Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Episode 16 - The Chinese Restaurant

The Plot:  Alright, I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record (and I know, that's a dated cliche), but this is another of the iconic episodes.  Perhaps the most relatable of all.  So much of the show had a little bit of a New York City undercurrent to it, that some subtleties were missed by the rest of the country, but this episode spoke to people all over the world.  I’ve had so many people tell me how much they were looking forward to this episode of the blog.  Given all the hype about this one episode, I hope I can deliver.

Jerry, George and Elaine decide to eat dinner without a reservation at a Chinese restaurant before seeing Plan 9 From Outer Space. Jerry lied to his uncle, saying he could not make it to his house for dinner that night, in order to go see the film. The maître d' repeatedly tells them they will receive a table in "5, 10 minutes". George is nervous about his girlfriend Tatiana, whom he left during sexual intercourse because he needed to use the bathroom and thought hers was too close to her bedroom to provide enough privacy. He tries to call her, as she has agreed to talk to him, but a man is using the public phone and ignores George. Jerry notices a woman inside the restaurant that he's met before, but cannot remember her name.

A bored Jerry dares Elaine to take an egg roll from someone's plate and eat it, offering her $50 if she does so. Elaine approaches a table with an elderly group of diners and whispers to them that her friends would give her $50 to eat one of their egg rolls, and she is willing to give them $25 of it. She softly speaks the offer without moving her lips, and the diners are hard of hearing, so they fail to comprehend what she's saying. Realizing the futility of her efforts, she simply walks away, failing to collect on the wager

A guy walks into the restaurant and the host immediately pulls out a table for him, causing Jerry to complain that they were there first.  The Maitre d’, informs them that Mr. Cohen is “always here.”  This prompts Elaine to try and tip her way into a table by giving the guy $20, which fails miserably.

George becomes frustrated when other patrons monopolize the phone. When he is finally able to call Tatiana, the answering machine answers his call and George leaves a message. Tatiana calls the restaurant to reach George, but the maitre d' calls "Cartwright" instead of "Costanza".

The mysterious woman encounters Jerry, and Jerry remembers she is his uncle's receptionist. Realizing that he has been caught in a lie, he decides that he might as well call his uncle and have dinner with him after all. George and Elaine agree to leave. The maitre d' calls their party as soon as they have left.

An interesting side note, several years later, Seinfeld pointed to this specific episode as a turning point for the show.  “The Chinese Restaurant was the point where the network said, 'You know, we really don't understand what you're trying to do with this show, and we think it's wrong. But we're going to air it anyway.' I was thrilled that NBC took that attitude. We had done enough good things at that point that they were willing to trust us."

Fun Facts: 
  • The first episode in which Kramer does not make an appearance.  Rumor was that he was pissed about not being included in this great episode.
  • The first time (that I could find) that the show was referred to as a show about “nothing."  Walt Belcher, a TV critic for the Tampa Tribune called this episode, “the ultimate episode about nothing.”
  • The first of several Seinfeld episodes to play out in real time.
  • One of the few episodes that does not include a single scene inside Jerry's apartment.

Favorite Quote:   

This is impossible to pick a single quote.  This one had too many classic lines, so bear with me:

Jerry:  Just a movie? You don't understand. This isn't plans 1 through 8 from outer space. This is Plan 9! This is the one that worked, the worst movie ever made… I can't go to a bad movie by myself. What, am I gonna make sarcastic remarks to strangers?

Elaine:  Remember when you first went out to eat with your parents? Remember, it was such a treat to go and they serve you this different food that you never saw before, and they put it in front of you, and it is such a delicious and exciting adventure? And now I just feel like a big sweaty hog waiting for them to fill up the trough.

George: (After Elaine asks whether she should accept the egg roll bet) Are you kidding me?  For 50 bucks I'd go stick my face in their soup and blow

And the best…….

George: Excuse me, I'm expecting a call. Costanza?
Maintre d’: Yeah, I just got a call. I yell 'Cartwright! Cartwright!', just like
that. Nobody came up, I hang up.
George: Well, was it for Costanza or...
Maintre d’: Yes, yes, that's it. Nobody answered.
George: Well was it a woman?
Maintre d’: Yeah, yeah. I tell her you not here, she said curse word, I hang up.
(George comes over to Jerry and Elaine, stunned)
George: She called. He yelled Cartwright. I missed her.
Jerry: Who's Cartwright?
George: I'm Cartwright!
Jerry: You're not Cartwright
George: Of course I'm not Cartwright!

Favorite Scene:   This episode is all in one location, the Chinese Restaurant, so you can’t really list a favorite scene.  This is the best of all of the dialogue.  As George tells the story of having to leave Tatiana’s apartment, the pure absurdity of the moment and his insecurity creates comic gold (thanks Bania).

George:  So we start to fool around, and it's the first time and it's early in the going, and I begin to perceive this impending intestinal requirement, whose needs are going to surpass by great lengths anything in the sexual realm.  So I know I'm gonna have to stop. And as this is happening I'm thinking, even if I can somehow manage to momentarily... extricate myself from the proceedings and relieve this unstoppable force, I know that that bathroom is not gonna provide me with the privacy that I know I'm going to need...So I'm dressing and she's staring up at me, struggling to compute this unprecedented turn of events. I don't know what to say to reassure this woman, and worst of all, I don't have the time to say it. The only excuse she might possibly have accepted is if I told her I am in reality Batman, and I'm very sorry, I just saw the Bat-Signal. It took me 3 days of phone calls to get her to agree to see me again. Now she's waiting for me to call her.

The Lesson:  It seems odd to even try and pull a lesson out of this episode.  Because it was so relatable and yet absurd at the same time, I almost feel cheap trying to make more out of it than what it was.  But the point of this exercise it to dig deep into every episode for some nugget of useful guidance.

That being said, the Chinese Restaurant does provide a great lesson for entrepreneurs: PATIENCE.  Rarely do startup companies achieve overnight success.  You don’t just walk in and have everyone roll out a table for you.  It takes long hours and hard work to see a business grow from nothing more than an idea on the back of a napkin to a profitable venture.  Incredible frustration can set in when someone who started their company after yours, speeds by you on the road to profitability.  It doesn’t mean you are on the wrong road, it means your venture might need a little more time to get things just right.  If you are frustrated by the pace of your company’s growth, you can try some unconventional efforts to jumpstart your venture.  While I wouldn’t advocate going over to someone else’s business and stealing ideas off of their table, it is sometimes worth it to spend a little money in an effort to spur things along.

How often have we seen companies or individuals not able to muster the requisite patience to allow their business to grow.  They walk out on the business just minutes before their product/service is discovered by others, allowing someone else to sit at their table and eat their food.  Patience is a virtue in business as well as life, and one we should all seek to exercise a little more of in our daily lives.

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