loved this show in the hospital, because it usually was just stimulating enough to make me think, but funny enough to make me laugh and get more oxygen to reduce pain. It was basically part of my rehab. But, for the three episodes, I’ll stand by them as being different enough to all make it: The first, “Rooms with a View,” is a thoroughly dramatic episode that accurately portrays some of the most difficult times a family can have. The second, “Three Valentines,” contains one of the most amazing solo performances on film. This one, though, is what happens when an ensemble comedy comes together perfectly. It does everything from puns to comic misunderstandings to over-the-top slapstick, and it does it well.

Pierce. Has. Range.

Part of the premise of Frasier is that Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and his brother, Niles (David Hyde Pierce), are both very uptight and snooty while their father, Martin (John Mahoney), is an unpretentious everyman ex-cop. They often try to dream far beyond their own abilities, because they assume they are amazing at everything. It’s the hubris that makes for such entertaining falls. And this episode features one of the most common cases of hubris: Believing that you can start your own business with family. I’m not saying it always fails, but when it does, it’s a train wreck of epic proportions.


The episode starts with one of Frasier’s and Niles’s favorite restaurants closing. As they go for a last meal, they manage to convince themselves that they not only can, but should, take over the restaurant and run it themselves, despite their father pointing out that they have no experience in the restaurant field, and, in fact, no desire to put in the work of running a restaurant, saying “You don’t think about the hard work or the long hours.  No, to you, owning a restaurant is just wearing fancy clothes, hobnobbing with your friends and turning your enemies away at the door.” They summarily ignore this, and decide that they will open the restaurant as “Le Freres Heureux” – The Happy Brothers.


At first, everything goes well. The brothers find out that the head chef at another restaurant wants a change, so they secure him. They manage to get a fresh shipment of the chef’s specialty, anguille, a type of eel. And they even manage to find a place for the aging former head waiter of the restaurant as the new valet. People are packed in, and everything is going great on the opening night of the restaurant, and the brothers are bragging about how wrong their father was to doubt them. In sitcom terms, they just gave Zeus the finger.

She knows how to grab eels.

Right on cue, everything starts to go wrong. Frasier and Niles each give the head chef contradictory orders, and proceed to get angrier and snippier about him failing to, somehow, obey both of them, until the chef quits. Then, upon finding out the immigration bureau is dining in the building, the entire kitchen staff runs out the door. At which time they decide that Niles can be the head chef, right until Niles finds out that not only is everyone ordering the chef’s specialty, but that the chef preferred to kill his eels personally, so all the eels in the restaurant are currently alive. From there, it just keeps escalating. Fires, floods, explosions, electrocutions, sexual harassment, until, finally, they decide to literally drive a car through the wall and demolish most of the restaurant. And all with a ridiculous amount of clever, fast-paced, joke-filled dialogue.


The episode ends with the brothers asking their father if he’s ready to say “I told you so.” He remarks that he’s taking the high road, because he knows that they’re just going to punish themselves more than enough… and then proceeds to say “I told you so,” because he’s a father of adult children and that’s what they do.



The beauty of this episode is that it dedicates itself to just showing you the same disaster that you’ve watched on TV a thousand times before, but instead of merely inviting the audience to view the destruction, the focus is usually on the amount of effort that Frasier and Niles have to put forth to try to avoid it, making it all the more tragic and humorous when it ends up failing entirely. It’s a classic comedy formula done to the utmost.

Update: John Mahoney has sadly passed away before this article was posted. He was a huge part of all of these episodes, and he will be missed.



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Reader Bonus: Door Jam (Frasier)

This was a reader request, which brings the total number of Frasier spots up to 4. Granted, this isn’t actually one of the 100 episodes, but it’s still solid.



So, this episode focuses on Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and their inability to be content with anything. It starts when Frasier gets a piece of mail that was sent to his upstairs neighbor, the equally snooty Cam Winston (Brian Stokes Mitchell). The letter is an announcement of the opening of “La Porte d’Argent.” For those of you who don’t speak French, this means “The Silver Door.”

They have an 8 hour negotiation session over bath balm recipes.

The letter contains no information about what “La Porte d’Argent” is, so the pair are anxiously trying to figure out schemes to uncover the secret, until their father, Martin (John Mahoney), points out that they could just go down to the location on the letter and ask. They discover that it’s a very exclusive health spa, which they con their way into, by having Niles pretend to be Cam Winston (who, for the record, has an extremely deep Baritone voice, leading Niles to have to speak like what I imagine Barry White sounded like as a child). The pair are completely satisfied by the unbelievable level of treatment that they receive at the spa… until they see a Senator going into a Gold Door in the spa. They try to follow him, but are stopped by the staff. The Gold Door is for the Gold Level, and they are but Silver.

They do get stalks of wheat for some reason.

The pair then begin to obsess over getting into the Gold Level at the spa, to the annoyance of everyone else. Finally, Roz (Peri Gilpin), confronts them about why they even care, when the Silver Level is already an unbelievable spa experience. Niles responds “Gold is better.” Roz points out that the Gold might not be the end of it. There could be even more levels beyond that, and the only reason they want them is that they can’t have them. However, she also reveals that she could get them into the Gold Level, because she had an affair with the Senator… and also saved his life from a mid-coital heart attack.

Can’t imagine what gave him that…

So, Frasier and Niles get into the Gold Level. Frasier is given a color therapy, which partially color-blinds him, and Niles is coated in an orange honey-butter mask and wrapped in seaweed, which renders him both blind and mostly immobile. They are put into a luxurious grotto to relax… at which point Frasier sees a Platinum door. He tries to open it, but is stopped by the staff, making them both anxious to see inside. Together, they stumble/hop through the door into the bright sunlight… of a dumpster-filled alley. The door was for the trash, and they are chased off by a beehive.

Irony is sometimes easy to get

The B plot concerns Daphne (Jane Leeves) and Martin watching old TV shows so that the English Daphne can catch up on American culture. While watching, Daphne keeps comparing Martin to the elderly characters on the shows, such as Rockford’s Dad on The Rockford Files and Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H. Eventually, she just pretends she was confused on the character names and identifies Martin as younger actors just so he’ll stop complaining.

Hey, it’s a compliment to be Col. Potter.


The theme for the episode is pretty straightforward. So straightforward that they have more than 3 characters in the episode comment on it directly. Niles and Frasier want what they can’t have, so they’re never happy with what they do. Each time they reach what they perceive is the pinnacle of society, they seem happy with what they’re getting. After the first spa treatment, before they find the Gold Door, they’re both commenting that they’ve never felt better. After the second in the Gold Room, they think the same thing, until they find the “Platinum Door.” It’s a pretty normal theme, and one that’s fairly universal, but it applies more to people like Niles and Frasier, who are fabulously wealthy off of dream jobs, than to normal people like Roz or Daphne. Frasier and Niles live at one of the highest rungs of society. They should be content, but instead they’re even more focused on advancement than other people. Rich people will argue that their refusal to be content is why they achieved so much, and sometimes that’s true, but Niles and Frasier didn’t really. Niles married rich, and Frasier lucked into a cushy job that he hardly works at. Ultimately, it’s just a “grass is always greener” story. Still, few things are funnier than Niles hopping in a seaweed wrap. David Hyde Pierce knows physical comedy.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.