Monday, December 26, 2016

Holiday "Classic" Recap: Seinfeld: "The Strike

“But out of that, a new holiday was born! A Festivus for the rest of us!”
-Frank Costanza

We’ve done holiday recaps that focus on Christmas and Hanukkah. This time, however it’s that gem of a holiday, Festivus. Festivus was one of those real Seinfeld cultural touchstones, up there with the Soup Nazi and being “Master of Your Domain.” I can definitely sympathize with Frank Costanza’s dislike for all the pressure and crass commercialism of the holiday season, and I commend him for creating his own alternative holiday, even if that alternative does seem to be rooted in a certain meanness. I mean, we are talking about a holiday that begins with an “airing of grievances” where Frank tells everybody exactly how they disappointed him in the past year, and it also includes “Feats of Strength” where he beats on a chosen family member. It’s not exactly happy fun times, and I do appreciate that while the show generally plays it for laughs, it acknowledges, through George’s reaction to the return of Festivus, that it’s pretty dark.

The episode opens however, at a Hanukkah party being thrown by the gang’s dentist friend, Tim Watley. George makes out the best of anyone at the party, I think. He eats his fill of kosher cocktail wieners, and he’s happy. Elaine sees a creepy guy in a denim vest eyeing her up, and she decides to break out her standard “fake number” when he starts hitting on her. Jerry has better luck in the romance department than Elaine. He meets a woman named Gwen who seems to be pretty good looking, and he’s only too happy to ask her out. When he meets her again, however, she doesn’t look anything like she looked at the party. Jerry (and everyone else who sees her) thinks she’s horribly ugly in the wrong light. I don’t quite see what they were going on about, myself. George calls Gwen a “Two Face.” Part of me wonders if watching Seinfeld as a young teenager contributed to my anxiety about dating in general – worrying I wouldn’t meet up to the very high standards demonstrated in the show.

Anyway, the next day, George and Jerry meet up at the coffee shop, and George has brought his mail to open (because I’m sure the writers couldn’t figure out any other way to bring all these plots together). Among his mail is a card from none other than Tim Watley, announcing that a donation has been made to the Children’s Alliance in George’s name. George is pissed off because he got Tim Yankees tickets, and all he gets in return is a donation. If this episode were taking place today and I were George, I’d be Googling the “Children’s Alliance” immediately, because that sounds like a fake charity if I ever heard one. George’s train of thought is similar. He decides that he’s going to make up a charity called “The Human Fund” and give all his coworkers donation cards. He gleefully collects bottles of wine from coworkers and gives them meaningless cards in return. And this is why Charity Navigator became a thing, people!

In the least holiday-relevant plot that actually gives the episode its name, Kramer receives a phone call that “the strike is over.” It turns out that back in the day, he used to work at H and H bagels, and twelve years ago they went on strike. He’s been “on strike” ever since, but since the minimum wage is now the wage Kramer and his coworkers were demanding, Kramer decides it’s time to go back to work. Kramer is the only one of the old guard to return, presumably because everyone else found a new job years ago. The owner does, however, agree to hire him on as temporary holiday help. Much has changed in the last twelve years of bagelry, however, as Kramer is amazed that such a thing as a raisin bagel can exist (marble rye bagels are my weakness).

In yet another improbable twist of fate, Elaine is super excited that she’s about to earn a free sub by having eaten twenty-four mediocre subs at Atomic Subs. The only problem is that she wrote the fake number on her Atomic Sub card and gave it to denim vest guy at the party. She decides to track down the true owner of the fake number, and she finds herself at a betting shop where the employees are not too happy to finally meet the Elaine Benes people have been calling for constantly. She doesn’t want to give her real phone number to the creepy betting shop employees, so she gives them the H and H phone number. She then starts camping out at H and H, hoping that denim vest guy will finally call, and she will get her crappy sub card back.

In the course of the usual banter between the gang, it comes out that George’s family celebrated Festivus when he was growing up, a holiday that George’s father made up when he got frustrated with Christmas. Instead of a Christmas tree, there’s a single aluminum pole, and there’s also the aforementioned Airing of Grievances and Feats of Strength. Kramer especially takes an interest in Festivus, and much to George’s chagrin, he convinces Frank to resurrect the tradition. Kramer is very upset, however, when his boss doesn’t let him off work on the 23rd (when Festivus is celebrated), so he goes on strike again. On his way out, he also tries to sabotage the shop’s machinery. The sabotage isn’t catastrophic, but it makes the whole shop very steamy. Elaine continues to insist on waiting for denim vest guy’s call, so she ends up looking like a drowned rat. Gwen mistakes her for the “ugly girl” she’s been hearing Jerry is dating. She eventually gets her Atomic Subs card back, but denim vest guy isn’t so interested anymore. And he gives her a fake number.

George gets caught with the Human Fund scam when his boss tries to donate $20,000 of company money to the “charity” and the accounting department does some investigating. George tries to go for the quick save, saying that the reason he gave fake Christmas gifts was because he actually celebrates Festivus, and he didn’t want to be judged. His boss insists on coming to the Festivus celebration to see for himself. The celebration itself is as raucous as you’d expect. And of course, George ends up being the one who has to perform the Feats of Strength.

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