Sunday (Nov. 18) is the 20th anniversary of the “Seinfeld” episode “The Contest.” It’s now considered one of the very best episodes of the series — if not of any sitcom ever. Zap2it — heck, the web as we know it — didn’t exist then. But if it had, this is how we would have recapped “The Contest” in our first ever Retro Rave. The items in parentheses are little factoids about the episode.
That’s it. “Seinfeld” is king of the comedy county, lord of the laugh manor. Truly, the show is master of its domain.
The show has been on an unbelievable run this fall, and it came to a head, so to speak, this week with “The Contest,” which has to be about the funniest and certainly the most innuendo-laden take on masturbation in TV history. Where to start?
(“The Contest” Fact No. 1: Larry David won an Emmy and a Writers Guild Award for his script, and Tom Cherones scored a Directors Guild Award and an Emmy nod for his direction.)
The contest itself is a good place. Only these four twisted souls would come up with the idea of placing a bet on who can self-deny the longest. Kramer, of course, is the first one out, unable to resist the idea of the naked woman across from Jerry’s apartment. But if you had Elaine going out second — even with the presence of John F. Kennedy, Joon-yah, in the episode — well, you saw something we didn’t.
Our money would’ve been on Jerry, who is, after all, dating a virgin — or was, until he foolishly tried to explain the contest to Marla. (Seriously — these guys should know by now that their little world makes sense only to them.) Appalled, Marla can’t leave quickly enough, and she happens to walk right into John-John’s arms. Sorry, Elaine.
(“The Contest” Fact No. 2: The episode drew a 13.0 rating/19 share in households when it first aired. Remarkably, though, the first repeat of “The Contest” actually scored better ratings with a 20.1/30, a very rare feat.)
So who won? The end of the episode showed everyone sleeping well (finally), implying that all four of them, uh, got what they needed. The way “Seinfeld” likes to refer to past events, it’s a safe bet we find out somewhere down the line.
Let’s pause to marvel for a moment at the way the episode (co-creator Larry David wrote it, masterfully) managed never to say the word “masturbation.” Instead David came up with fantastic euphemisms for how everyone was holding out — “master of my domain” being the most memorable. “Seinfeld” is maybe the most cleverly written sitcom on the air right now, and it was at the top of its game here. Kudos also to the casting team for finding Estelle Harris to play George’s mom. Of course that’s the woman who raised him. Also, more of her, please.
(“The Contest” Fact No. 3: Jane Leeves, who would go on to star on “Frasier,” was one of several future TV stars to appear in Season 4 of “Seinfeld.” Others include Paula Marshall (“The Outing”), Teri Hatcher (“The Implant”) and Mariska Hargitay and Jeremy Piven, who were both in “The Pilot.”)
We don’t say that lightly, either. The show really hit its stride midway through last season and has been on an incredible roll almost from the start this year. We’d put the last five episodes — “The Bubble Boy,” “The Cheever Letters,” “The Opera,” “The Virgin” and “The Contest” — up against any five-ep stretch of any other show for sheer quality. (The only thing in the same league right now is “The Simpsons,” which like “Seinfeld” is in its fourth season and is having a similarly brilliant run of late.)
What did you think of “The Contest”? Is “Seinfeld” now the master of its comedy domain?