Five TV Moments That Made Me Ugly Cry

I’m a man.

And while I believe men and women are created equally yet distinctly by God, I sometimes hate gender stereotypes. For example, I cry over fictional moments. I have for decades. From the time I first saw Gargamel in his pursuit of the Smurfs until I finished my first ever reading of To Kill A Mockingbird a few weeks ago, I have cried dozens of times over TV, movies, and books. Maybe hundreds.

So I was glad Phill Lytle got REO on the board on this topic a few weeks ago by confessing the same. Now I feel that as a website we are ready to delve into this further. I’ll go next by writing about five TV episodes that brought on the ugly tears. Youtube clips of the moments are embedded in blue highlights.

[This is obvious, but we will note it anyway: Major spoilers are ahead. But they will not be given away in the headings so if you have not seen the TV show mentioned and plan to in the future, skip to the next one.]

 

1. Family Ties “Say Uncle” (1984)

The 80s was truly a golden run of TV for me. Family Ties was a show I watched weekly with my family. It had an incredible cast headlined by Michael J Fox and Michael Gross. It had warm familial and political humor and to this day I am humored that Alex P. Keaton was an unabashed Republican. And it had one exceptional recurring guest star–Tom Hanks as Uncle Ned.

This was before he was an uber megastar, but he was still lovable as the carefree uncle who contrasted with the responsible Keatons. But this came at a price: He was an alcoholic. And in an unforgettable episode they try to get him to get help, but he doesn’t and in the climax he strikes Alex, causing a stunning transformation from jovial sitcom to a sober reality. Ned is brought to tears. Steven tells him to get help or get out of his house. And Elyse, his sister, makes one final plea for him to call AA. He does, making a joke after he picks up the phone before saying, “My name is Ned Donnelly, and I have a drinking problem.”

I was about 7 years old when I saw this and I cried like a baby. I got this episode through Netflix DVD several years ago and it has not aged well, but at the time it was about as good as TV got.

 

2. Scrubs “My Lunch” (2006) 

Bill Lawrence and his Scrubs production team were masters at concluding episodes with dramatic story arcs while a perfect song musically and lyrically played behind the action and JD’s inner monologue gave us closure. The crowning jewel is a Season 3 episode where in the beginning Dr. Cox invites JD to lunch for the first time ever and in a touching mentor-to-protege moment, tells him that he can’t blame himself for deaths that aren’t his fault.

Then back at the hospital, Dr. Cox makes the call to use a deceased woman’s organs for three patients who desperately need them. It turns out she had rabies. As a result, all three of them die. As the last one is coding and they try to revive him, “How to Save a Life” by The Fray plays and Dr. Cox loses it after the patient flatlines. He goes to leave and JD gives Dr. Cox his own advice about death and blame. Dr. Cox says, “You know what, Newbie, you’re right” and then leaves as the episode ends.

Incredible acting by John C. McGinley + incredible plot twist + the perfect song = Five minutes of Gowdy bawling

 

3. House, M.D. “Fetal Position” (2007) 

The drama in House was so tense, confrontational and cerebral that there were not many cry moments in the series to me. Most episodes I was too busy thinking about why I believe what I believe about God and disturbed by the conflict House created as an atheist (or too depressed by the illness) to shed any tears. This Season 4 episode is no different in general; it has moral dilemmas, boisterous arguing and enough stress to melt your face.

But there was one moment that is so different from the typical House fare that it stands out like the little girl in the red petticoat in Schindler’s List. A 42-year-old pregnant photographer falls ill and House believes the “fetus” (as he adamantly calls it) is the cause and has no problem wanting to abort it. But as old as the mother is she demands a different answer. After several scenes of all the other dynamics I mentioned, exploratory surgery on the “fetus” is agreed upon by Cuddy and House. And during the operation, a tiny little hand grabs House’s. The baby and mother are both saved but what got to me was that House stopped calling the yet unborn human life a “fetus” and started calling it a “baby.”

REO makes no qualms about our position on the unborn and I personally hate that it is a political issue that parties fight about. But I was stunned to tears that anyone in Hollywood would communicate something I as a Bible-believing Christian feel deeply about. In a tornado moment where morality and truth met emotion, the episode showed us why life in the womb is so sacred.

 

4. Lost “The Candidate” (2010) 

Lost could have its own list for me and most of the staff of REO, but I was determined to have a list of variety. Yet Lost affected me emotionally like no other show ever. And of all the moments that caused me to ugly cry today I’ll limit myself to mentioning the scene where Jin refuses to leave Sun and they drown in the submarine together.

Sun and Jin’s marriage was so great precisely because it survived so much. Both of them had issues, but Jin was betrayed far worse. And he sacrificed deeply to stay with her, only to lose her for a long time because of the island. And then promised he’d never leave her again. So for him to not abandon her in the face of death was huge. When he said “I won’t leave you. I will never leave you” in Korean followed by “I love you, Sun” in English…I’m a basket case of emotion just thinking about it. He kept his promise. I bet I cried for 15 minutes the last time I watched it. I bet I would cry just about any time I watched it, even just the two-minute clip on Youtube. It is that powerful. The music that plays behind this moment is called “Life and Death” and it is impeccably written and aptly named. What a show.

 

5. The Office “Goodbye, Michael” (2011) 

Michael Scott is truly one of the great sitcom characters of all time and if pressed I’d probably put him right behind George Costanza on a Top Ten list. And as I’ve written before, he was so outrageous he could be Funny Michael (By the end of 4th grade the lunch lady was whom he hung out with most), Awkward Michael (kissing Oscar), Redeeming Michael (buying Pam’s painting) and even at times all three at the same time (mic dropping and walking out of Ryan’s class).

But there was only one occasion of tear-jerking Michael, to me at least. For his last episode, he took off his microphone at the airport and gave us one last “That’s what she said” and walked away. There was the part with Pam right after, but this moment was pure, quintessential Michael and I could not help but cry as I knew a legend was departing and it was over. No more Michael Scott. The episodes after this proved to me that he was irreplaceable and he will never be replicated. And his goodbye was pure emotional torture.

 

I could have given and looked for more of this from our staff, but we hope to do more of this sort of thing in the future. Feel free to share your TV cry moments below if you’d like. No judgment from us!




Five Truths Band of Brothers Taught Me

The 2001 HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers, is easily one of my favorite things in the world. It is not just one of my favorite TV shows. Not one of my favorite pieces of entertainment. One of my favorite things. Period. I have now watched it from beginning to end at least six times. It is a pretty big commitment, spanning 10 parts, each around one hour in length but I’ll gladly do it every couple of years. I love the story. I love watching these “characters” as they train, serve, and fight to defend the world from tyranny and evil. I call them characters, but the men we watch on screen are all based on real-life soldiers and the filmmakers did a fantastic job keeping the story as real and accurate as they could, within the constraints of television.

I could write dozens of articles about the series, and believe me, I have been tempted to do just that. For this go around, though, I will limit myself to just one. Next week, I will be publishing an article about watching movies with wisdom, and I feel like working my way through Band of Brothers with an eye for teachable moments goes hand in hand with that. There is so much applicability found in the series, not just for soldiers or war time, but for every day life. So here they are – the five teachable moments in Band of Brothers.


 

Times of testing have the potential to forge lasting bonds

Dick Winters and Lewis Nixon in Band of BrothersWhen you go through something powerful and life-changing, such as war or combat, it is transformational. An even deeper level of transformation can occur if you go through that event with other people. A bond is formed. A fellowship. A brotherhood. The men of Easy Company that survived the war, walked away forever marked by their years of service. They also walked away as part of something bigger than themselves. They were forged into a unit by training and trials, and it etched lasting connections to their fellow soldiers. These were the bravest of the brave. Men who endured hell on earth fighting for freedom. Men who pushed through hunger, thirst, cold, pain, and fear. Yet even these men, when witnessing the death of a fellow brother, were left broken and unable to carry on, their bond was so strong. They were able to take anything the war had to throw at them, yet some of them crumbled underneath the weight of losing a friend. These men formed relationships that lasted the rest of their lives. Dick Winters (ostensibly the lead character in the series) even spoke at Lewis Nixon’s funeral over 40 years after the war. That was the strength of their friendship.

Intense periods of life have a way of creating lasting, life-long friendships and relationships, as long as we don’t keep people at arm’s length. While these moments might be painful and difficult, the bonds formed have it in them to carry us through to our next season of life and beyond. Nurture these bonds and be thankful for them. These bonds can be a blessing for the rest of your life, even though their creation might have been in the midst of great heartache and struggle.

 

You can still thrive even if you have an awful leader

Captain Herbert SobelFor those that have seen the series, you know who Captain Herbert Sobel is. Played with a perfect mixture of arrogance and insecurity by David Schwimmer, Captain Sobel was the officer in charge of getting Easy Company ready for the war. He was a petty tyrant. An aggressively mean and vindictive man. He was hated by nearly every soldier under his command. So much so, many of the non-commissioned officers staged a mutiny of sorts simply because they refused to go into battle with him as their leader.

Most people can relate to having a supervisor, manager, or boss that is like that. Mean. Angry. Impatient. Petty. The men of Easy Company could have used this as an excuse to not become one of the best companies in the war. They could have raged and whined about how Sobel treated them, and become worse soldiers for it. Instead, they worked harder and harder to overcome his capricious punishments. They strove to become the most disciplined and well-trained unit possible, in spite of a leader that treated everything as a personal slight. So, even if your boss is a jerk, use that as a springboard to better yourself. Out work your supervisor’s lack of leadership.

 

Everyone is capable of unimaginable evil and transcendent good

Private Mularkey and German solider on HBO Band of BrothersThere is an scene in the second part, Day of Days, where an American soldier, Private Mularkey, encounters a captured German soldier, only to find out that they grew up in almost the same area. Mularkey is stunned. How could this “American” be fighting for the enemy? What would possess someone to leave their country to go fight for the Nazis? He comes to find out that this particular soldier was simply following the wishes of his family who had been called back to the motherland.

Throughout the series, we witness endless moments of bravery and self sacrifice. Frankly, it is overwhelming to witness the things these men had to do and the things they had to go through to ensure the freedom of not only our country, but of the world. These were great men. Yet with all that said, history has told their story and they fought for the winning side. They fought for the righteous side, while the Germans fought for the losing side. The evil side. Many of those German soldiers were simply following orders. They were simply fighting for their country, just like the American men that fought for theirs. This is in no way an attempt to equate the two sides, and the series doesn’t fall into any of those post-modern, deconstructionist traps that hamstring so many recent war films. There is clearly good and evil involved in the war. But the point stands. How easy is it for humanity to gradually fall into greater and greater evil, out of duty or patriotism or obligation? We all have the potential to strive for the light or to descend into darkness.

Courage is not the opposite of fear

Private Blithe in Band of BrothersPerhaps the most difficult episode to watch is Carentan, the third installment. Much of the episode follows Private Blithe as he struggles with overcoming his almost paralyzing fear. Watching a soldier shake and scream when bullets are flying over his head proved to be much harder for me to watch than seeing the men actually shot and injured. It gets so bad that he experiences hysterical blindness late in the episode. Eventually, through the guidance and example of one officer in particular, he is able to overcome his fear and bravely fight next to his unit.

Courage is not the opposite of fear. I realize this point has been made before by others, but this and other portions of the series drove it home so firmly that I knew I had to include it. These men were afraid. Some of them were terrified. And they still did their jobs. They did what was right. They put their lives on the line time and time again. That is a lesson I need often.

 

It is okay to have heroes

Major Richard Winters in Band of BrothersI challenge anyone to find a more heroic television or movie character than Major Richard Winters. As portrayed by Damien Lewis, Winters is quiet, soft spoken, brave, decisive, and most importantly, completely above reproach. His quiet faith is presented with no derision, instead it is seen as a source of strength. He goes above and beyond the call of duty throughout the series. He is respected by all the men in his company. He is honored by those of higher rank. In all this, he remains humble and unassuming.

Every time I watch Band of Brothers, I know how it will end. I know exactly how the final lines will hit me like a punch to the gut. I know I will cry. Finishing the series a few nights ago, I braced myself for the final line. I knew it was coming and a had convinced myself it wasn’t going to get me this time. Major Winters is recalling his time in the war and a correspondence he received from a fellow soldier. When describing his accomplishments and achievements in battle, he once again takes the focus off himself and turns it towards his fellow soldier. In a letter he received he read the following words, and felt they summed up the entire experience for him perfectly, “I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ Grandpa said ‘No…but I served in a company of heroes’.”

We live in a time that celebrates scandal. An era that champions arrogance and celebrity. It is becoming more difficult to find heroes in our modern world. That does not mean we should stop looking. It is okay to have heroes, as long as they are pushing you to be better and do more. It is okay to have heroes if they nudge you towards humility and self sacrifice. It is okay to have heroes as long as their lives point to a fuller, deeper understanding of true heroism, which isn’t flashy and showy, but unassuming, sacrificial, and meek.

 


So there you have it. That’s what I learned this time around. What are some lessons you have learned watching this amazing, groundbreaking series? We would love to read about them in the comment section below.
 
 




It’s Easy to Love Chris Pratt

The Humble Beginnings of the future Star-Lord

Before there was Andy Dwyer and before there was Peter Quill, there was Bright Abbott.

I watched Everwood religiously from 2002 to 2006. A guilty pleasure for sure. As far as a person with a Christian worldview can be over a TV show, I was devastated when it was cancelled. I had just moved to Chicago and was dealing with girl problems, so I saw myself in Ephraim since he dealt with the same things. But in my watching I could not help but love Bright as well. He wasn’t funny or intelligent or the star of the show. He was just likeable.

So why did I like him? At the time I wasn’t sure. But a few years later the man I knew as Bright and whose real name I may have sort of known at the time, appeared on my TV screen in a trailer for Zero Dark Thirty. It seemed obvious to me that he didn’t have a big part, but just his one-line speaking role in the trailer made the movie almost as appealing as the the actual story.

And I watched it. And later I watched Moneyball. And “Bright Abbott” continued to make me smile and remained close to the top of my Hollywood conscious.

 

Johnny Karate’s Greatest Hit

Then a few years ago the guys from REO were championing a modern sitcom called Parks and Rec and eventually I realized that I needed to watch it. And voilà! There he was again! And for the million reasons Parks and Rec worked as a sitcom and landed at the number 3 spot on our list of Top Ten Sitcoms of all-time, Andy was a huge one.

I doubt anyone in sitcom history has a higher laugh-per-line ratio to me than Andy Dwyer. Even George Costanza. George is still the best to me because he makes me laugh and applaud the hardest, but nearly everything Andy says is funny. Playing the role of the clueless doofus has been popular in sitcom history, like Joey Tribbiani on Friends. But no one has done it like Chris Pratt. It’s a wonder to behold. My wife and I just finished Parks and Rec for the second time, and Andy has caused pools of tears in laughter. See this scene for a classic example:

 

It’s not hyperbole to me to say that Chris Pratt is a comedic genius. Some of it is innate, which can be seen if you watch PnR outtakes (caution: they have cursing) and Pratt just shoots from the hip without a script and has all of his co-workers on the floor laughing. But some of it is just him understanding what is truly funny and having the courage to do what would embarrass 99% of people.

Summer Blockbuster Cool

Somewhere in all that I saw Guardians of the Galaxy. By accident. Even though Chris Pratt was that guy I liked I apparently didn’t know enough about this movie to know he was in it. But one August night in 2014 I went to see the new Ninja Turtle movie and got the showtime wrong. I watched Guardians instead. Needless to say, by the end of that movie Chris Pratt rocketed to the top of my “I want to see it because he’s in it” list.

So when it was announced a few years ago that he was going to be in the new Jurassic Park movie I was bonkers. I already love the franchise, even the oft-disparaged second and third volumes, so his involvement in Jurassic World made it an opening weekend viewing for me. So I was there opening Friday night front and center to experience what would surely be amazing American cinema. I didn’t think it was a great movie but I was not disappointed even one iota in Chris Pratt. Star-Lord and Owen prove that he’s not lovable just because he’s funny. He has something special that goes beyond that. These movies sell themselves on many things, but I don’t think it’s an accident that Pratt has been in three of the top 50 domestic grossing of movies of all-time all in the last three years (Guardians 2 being the other).

Everwood Was His Bosom Buddies

In the book Blink by Malcom Gladwell, he talks about the first time Brian Grazer met Tom Hanks. Grazer says, “He came in and read for the movie Splash, and right there, in the moment, I can tell you just what I saw. We read hundreds of people for that part, and other people were funnier than him. But they weren’t as likable as him. I felt like I could live inside of him. I felt like his problems were problems I could relate to.”

I think Chris Pratt has the same thing Hanks does. I have never met him and doubt I ever will. But if I ever saw him I would feel like I was meeting a buddy from high school. It would probably be surreal since he is famous, but almost paradoxically I think it would feel so familiar. Because Pratt just comes across that way. Recently he was caught in the middle of a typical American controversy that some thought would offend the deaf community. And Pratt’s response it–by signing an apology in sign language–was as touching and real as anything you’ll see from Hollywood off screen.

 

We’ll follow your lead, Star-Lord

In the Season 6 Parks and Rec episode “New Slogan” Andy is trying to find bands to play for a unity concert and by accident he discovers that Ron is Duke Silver. This is a unique episode because Andy ditches, for the most part, the dim-witted persona. When he talks to Ron, he’s more of an adult. In sharp contrast to “ambling down the street naked on crutches” Andy, this Andy is smooth. And cool. And bears semblance to Pratt’s other roles. I am not sure why he’s like this for one episode but I realize as I’m watching that it’s not the shtick or the writing that makes Andy great. It’s the man behind the character.

And I have little doubt his white hot career arc is just getting warmed up. Because he will bring this undefinable Tom Hanks-like personality to whatever he does. And on his 38th birthday, we celebrate the privilege of seeing his career unfold in real time.

 

 




Five Classic Curmudgeons of TV and Film

Movie and Television history is profuse with amazing and unforgettable crusty old men. Mean, cranky, ancient, eccentric – got to love those aged dudes and their disdain of all these hippies (everyone under 50) and newfangled contraptions. In our adoration of these wise, gray-haired, ne’er-do-wells, we have decided to highlight five iconic crusty old curmudgeons from either film or TV lore. Note: This is not necessarily a “best-of” list. These are simply the five cantankerous old coots that we have chosen to write about. – Ben Plunkett

 

Arthur Spooner – The King of Queens
by Gowdy Cannon

Frank Costanza could go from 0 to outrageously psychotic in two seconds. Arthur Spooner could get there, just a bit more slowly. And sometimes that was actually funnier. Arthur was Carrie’s dad, but it was his interactions with son-in-law Doug that showed how uninhibited Jerry Stiller was as a comedic actor and that caused me to cry tears from laughter. From the simple way he called him “Douglas” to their insane, petty, over-the-top, roll-on-the-floor-laughing showdowns in the kitchen, Arthur Spooner was just different enough from Frank, yet just enough the same. My favorite moments:

–Arthur tries some of Doug’s kids breakfast cereal and gets the prize 3D glasses. Doug is clearly upset because the cereal is his but he tries to be an adult about it. But he can’t because Arthur won’t stop acting juvenile. So Doug acts childish in return and the back and forth ends with Arthur ripping up the glasses and Doug destroying the still-full box of his own cereal as Carrie walks in.

–Arthur asks Doug how many stamps he needs for tickets he is mailing. Arthur doesn’t like Doug’s answer so Doug insults Arthur’s mooching off his family. It ends with Arthur destroying Doug’s sandwich and Doug destroying Arthur’s mail.

–Arthur asks Doug to pass the “catsup”. Doug won’t until he says “ketchup”. Arthur refuses so Doug pours an insane amount of ketchup on Arthur’s burger, demanding that Arthur call it “ketchup” as both yell back and forth until Arthur cedes. “And that’s how we learn”.

(And my personal favorite)

–Doug is answering a political survey over the phone when Arthur comes in and tries to make a phone call on the same line. He realizes what Doug is doing, insults his answers and this begins an exchange of severe putdowns between the two (including “Why don’t you tell him you’re enormous?” and “Why don’t you tell him you live in our basement?”) that ends with Doug asking “Why don’t you tell him your total salary last year was $12?” To which Arthur replies: “That was after taxes!” I don’t know why that Arthur line is so funny. Maybe the look on his face. Or the volume of the conversation. Or how inane the comment is. But I hurt from laughing at it and I’ve seen it several times.

As far as cranky old curmudgeons, Arthur Sponer takes a backseat to no one.

 

Carl Fredricksen – Up
by Phill Lytle


Merriam Webster defines crotchety as: subject to whims, crankiness, or ill temper. Thesaurus.com gives us these synonyms for crotchety: Cantankerous, crusty, grouchy, grumpy, and ornery. When we first meet the older Carl Fredricksen, he is all these things and more. He has grown sour after the passing of his beloved Ellie. He is prone to outbursts of anger, is mean-spirited to Russell, a young “Wilderness Explorer.”, and doesn’t seem to enjoy much about his life anymore. In other words, every second he is on screen is a joy for the audience. His complaints are hilarious. His lack of patience with Russell, and anyone else for that matter, never ceases to amuse. Buried deep down in Carl is a noble, honest, and good man. It takes some time for the audience to find it, but the journey is no less enjoyable during the search.

Favorite moments and lines:

Already exasperated with Russell’s constant talking and enthusiasm, Carl says, “Hey, let’s play a game. It’s called “See Who Can Be Quiet the Longest”. The line is perfectly delivered by Ed Asner, one of the great curmugeonly actors of all time. But the response by Russell takes the joke to another level, one that makes us laugh, but also reveals a great deal about our main characters, “Cool! My mom loves that game!”

Once they have nearly reached their destination by air, they are forced to continue the rest of the way on foot. Carl, wanting things quiet delivers this little nugget of gold to Russell, “Now, we’re gonna walk to the falls quickly and quietly with no rap music or flashdancing.” I’ve always loved that the two things Carl mentions are rap music and flashdancing, as if those were obviously things Russell would be involved in.

Finally, early in the film, when the builders are trying to get Carl to leave his home, he spots one of the businessmen in the distance. The man is wearing a suit, looking distinguished and professional. Carl yells at him, “You in the suit! Yes, you! Take a bath, hippie!” I think that one speaks for itself.

 

 

Merlin – The Sword in the Stone
by Ben Plunkett and Phill Lytle

He is, perhaps, the progenitor of all curmudgeons. Merlin is both cranky yet full of vigor. Quick tempered yet a great teacher. Ornery yet kind and caring. The first time we meet this magical old hermit is right after young Arthur literally drops in on him and Merlin is literally waiting. Along with Merlin’s even more curmudgeonly pet talking owl, Archimedes, Arthur is prepared for his rightful place of king. Every kid I knew wanted to have a mentor like Merlin, someone who could transform us into a fish or a squirrel. Someone who could teach us about the world. Someone to take note of us and invest in our lives. Someone who would fly off the handle and disappear to Bermuda when he got angry…

Favorite moments and lines:

Merlin tries to explain the way of the world to young Arthur, telling him that everyone faces adversity, “Oh, bah! Everybody’s got problems. The world is full of problems.” Merlin gets his beard caught in the door and yells, “Oh, blast it all! There, now! You see what I mean?”

When Merlin transforms Arthur and himself into squirrels, an older, lady squirrel becomes quite enamored with Merlin. Growing every more frustrated, yelling “Madame!” at key points of discomfort, Merlin finally decides enough is enough, “By George! I’ve had enough of this nonsense! ALAKAZAM!” He transforms himself back into a human being, leaving the female squirrel confused and upset. “There! Now you see? I’m an ugly, horrible, grouchy old man!” Even Merlin recognizes that he belongs on this list.

While he could be a very grouchy curmudgeon, Merlin also had times of great wisdom, like when he taught Arthur the lesson of love during his very squirrely adventure: “Ah, you know, lad, that love business is a powerful thing,” said Merlin.
“Greater than gravity?” asked Arthur.
“Well, yes, boy. In its way, I’d, uh… Yes, I’d say it’s the greatest force on earth.”

 

 

Frank Costanza – Seinfeld
by Ben Plunkett


Ah, Frank Costanza. Prone to psychotic outbursts. Hilariously and boisterously confrontational. No wonder his son George is a mess (with the very capable assistance of the almost equally psychotic Estelle, of course). The senior Mr. Costanza was portrayed to perfection by Jerry Stiller, whose acting, I imagine, was key to making Frank one of the most iconic crusty old curmudgeon’s of all time. But like all of Seinfeld, there was seriously great, hilarious, and memorable writing going down. A handful (but not nearly all) of Frank’s most memorable quotes and moments:

– “Serenity Now!”

– In my mind the episode “The Strike” is the perfect Seinfeld episode in just about every way. It is in this episode that much to George’s chagrin, Frank’s creation, the alternative holiday Festivus, is revealed to the world.

– “This is Frank Costanza. You think you can keep us out of Florida? We’re moving in lock, stock and barrel. We’re gonna be in the pool. We’re gonna be in the clubhouse. We’re gonna be all over that shuffleboard court. And I dare you to keep us out!”

– Festivus wasn’t the only case of Frank thinking outside the box. In the episode “The Doorman” in another insane fit of invention Frank collaborates with Cosmo Kramer to invent the Bro/Mansierre to assist older fellas in holding up their increasingly sagging chests.

– “He stopped short. You think I don’t know what that’s about? That’s my old move! I used it on Estelle forty years ago! I told everybody about it! Everybody knows! (demonstrates the move) Mmm! I stopped short.”

 

Lt. Mark Rumsfield – The ‘Burbs
by Phill Lytle


I’ve long considered The ‘Burbs to be one of the Tom Hanks’ greatest films. I realize I am in the minority, but I am not alone. I’ve met many people that believe the film is wildly underrated. What makes the film work so well is not just the fantastic performance by Hanks, but the wonderful and eccentric supporting cast. No one steals more lines and earns more laughs than Bruce Dern as Lt. Mark Rumsfield. Rumsfield is a retired military man, yet still living in constant vigilance and readiness for war. He is opinionated, suspicious of everyone, and ready to jump to the worst conclusion possible at the drop of a hat.

Favorite moments and lines:

Unfortunately, most of his dialogue is salty, after years in the military, and I will not reprint it on REO. (The film is rated PG-13, so the saltiness is not as extreme as it could have been.) Just watch the movie and enjoy his well directed vitriol and sarcasm. But, for the sake of this article, here are a couple I can mention:

Rumsfield takes great pride in his yard. Unfortunately, he has a neighbor (Walter Seznick) down the block whose yard far surpasses his own. His reasoning why his yard can’t compete with Walter’s, “That old fart. He’s got the best lawn on the block. And you know why? Because he trains his dog to crap in my yard.” A bit coarse and rough around the edges, but straight to the point.

When a group of our main characters head over, uninvited, to the new neighbor’s house, Rumsfield does his best to make everyone uncomfortable with questions, poking around, and examining as much of the house as he can. His interaction with the new family, the Klopeks, is delightful in its boldness and rudeness. One particular exchange has always cracked me up. Introducing himself to the youngest of the Klopek family, “Rumsfield’s the name. Don’t think I caught yours, sonny?” Hans, responds nervously, “H-H-Hans.” Rumsfield responds in the most natural manner possible, “Hans! Oh-ho! A fine Christian name. Hans Christian Andersen! What are you, Catholic?”

That should give you a good idea what to expect from Lt. Mark Rumsfield and an indication why he made our list.




In Defense of the Seinfeld Finale

“I got so much grief from the Seinfeld finale, which a lot of people intensely disliked…” (Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld)

 

If you want to start an argument among Seinfeld fans my advice is to ask this simple question: “What did you think of the finale?”

I’ve been talking with Seinfeld fanatics since before Kramer had a first name and I have seen firsthand how volatile conversations about Seinfeld can be. This is perhaps the biggest time bomb.

Let me preface my defense of the finale by saying that it was nowhere near the funniest episode or even as funny as an average episode. Out of 180 total episodes, I doubt it would crack the Top 100 for laugh out loud moments. I can easily support that critique. Similarly, if someone wanted to be introduced to the show there is no way I would want them to see the Finale totally aside from the nature of a finale not being an episode to watch first. It was a different beast from episodes like The Comeback and The Marine Biologist.

But even with all this, I loved the way the show ended.  Here are five reasons why:

 

1. Larry David came back. 

I for one do not think the show fell off a cliff the post Larry David seasons since probably half of my favorite moments came in Seasons 7-9. But there is no Seinfeld without Larry David. And to bring him back to recreate the magic of Seinfeld’s origins–everything from Jerry doing stand up to open to the very last conversation bringing the show full circle–made the finale worth remembering. From writing to producing to championing the show with such passion he would argue with NBC executives, Larry David was as important to mainstreaming and popularizing Seinfeld as anyone.

 

2. They found a creative, clever way to bring back the best one-off characters from the show’s history. 

Who didn’t enjoy experiencing the Bubble Boy testify, railing against George about the Moors again? Or watching Babu wag his finger one more time? Or seeing the Soup Nazi refuse to spell his name and demand the next question?

This was what made Larry David so proud of the finale and I have to agree with him. Finales should be a trip down memory lane in some sense and they found a truly unique way to recall inimitable characters and jokes that were defining moments for this award winning series.

 

3. This scene with Newman:

 

Newman, the character who appeared the most outside of the main four[1. I you don’t count Ruthie Cohen, and I don’t] and who Jerry cannot explain his hatred for, had his moments. He even stole some scenes. But they saved the pinnacle Newman meltdown for last. Either this or Frank Costanza interrupting the trial to yell at George Steinbrenner is the biggest laugh of the Finale to me. And this is definitely a “Gowdy stands up to clap” moment.

 

4. The characters gave us 45 final, glorious minutes of what made them great.

Not to contradict myself above but if someone did want to know what Seinfeld was like and they only had 60 seconds to do so, I absolutely would show them the comments the New York Four made on Kramer’s video while the fat tub was getting robbed. Anyone who didn’t smile and nod when George complained about no catsup–while in jail–probably missed most of the show’s run to that point. Jackie Chiles’ rants; Frank yelling about Hideki Arabu; Puddy’s utter indifference to Elaine going to jail complete with the Puddy stare and the Puddy voice-tone reply of “Alright” to Elaine’s “Don’t wait for me”…the finale unquestionably reminded us of why we became addicted to the show in the first place. Not all of these moments were boisterously laugh funny, but they were all quintessential Seinfeld.

 

5. The conclusion was absolutely true to the nature of the show.

I wish I had kept better files back in 1998 when this episode aired because I cannot remember who it was or where I read it but someone perfectly captured the ending by pointing out that the characters in the show didn’t care about anyone else and the show’s ending showed they didn’t care about us either. No good vibes. No sappy ending. Just the standard “Everyone loses” Seinfeld climax. There is something so real about that I can’t help but love it.

And the verdict: Four completely self-absorbed narcissists who left countless lives worse than how they found them, going to jail for a year. Poetic Justice in inane form. And the crime could not have been any more fulfilling–breaking a law based on a story from Jesus, a man who was perfectly contrary to them. The moment that “guilty” verdict is read, my goosebumps shatter as though I were watching a walk-off grand slam Cubs win. What an ending! It all, indeed, came crumbling down. And Newman was there. In all his glory.

As Larry David has said, everyone writes their own finale in their head[2. Anyone who wanted Elaine and Jerry to get together needs to get bonked upside the head with a marble rye.] and it is impossible for a show as popular as Seinfeld to make everyone happy in an episode like this. But I respect it because they did exactly what they wanted to do the way they wanted to do it. And they did not care about anyone else. The same man who yelled at NBC reps for not liking his Chinese restaurant episode idea, and got his way (and eventual great acclaim for the idea), went out the only way he could. And I cannot dog that. It worked.

 

I’m but one voice, yet 19 years ago I walked away from the TV longing for more new Seinfeld. Nevertheless, I was still completely satisfied by its ending. Two decades later I feel the same. The greatest show of all time went out on top. No critiques of the finale can change that.

 

Agree?  Disagree?  Let us know below!

 

 




“I’m Offended!” What Biblical Offense Is (And Isn’t) In 21st Century America

Be careful, there are some people out there who are ‘professional weaker brethren.’
[Chuck Swindoll]

 

Language is not like math.

That’s what I tell my ESL students often when they ask me about translation and pronunciation rules. Not much we learn in this realm is quite like “2+2=4”. For example, if you ask me how to say “lose” in Spanish, I’d need to hear it in a sentence. I know of at least five ways to translate it and having a limited knowledge of the language, there are probably many I’m not aware of.

Very few words mean only one thing. “Offensive” and all of its forms is a very good example. Something can “offend” me in the sense that it annoys me. It can offend me in the sense that it hurts me. Even in the Bible it can mean that someone is aware of their sin because of Jesus Christ, and angry as a result. And many nuances exist within each of these meanings.

But there is one special meaning of the word in the Bible I think gets confused with other definitions and causes confusion and even at times misuse of the Bible as a result. In 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14-15, the discussion of what Christians are free to do should cause us to think of “offense” being at times the idea of causing another Christian to stumble morally and fall back into a sin with which they used to struggle.

The concept is not that difficult to get. Paul says it is understandable to have convictions in the sense that you are “fully convinced in your own mind” that you should avoid certain things or that you should do certain things. The examples he gives are things like not eating certain foods or believing that some days should be observed to worship and not others. Convictions often are formed based on weaknesses in our faith, based on temptations that can easily cause us to sin.

He is absolutely clear that you should not force your convictions on other people. One person believes they should not eat meat, since during that time it could lead to struggling with a former life of idolatry. Another believes all food is okay to eat because he has no struggle. Both can be right if they are fully convinced in their own minds what is best for them.  Convictions are not absolute truths, which are true for all people everywhere and for all time. The Bible has many of those (Jesus is the only way to God, etc.), but much of Christianity is figuring out how to live in the way that is most pleasing to God and that will not look the same for all people.

But Paul also goes as far to say that if your liberty to do certain things causes offense to other Christians, you should avoid doing them.  An example that is easy to think of in our culture today is that if I’m with a Christian friend who used to struggle with alcohol and I do not struggle with it, then I would not be acting in love if I drank in front of him or her. (For the record, I choose not to drink for a variety of reasons.)

Sadly, this is the starting point for the aforementioned confusion and misuse of the Bible. It my opinion, based on my lifetime experience dealing with churches and Christians, that people often try to say “this offends me” as if to say you shouldn’t do it because of what taught about not casting a stumbling block. But in reality, they are not offended in that way. They are not really even harmed. They are merely annoyed. Which is a totally different type of offense. Many Christians would not be even a little tempted to drink if another Christian drank in their presence. So are they “offended”? Not in a 1 Corinthians 8-10 or Romans 14-15 manner.

I’ll be frank–I am not overly concerned most of the time with annoying people. I am not acting in love if I annoy people on purpose, generally speaking. But if the fact that I watch a movie or TV show or do something similar that merely annoys people, then I do not have a biblical mandate to not do it based on causing anyone to stumble.

To really practice what Paul was talking about with 21st century American entertainment, I could easily envision a scenario where a friend of mine watches a TV show with more sexual content that I can handle and even though he is not tempted to lust by it, he chooses not to watch or discuss it around me. My conviction is to avoid the show.

Much of entertainment does not cause me any offense. I can certainly make it into something harmful by taking in so much it wastes my time I could doing other things that are better for the kingdom of God. But generally speaking, this isn’t about that. It’s about me being fully convinced in my own mind that I am free to do things others may feel they cannot. And far more often than not, the word “offense” comes up in these discussions meaning “I’m annoyed” and not “I may fall back into sin”.

I recognize this treatment of the issue doesn’t deal with parenting. As a non-Parent I’ll let others speak to that aspect of it. But in my personal life, I want to be careful how I use words, especially words in the Bible, and how I teach them. “I’m offended” may be something serious or it may be something not all that significant. May God grant us the wisdom to know the difference.




500 Words or Less Reviews: Avatar – The Last Airbender

500 words is not enough for me to do justice to this show. It’s the best family cartoon series I have ever seen. I just finished watching the series with my boys for the second time and it’s the first time I’ve watched it with my youngest son, though he has seen episodes here and there. Originally released on Nickelodeon from 2005 through 2008, Avatar – The Last Airbender tells the story of a world divided by war and conflict. The world is split up into four kingdoms, and intended to be a place where they work together and live in peace. The Fire Nation changed all of that when they attacked and destroyed the Air Nation. Each nation (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water) has citizens with the ability to control and manipulate the element of their nation. There is one person that has the ability to control all four elements – the Avatar. Unfortunately, the Avatar has been missing for 100 years. The series tells the story of the new Avatar, the friends he meets in his journey, and his quest to bring balance and peace to the world.

That’s the plot in a nutshell. And that would be enough on its own, but the show is so much more. Most grown up shows should study the way this series handles character development, emotional payoffs, and rich thematic content. For a show created to appeal to six to eight year olds, it’s amazing how much depth they were able to pack in without making things overly complicated. The main characters all go through dramatic transformations. Motivations evolve and mature. Allegiances are tested. Enemies become friends. Friends become enemies. It’s all there.

At its most basic, the show is fun, exciting and full of laughs and adventure. Seeing my kids belly laugh as we watched this show is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. The animation is well done, blending various different influences from Anime to more American styles. The voice acting is impressive, using a mix of adults and children to bring the characters to life. The music is engaging but rarely manipulative or pandering. And when the show requires a gigantic payoff, it hits it out of the park every single time.

If you have children between 6 and 15, they will most likely enjoy this show. They will fall in love with Aang, Katara, Sokka, Zuko, Toph, Iroh, Appa, and Momo. There are elements of Eastern mysticism, and reincarnation plays a pretty big role in the story. But instead of hiding from it, those plot points gave my family a good opportunity to discuss what we believe and how that differs from what the show presents. The show also gives you chances to talk about love, hope, selflessness, sacrifice, and friendship. What more could you ask for?

It’s available on Amazon for free if you are a Prime Member.




The Five Funniest Women of Television

Introduction by Phill Lytle

On January 25, 2017, we lost Mary Tyler Moore. Immediately after her death, the REO staff wanted to do something in her honor. After some thought, we chose to honor her as well as a handful of other iconic and hilarious women of television. As opposed to our Top Ten lists, this list was not voted on or deliberated for months. We settled on the first four very quickly – you should be able to guess which ones they are. We finally landed on the final name and then started writing. On a personal note, I wanted to write for Mary Tyler Moore but Ben Plunkett beat me to it. I used to watch The Dick Van Dyke Show with my grandparents and I was a little bit in love with Laura Petrie. I guess it’s better for all involved that Ben got that one. We hope you enjoy this celebration of five very funny ladies.

 

Lucille Ball by Ben Plunkett

Lucille Ball is almost universally accepted as one of the funniest women in T.V. history. And after watching most of the episodes of I Love Lucy (my sister and I are one the sixth and final season via Hulu Plus), she deserves that status for I Love Lucy alone. In fact, if this list were about the funniest women of all time, she would most likely still be on it. She is primarily known as the star of I Love Lucy, which she co-created and starred in along with her then husband, Desi Arnaz. In doing so, the two became the inventors of the modern situational comedy. Their characters were joined in their wild escapades (mainly Lucy inspired) by their neighbors and best friends, Fred and Ethel Mertz, portrayed by real life arch-enemies Walter Farley and Vivian Vance. Her three costars highlighted her funniness. That Lucy, she was the embodiment of funny in New York, Hollywood, Europe, and Florida. Ball went on to do several other shows, but she will always be known as one of the funniest women on TV mainly thanks to her stint on I Love Lucy.

P.S. – Quick shout out to Vivian Vance. She was a perfect comedic sidekick for Lucy, being dragged into most of Lucy’s mad schemes.  In my opinion she is only slightly less funny than Ball and very, very underrated.

 

Amy Poehler by Mike Lytle

Amy Poehler first rose to national prominence on Saturday Night Live. She was one of the few female performers in the history of the show who would get as many sketches written for her as many of the top male cast members. The writers found her to be funny and versatile enough to trust her with much of their best material. Not only that, but she co-hosted the Weekend Update segment for several of its strongest years and more than held her own, first opposite Tina Fey and later Seth Meyers. Her movie career has been hit and miss, but I have a special place in my heart for her roles in Baby Mamma and Blades of Glory. What we will remember Poehler most for is her role as Leslie Knope on the third greatest sitcom of all time Park and Recreation. She took a character that was originally written to be a female version of Michael Scott from The Office and made it so much more than that. She wasn’t always the funniest character on Parks and Rec, but there was never any doubt that she WAS the show. Leslie Knope’s unbridled optimism is the defining characteristic of the show and I have to believe that much of that came from Amy Poehler herself.

 

Mary Tyler Moore by Ben Plunkett

The recently deceased comedic icon is known in pop culture history as a primary ingredient of two unforgettable sitcoms: The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I am coming from the point of view of someone who has only mostly seen the former. (I have watched various episodes of The Mary Tyler Moor Show.) My sister and I just had the honor of watching the show on Netflix, finishing last month. The Dick Van Dyke Show started in 1961. I imagine they had planned Laurie Petrie to be a relatively minor side character, showing up every other episode or so for two or three minutes. She was almost not cast on the show at all. From what I have read, it sounds like she almost missed out on a role of a lifetime. In fact, the entire cast did. The pilot of the show was called Head of the Family and starred an entirely different cast, including creator Carl Reiner as Rob Petrie. But in the revised version, everyone obviously expected Van Dyke to take the house down. After all, he had already become known on radio, TV, and stage and had even won a Tony. Moore smashed all their low expectations to smithereens. She ended up being the show’s secret weapon, not only matching Dyke’s comedic finesse, not only doing pretty well, but perfectly matching her TV show husband in comedic time, acting, dancing, and just flat out amazing, all-around talent. I don’t think TV history has ever seen two actors with better chemistry. The show finalized in 1966, but Moore wasn’t finished yet. She went on to be the main of star of one of the most famous shows ever, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

One last thing: Moore would still be on this list if we were doing the five best looking funny women. At least, I would fight hard for it. That Laura Petrie, one great looking gal, she was.

 

Carol Burnett by Phill Lytle

Actress and comedienne, Carol Burnett is best known for The Carol Burnett Show, which ran from 1967 through 1978. Needless to say, I did not watch the show as it aired, seeing as how it ended its run a few months after my birth. I did get to see the show on reruns with my grandparents though, and I was always impressed and entertained. Watching her perform with her costars, it was clear how gifted, tireless and committed she was to making the show as funny as possible. She was also incredibly graceful in her ability to allow one of her costars to get the biggest laughs in a skit, or to take center stage if their performance warranted it. That kind of generosity of spirit is as rare today as it was then. But most of all, she was funny.

A few years ago, I was watching an awards show and either she was being honored or she was presenting an award – my memory fails me on that count. Regardless what her specific role was, she got up on stage and she talked and made a few jokes and had the crowd laughing – genuinely laughing. Not the feigned laughter you see at many of those shows when a legend is speaking. She was surprising and sharp and funny. It was great to watch and it only solidified in my mind how singular of a talent she has always been.

 

Julia Louis-Dreyfus by Gowdy Cannon

I’ve watched a lot of Seinfeld over the last 25 years but I am not so pompous to think I can’t see new things and change my mind on opinions about it. Just last summer as my wife and I went through it I was, more than ever, blown away by how much Elaine added to the show. Performing next to a comedic legend superstar and two of probably the Top 5 greatest sitcom characters ever, I am sure I had not appreciated her as she deserved. She had her moments:  “You want germs? I’ll give you germs.”  “We don’t have to name names…or point fingers…or name names!”   “YOU’RE BALD!”  Her GET OUT push is as iconic as anything in the show’s pantheon of icon.  But until this last time through I am sure I didn’t see her the way I saw the other three. I do now. With time I can see how Elaine wasn’t eclipsed even slightly by the legends around her because she was far too bright.  She was audacious in a way TV women often weren’t and it was hilarious. In hindsight it’s hard to believe Jerry and Larry David didn’t have a woman written in at first and NBC had to demand it.  She could not have fit in better in the well oiled comedy machine that was Seinfeld.

She continued her success with The New Adventures of Old Christine, adding another Emmy to the one she won in Seinfeld. And while I have not seen it, she continues to rack up the awards in her new series Veep as well. But she’ll always be Elaine to me. The woman who cedes ground to no man. The woman who dropped Frank Costanza like a bag of dirt, who went toe to toe with the Soup Nazi and scored a KO, who dominated karate champ Kramer . It took a special actress to share a screen with Alexander, Richards and Seinfeld. She is their equal and that may be the highest compliment I can pay her.

 

So, what do you think? Does our list meet your approval? Let us know what you think in the comment section below. We would love to talk about these and other hilarious women of television.

 




Five Lies Gilmore Girls Tells You

For the record, I like the show.  But it lies to you.  Lies so hard.  Here are five examples.


1. If you eat enormous amounts of junk food, do not cook much on your own, and hate exercising, you will still be healthy and look fabulous.

It’s the life we all want, but we can’t have. And please tell me there will be French fries in heaven. And coffee.

 

2. Your wish for your studious, “good” teenage daughter to have moments of rebellion by participating in destructive behavior has no actual effect on her decisions.

Were these longings for her teenager’s rebellion due to parental boredom?  Did Lorelai want to purchase the alcohol for Rory’s underage drinking orgies? Was she disappointed in her daughter for striving to get into an Ivy League instead? Darn, I hate it when kids make correct choices.

 

3. Being a single mother with one income will lead to talk of not having money, but there will never be any actual financial sacrifices.

You can eat out as much as you want, actually eat out most every meal. You can own your own very large home in the Northeast. Your daughter can buy books all the time. You can wear whatever you like and find fashionable.[1. Time agrees.  Read this if you don’t believe me.] Ok, so Rory didn’t buy enough skirts for her private school. Lorelai insisted that was not necessary. (True. Private school skirts are indestructible.) And Lorelai had to make Rory’s dress for prom. Real homemade clothes (when you’re too poor to buy clothes) look nothing like Rory’s designer “home-sewn” beauty. Believe me.

 

4. You can know all the things about all things.

Not only can you do lots of fun things and involve yourself in all the town’s events, you can know everything about most everything: literature, movies, music, history, celebrity gossip, and more. There is such a wealth of knowledge, that you can have entire conversations filled with allusions. You’ll end up like The Little Match Girl by the time you figure them all out.

 

5. If you do all this cool stuff, and if you are witty, and if you have a permissive parenting style, your daughter will be your best friend. Not just your best friend when she is older, wiser, and has had time to mature, but your best friend during each of the awkward stages of development, including pre-pubescence and adolescence.

I’m sure this show is how my friends pictured mothering teenage girls before they actually had a teenage girl.

Then they had a daughter. And now they’re like, “Ain’t no way we are having coffee as besties. I’m ‘bout to lose it on you, and you only in elementary.”

And I can’t even share what my friends who have middle school daughters are thinking. That’s confidential. (And these friends of mine who parent daughters are great mothers. This is just venting, people. Calm down.)


So there you have it. Lies. Netflix is releasing sequels to the series—four episodes, one for each season, titled “A Year in the Life.” The day after Thanksgiving, I will be curling up with sisters, eating junk food, laughing, binge watching, and listening to more lies.

It will be great.

 




“He’s The All-Time Best Seller”: How George Costanza Became the Greatest Character in TV History

You know you really need some help. A regular psychiatrist couldn’t even help you. You need to go to like Vienna or something. You know what I mean? You need to get involved at the university level. Like where Freud studied and have all those people looking at you and checking up on you. That’s the kind of help you need. Not the once a week for eighty bucks. No. You need a team. A team of psychiatrists working around the clock thinking about you, having conferences, observing you, like the way they did with the Elephant Man. That’s what I’m talking about because that’s the only way you’re going to get better.

[Jerry, to George]

 

And You Want to Be My Latex Salesman

Confession: when I find out someone is a Seinfeld fan, I silently judge them based on who their favorite character is. For my wife it’s Elaine and I get that. She’s a woman and Elaine is THE woman on this show. Julia Louis-Dreyfus stood next to three entertainment icons for nine years and held her own. So no judgment. But generally speaking, any answer other than the right one earns secret scorn from me, which I know is totally unfair.  

When Seinfeld went off the air on May 14, 1998 there was no doubt to me who was the best character. It was Kramer. He was why my brother Ashley started watching the show, and why he influenced me and my friends to start watching around Season 3 when the show was new. In the beginning we watched every week to see what Kramer would do or say next. His hair, antics, physical comedy, randomness and high energy one-liners made for a legion of fall on the floor laughing moments. In Season 5’s “The Fire” when he explains how he saved a pinky toe while on a hijacked bus that was “out of control!!,” that may be the hardest I’ve laughed watching TV.

 

Ruth.  Mantle.  Gehrig.  Costanza?  

But something clearly happened in the next few years as I continued to watch on syndication and through a set of old VHS tapes my friend Joel Riley gave me. I still laughed at Kramer. But I really laughed at George. There were scenes that I was seeing for the 10th time where at the end I was so blown away by whatever George did–be it a diatribe or a lie or a rationalization–I would stand up and clap. The genius of George Costanza could only be appreciated with time.

I’ll say it this way: if the average sitcom fan watched Seinfeld for the first time, I think they would be much more likely to laugh at Kramer and find George supremely annoying.  I would understand that. It’s why the brilliance of George’s character flew under the radar (at least for fans like me) the whole original run. To find George funny–to get George–you have to know him. And that means you need to see the episodes more than once. George is a culture unto himself and he, like Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, takes a little time to fully appreciate. This is probably why I judge people for thinking Kramer is the best; it makes me wonder if they have seen the show repeated times.

 

This Pear Shaped Loser

So George’s meteoric rise to the top of the Greatest TV Character list in the years after the series ended still strikes me as incredible since the show is probably as popular now as it was 20 years ago. George, unlike Kramer or Jerry, would not be funny in real life. He is (pardon the reference) the opposite of what anyone would find attractive or appealing or entertaining. He’s short, bald, slow-witted, petty, and the most neurotic person in real life or fiction maybe ever. These adjectives come easily for a fan of the show since they are straight from its dialogue and it seems Seinfeld went out of its way to let us know how uncool he was and what a loser he was[1. According to the “Notes About Nothing” on the Seinfeld DVDs, the wardrobe department was told to dress George in a way to make him as uncool as possible]. He went seasons without a job. He lived with his parents as a man in his 40s. If the Seinfeld main cast was in a race to see who could be the most narcissistic, George won by a mile. Or at least several hundred feet.

 

“I’m disturbed. I’m depressed. I’m inadequate.  I got it all!”

So why is he funny, even all these years later? I can’t answer that question with any confidence. Just as with Ulysses Everett McGill in O Brother Where Art Thou? they took some of the most repugnant traits real humans have and made it funny. It’s like a magic trick to me. Why is it one of the funniest, most memorable TV subplots ever when George battles with Kip/Ned/Moe over the Twix? Why do I say that George’s impassioned speech about having to be the first out of the fire is the best scene in the series? Why did I once spend $12 to buy a salad at Tom’s Restaurant in New York City simply because George once said, “You had to order the BIIIG salad!!!”?

Even though I can’t be sure, I can guess. At least part of it is the acting. Jason Alexander deserves every award he won for this role times a thousand. It’s a marvel to see him in real life because he is nothing like George, at least based on his interviews. He’s soft spoken, jovial and oozes humility. So I can appreciate what talent it takes to act out the scene where George explains why his worlds cannot collide: because it’s an impeccable transformation to a boisterous, angry megalomaniac. It was, and is, something special to watch this mild-mannered man in real life be the exact opposite of himself numerous hours a week for several months each year over nine years. Anyone else in the role of George hurts the show significantly. I would die to meet Jason Alexander–and I rarely get excited about celebrities. But George is my guy.

 

A low rumple. A metallic ‘squink.’ A ‘glonk.’ Someone crying out…”Dear God!”

As with any good entertainment, you have to credit the writing and hair-brained storylines as well. I mean, TV shows just don’t have dialogue quite like George’s Marine Biologist beached whale story. God bless the mind that put “The sea was angry that day…like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli” to paper. Or whoever thought up everything George says and does after a guy at work zings him while eating shrimp.  If you want to see the most glorious collision of acting and writing, go watch “The Comeback” from Season 8 of Seinfeld[2. My analysis of George’s Jerk Store comeback: It’s smart. It’s a smart line. And a smart audience would appreciate it. And HE’S NOT GOING TO DUMB IT DOWN FOR SOME BONEHEAD MASS AUDIENCE.]. Never have neurotic and petty been so entertaining. The writers even made George’s answering machine funny[3. Which you can see here.].

 

You’re Stuck On Some Clown From the 60s!!!

And believe it or not, almost paradoxically, the legacy of George is also tremendously enhanced when he’s mixing it up with other characters and (sort of) blending in instead of–as he so often did–dominating the scene. I’ll forever be amazed by Jon Favreau’s performance as Eric the Clown in “The Fire” because he went toe-to-toe with the greatest TV legend ever and did not back down under the weight of George’s idiotic obsession with Bozo. Watching the two men go back and forth over clowns is one of the Top three greatest Seinfeld moments ever to me. Similarly when George and Jerry talk about their new sitcom “Jerry” being a show about nothing. It’s just two guys having an incredibly funny conversation. George doesn’t upstage Jerry; they play off of each other with perfect timing and execution. Like watching Larry Bird and Kevin McHale in a half court set for the Boston Celtics in the 80s.

 

If you take everything he accomplished in his life and condense it down to one day, it looks decent

When you start discussing “greatest” anything you open up debate and critique and I welcome it all. But I’ll defend my choice of George Costanza with all the inane logic of “Remember Jerry, it’s not a lie if you believe it.” It took years and countless repeat viewings to appreciate what Jason Alexander accomplished with such a unique yet utterly repulsive character. I doubt it will ever be topped. It’ll take someone being as funny or funnier during the 25th viewing of their antics as the first or second. Because Costanza is. He’s been the bad date, the bad house guest, the bad employee and the bad tipper. But he somehow turned all of that into a great character. Indeed, the Greatest of All Time.

 

Who is the best Seinfeld character of the main four?

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