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Whenever there's a poll for the greatest Seinfeld episode, The Contest
- which happens to be the show's fiftieth, not counting the original
pilot - usually comes on top, and for good reason: it perfectly
embodies the creative boldness the series is known for, and uses all
four of the main characters - plus a couple of guest stars - in the
best possible way. Even now, years after Seinfeld went off the air, its
brilliance is unmatched.
Premise: having been caught masturbating (!) by his mother (Estelle Harris), George vows never to do it again. When Jerry suggests he could last longer, all four decide to make a bet to see who can refrain from their impulses the longest. Naturally, problems arise almost immediately: Kramer is tempted when he sees a naked woman in the building across the street, George fantasizes about the nurses in the hospital where he goes to visit his mom, Elaine has a run-in with John Kennedy Jr. and Jerry is nervous because Marla still hasn't agreed to sleep with him. The contest can begin...
Based on a real incident involving, among others, Larry David (who won a deserved Emmy for the script), the concept is still incredibly brave from a conceptual standpoint, at least for network television: even more than a decade later, few producers would green-light an episode that's entirely focused on masturbation. That they did is purely down to the ingenious writing: by replacing the "dirty" word with the now classic euphemism "master of his domain", David draws huge laughs from a subject few mainstream comedians had contemplated joking about, and the self-censorship is part of the episode's appeal: if the word had been used even once, it wouldn't be as funny.
Alongside the snappy dialogue, the other source of comedy gold is the cast. As expected, Richards (who won his second Emmy thanks to this episode) and Alexander make the most of it, with the former delivering the single funniest line of the entire season and the latter enjoying his first on-screen pairing with Harris, a TV mom to be reckoned with. As for the other leads, Dreyfus brings a welcome feminine view on the matter, while Seinfeld himself has to carry an excruciating payoff scene with Jane Leeves that plays out like a cringe-worthy Curb Your Enthusiasm with an added studio audience.
Proving once again, and perhaps in the strongest fashion, that no subject is taboo in American sitcoms, The Contest is the definitive Seinfeld episode, and a milestone in US television. How many other shows can boast an Oustanding Comedy Series Emmy on the grounds of a script about masturbation?
George's mother is forced to hospital after she throws her back out
when she falls down after catching him doing "you know." When George
says he'll never do it again, Jerry challenges him to a contest of
being "master of your domains", when he accepts, Elaine and Kramer want
in on the action, or rather the lack of it.
Things get worse when Kramer discovers that the women across the street is walking around with nothing on. Jerry is in the contest and dating a virgin leads him to say the hilarious rant,,, 'I can't take it anymore! She's driving me crazy! I can't sleep, I can't leave the house, and I' here, I'm climbin' the walls. Meanwhile, I'm dating a virgin, I'm in this contest - something's gotta give'
'The contest' is comedy at it's finest
Are you 'master of your domain'.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Contest" is said by many to be the greatest episode of television
that has ever been aired, and with good reason. The episode tackles
very bold subject matter, even for today's audiences, in the most
sublime of ways.
After George masturbates to a Glamour magazine, at his parents' place, he is caught by his mother. Estelle Harris plays the mother, in her first appearance, and describes George's uncivilized behaviour as "treating his body like it was an amusement park!"
The episode is mostly a laugh machine, and they are well earned. "The Contest" actually becomes riveting at points, as we are not sure which of the four would win the contest that they have set up. George's visits to the hospital, for me, were the standout moments of the episode but Kramer and Jerry singing their respective songs was almost excellent. Alexander, Richards and Dreyfus all shine in this episode, as does Estelle Harris in her first appearances. Jerry Seinfeld does a fine job as well.
"The Contest" is easily one of my favourites to date, and additional viewings down the road will likely increase my love for it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
George confesses to jerking off at his parent's home to his friends in
Monk's Cafe as his mother had caught him, as she is now hospitalized
from falling over in shock as he describes. They then make a bet on who
can go the longest without doing "that". Upon all finger-swearing, what
follows thus is one of the most memorable Seinfeld, nay TV episodes, of
Airing on November 18, 1992, this was the fifty-first episode of the NBC sitcom series. On its original airing, the episode was seen by 18.5 million viewers. This would be the episode that would really and truly help launch Seinfeld into the ratings of immortality that soon followed. The first repeat airing was seen by ten million more people than the original airing, which is pretty much unheard of today, having to make it the most popular rerun of all time. Written by the co-founder of the show Larry David, he won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing in a Comedy Series and also won a Writers Guild of America award as well for his work on the episode for without once penning the word "masturbation" into the script. Jerry Seinfeld thought that, even if they had used the word "masturation," censors would've allowed it (the word has been used once before on the series), but part of the reason the episode was so funny is because the word is never used. The only note the censors gave the show was not to use the word "Snapple" as a euphemism. Weird, really. The subject is described, however, in innocuous euphemisms, while the meaning of the subject is still made clear to the audience. One of the euphemisms used in the episode is "master of my domain", said by Jerry while still in the contest. It has become a catchphrase in popular culture, although it is not always used in reference to..."that". Other double entendres include "Lord of my Manor" and "Queen of my Castle", as Elaine puts it. Director of the episode, Tom Cherones, won a Directors Guild of America award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy Series for this episode and was also nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Directing. Jonathan Boudreaux for tvdvdreviews.com said, "'The Contest' effortlessly takes a potentially incendiary subject and renders it utterly inoffensive yet hilarious." He also said that it was "one of the series' most infamous" episodes. And Donna Dorsett from audaud.com commented on the refusal to use the word "masturbation," saying, "If the word had been used, even once, the show would not have been nearly as hilarious. The episode was totally inoffensive." Perhaps yes to some, unless of course to those that enjoy this type of humor.
Being cited as the best Seinfeld episode, it also carries its share of fun facts, or as I like to call them Seinfacts: The American stand- up comedian Kenny Kramer, the inspiration for the actual Kramer on the show, claimed that there actually was a "Contest" in which David and some friends took part. Although he did not want to initially partake in the event because he thought he could not win it, it was David who won it in the end. Jerry, to avoid sexual temptations in this episode, forces himself to watch Tiny Toons on his TV while averting his gaze from the "I'm out!" Kramer in joining him to watch the nude woman across the street, singing "The Wheels on the Bus" to himself, staring intently at his screen. Seinfeld claimed that he had never heard of the song before recording the episode. The original screenplay featured Jerry watching Flipper, but was changed due to concerns over music rights. The naked female across the street nor Kennedy, Jr. also never appear in this episode. Although it is implied George won in The Puffy Shirt episode, it was in The Finale as the plane is going down where George, imminent of his certain demise, confesses to Jerry that he cheated, therefore making Jerry the true winner. When asked why, George simply replies, "Because I'm a cheater!"
Twenty-one plus years later, 'The Contest' continues to air every now and then and still grasps its bouts of hilarity. And because the 'm' word is never mentioned, it makes it all the more so, ever so slightly evading the boundaries of just flat out saying it and how close one not saying it makes this episode all the more genius and timeless as well and also because it had not been done for TV before either. I have to give it to this one in particular for its script and original ingenuity about four friends in the Big Apple who truly have far too much time on their hands for mindless feats such as this. But what else does one expect from a show about nothing? 'The Boyfriend', (S3E17/18) which was placed at number four from the original 1997 list of TV Guides 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time, I felt was funnier in my opinion than this one with a panicky George, his faux latex company under the dumb alias Vandelay Industries, a hilarious magic loogie explanation with clips of mock Zapruder stock inter-spliced, and, of course, Keith Hernandez acting as himself amidst a handful of quirks. I also appreciated that that episode leaned more on the aspect of using comical situations and timing rather than relying on one sexual innuendo spoken in many different forms but all meaning an unsaid word as a comical crutch, while Seinfeld himself actually said that 'The Boyfriend' was his favorite episode overall. Though I personally do not agree with 'The Contest' for the number one spot on the revised list, all I can say is kudos to David, Cherones and the cast for pulling off an ambitious tube classic which never once uttered, nor ever needed to say..."that" because, let's face it, we all knew what they meant.
And here we are with the "creme de la creme" of... Seinfeld. Okay,
that's debatable but nobody will deny The Contest is among the show's
best ones. It has everything a classic episode must have: memorable
moments, funny clever dialogue, great direction, great performances and
a killer idea.
Killer idea: if you think that an episode revolving around 4 people trying to hold the longest without masturbating is a risky-weird choice, imagine what people thought back in 92'. Aside from its historical importance, the idea about a contest is perfect because the episode unfolds itself almost like a game. It is one of the most entertaining episodes and our four protagonist are all fundamental to the plot.
Memorable moments: some great Seinfeld episodes have one memorable moment, maybe two. The Contest has around 4 of these. The opening conversation, George visiting his mother for the first time, Kramer caving and George visiting his mother for the second time. Each one of these moments has the audience going absolutely wild.
Funny clever dialogue: from the masterfully written opening scene, to George's conversations with his mother and Kramer numerous speeches, it's perfect from every way you look at it.
Great direction: Master Cherones appearing once again in a review. His subtle camera-work is beyond believe, adding so much to the material. The pace is near perfect, nor rushed nor slow.
Great performances: every actor here gives an Emmy-winning performance. From the main protagonists to Estelle and Marla, everyone is on point. I don't know which is the peak of the episode, if Kramer or George. Either way, they are all fantastic.
One of the best of the show (if not the best), an episode that changed history and that remains an incredible one even taking its importance aside.
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