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Author Archives: Ryan

On the tenth day of Christmas, Ryan gave to us…

"Jazz Records," Everybody Loves Raymond

Before I begin, I need to make it absolutely clear that I was hesitant in writing about this episode. Not because I didn’t have much to say, or because it didn’t affect me; quite the opposite in both of those regards, to be perfectly honest. It’s just that everything I’m going to reveal in this article is so pretentious and awful and disgusting that you’ll loathe me to the point of sheer hatred.

You’re going to doubt the authenticity of what I’m about to admit, either due to denial or the hope that I’m not legally insane. I would make fun of anybody else for writing this same deconstruction, so I’ll wearily admit to my hypocrisy now. This is your warning. I’m sorry to spoil the grace and holiday charm you were possibly expecting, but this is going to be the worst thing you have ever read.

An episode of Everybody Loves Raymond changed my life.

Yeah.

The show in question revolves around Ray trying to make up for a disaster during one of his childhood Christmases – the accidental destruction of his father’s Jazz records. He purchases digital replicas of the music he ruined those many years ago, but the new technology scares his father and he’s insistent on having nothing to do with them.

This is where I used to listen to ’em. I’d come home from a hard day’s work, your mother would mix me a drink, I’d come down here, put on the hi-fi, and let Duke and Dizzy take me away. …From your mother.

Without going into too much detail, growing up I wasn’t what you’d refer to as a model student. We’re all aware of that humiliating rebellious stage most teenagers go through, and mine was just as embarrassing. I rarely showed up to class, soon found myself expelled, and spent the rest of my days doing nothing society would deem constructive. This should be the part of the story where I find God, or journey through a traumatic experience and rejuvenate as a stronger and changed person. In reality, I watched a mediocre television sitcom.

"Jazz Records," Everybody Loves Raymond

With Ray’s remastered albums failing Frank, Robert saves the day by giving him some of the original vinyl copies he lost long ago. The episode closes with Frank finally listening to his old records again, sitting relaxed in his chair, lost in the music, naught a whisper emerging from the other Barones (a rare occurrence, by the way). The only sound we can hear is “Bye Bye Blackbird,” played with the grain and warmth Frank had been looking for since his records were originally destroyed.

“Now that’s music,” he remarks. And I agreed. It was. I didn’t know why at the time, but it was different to any musical performance I had been exposed to before. During my entire life I had no interest in any “deeper” art forms (again, it’s hard to write this without sounding pretentious), but from that final scene things began to change. I was moved. I wanted to delve deeper into the jazz culture. I didn’t make the connection at the time, but I wanted to turn my life around. And then the studio audience laughed.

It’s weird, because it clearly wasn’t the first time I was exposed to jazz. The Simpsons, one of my favorite and most re-watched series ever, had produced numerous episodes on the genre, yet I never thought twice about the stuff. And yet here it was, touching my soul in a bloody episode of Raymond.

One hobby lead to another. From jazz I found myself interested in art, and then English, and soon I finally discovered the joy of learning – somewhat regretting all of the classes I skipped back in high school. I made up for them with university, and these days when I come home from work, I relax and listen to my jazz records, just like Frank. Not because he did it, mind you – this article doesn’t have to be that depressing. I find it’s the best way to begin the ending of my day, a chance to reflect, meditate, and enthrall myself in the music.

"Jazz Records," Everybody Loves Raymond

Okay, so I opened this article with some humor – I’m more than content with the fact that this show changed my life, since being largely influenced or affected by any type of media is a common occurrence. Even though I like to keep myself educated, these days I don’t wall myself off from anything I’d preconceive as a waste of time. My girlfriend wanted to take me to the ballet recently – I said no to that, but, like, if she suggested the opera or something, I would have said yes because who knows what such a performance might bring? It could change my life, or it could do nothing. Either way, I had the experience.

I was never a huge Everybody Loves Raymond fan, but had always thought Peter Boyle did a marvelous job, the actor also being the only cast member who I held an appreciation for outside of the series.

I think that’s why I was affected by the episode more than I should have been, as well. Frank is a cold, angry, emotionless character, and yet his jazz music would break down all of these traits and leave us with somebody completely different. I admit it — it was a beautiful thing to see.

Tomorrow: It’s that one where the character isn’t really a big fan of Christmas, and is kind of a jerk about it, but then learns to enjoy it. You’ve probably never heard of it.

On the fifth day of Christmas Ryan gives to us…

Frank Costanza is without a doubt my favorite character on Seinfeld. For somebody so short-tempered, constantly screaming at those around him over the smallest nuisances, there’s remarkably not a single trace of unlikability to be found in the man. It’s a shame that his death was implied during the reunion story arc of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but with the failure of his “serenity now” relaxation cassette, I suppose it was inevitable. Fortunately, Frank plays a starring role in what’s considered to be one of the most iconic episodes of Seinfeld produced, season 9’s “The Strike.”

You know, the episode where Kramer returns to work at a bagel shop after being on strike for 12 years.

Okay, so most people know it as the Festivus episode, where we discover that Frank once invented his own holiday in response to the commercialization and religious aspects of Christmas. Subsequently, this gives us further insight into why George is the man he is today, as it turns out that Festivus was always a pretty traumatic experience for the boy.

The traditions of the holiday included an aluminum pole instead of a tree (no decoration required — Frank finds tinsel distracting), and grievances were exchanged rather than presents – a chance for the Costanzas to speak about how much they had disappointed each other over the past year. Back in the present day, Kramer finds out about Frank’s holiday and convinces him to restart the celebrations after years of lying dormant, much to the misery of George and the imperative sense of schadenfreude from his friends. The pole comes out of the crawl space and Frank couldn’t be more joyous.

The ending of the episode is a great example of why I love Seinfeld so much – its “no hugging, no learning” policy stays true during what would be a sentimental closing for so many other Christmas specials. Family and friends are gathered together on a winter backdrop, but there’s nothing of comfort to be held. George has fought the idea of Festivus all throughout the episode, yet we end with him more emotionally distraught than ever, being forced into yet another Festivus tradition, the “Feats of Strength.”

Frank: Stop crying and fight your father!

This is what a Christmas special should be. While I find that some of the more warmer, “emotional” holiday episodes of other shows do bring me some entertainment – I’m clearly aware that it’s fake. When my family reunite during the holiday season, the warmth and closeness pales in comparison to what’s presented on TV. That isn’t Christmas, and without sounding too cold, it hopefully never will be. Yeah, maybe in some families things aren’t treated so callously. I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. But I’m positive that I prefer my entertainment to treat Christmas with some realism, in the sense that I’d take Frank Costanza physically fighting his crying son over let’s say, a warm embrace after verbally accepting their differences. God, I actually felt sick writing that.

The Brady Bunch, the Huxtables, the family from Full House whoever the hell they were, even the goddamn Simpsons – when compared to the Costanza family, I know who I relate to more. 

As mentioned earlier, this episode also involves Kramer working at H&H Bagels. His working life is cut short however, after being denied the 23rd off to celebrate Festivus, resulting in yet another strike. I always found the moment where he announces his protest hilarious, like he’s looking for any reason to stop working again. This is confirmed by the end of the episode, where he responds to his firing with a satisfied and hefty, “Thank. You!” It probably beats “The Bizarro Jerry” as my favorite “Kramer actually gets a job” story. I think. Maybe. The latter does have Sheena Easton.

The beginning of the episode features Dr Tim Whatley’s Hanukkah party, who’s still Jewish after seemingly converting for the jokes in the previous season. There Jerry meets his girlfriend-of-the-week, a two face (like the Batman villain, if it helps) in which she somehow changes from attractive to ugly without warning. Innocently, every time I watched this episode as a child, I could never see how she was supposed to be portrayed as ugly. After a lifetime of media influence, it’s totally clear to me today, but I think it’s a cute memory looking back. Or maybe it’s depressing, what with our idea of beauty being influenced by society and everything. Still, it doesn’t subtract from the fact that it’s a bloody hilarious story, and introduces the fact that Monk’s (the coffee shop they always visit) is actually a pretty awful restaurant.

Gwen: Jerry, how many times do we have to come to this place?
Jerry: Why? It’s our place.
Gwen: I just found a rubber band in my soup.
Jerry: Oh, I know who’s cooking today!

Meanwhile, George, in an attempt to weasel out of the spirit of giving, hands out phony donation cards to everyone at  work (“A donation has been made in your name to the Human Fund. The Human Fund: Money for People”). His boss, Mr Kruger, catches onto this scam, until George admits that the only reason he succumbed to such a misdeed was because he doesn’t actually celebrate Christmas, the concept of Festivus finally proving useful for another one of his lies. Committed to his story, George brings him along to his father’s Festivus celebration.

Frank: The tradition of Festivus begins with the “Airing of Grievances.” I got a lot of problems with you people! And now…you’re gonna hear about it. You, Kruger. My son tells me your company stinks!
George: Oh God.
Frank: Quiet, you’ll get yours in a minute. Kruger, you couldn’t smooth a silk sheet if you had a hot date with a babe… I lost my train of thought.

“The Strike” opens with a Hanukkah celebration and closes with Festivus. Even though Seinfeld Christmas episodes never really dwelled upon the traditional aspects or clichés of the holiday too much, I like how this one goes to the extreme and yet puts me in the holiday mood more than any of them. Like so many others, I originally found the idea of Festivus to be comical and undeserving of celebration. Today I adore the holiday and everything it stands for. And while I’ve never convinced anybody to participate in a “Feats of Strength” (yet), I’ve gone so far as to hand out “Human Fund” donation cards in lieu of of actual gifts, whether the recipients were Seinfeld fans or not. I’m not being cheap or anything. I’m just afraid that I’ll be persecuted for my beliefs.

I’m overjoyed that Festivus has reached a certain popularity in today’s society. The real holiday began in 1966 by Dan O’Keefe’s father, but of course was made popular when he brought it to Seinfeld. Fictional additions such as the pole were then incorporated to the point where there’s fucking Festivus pole lots. God, I love it. Christmases can go by where I don’t even think about certain Christmas shows or specials, but The Strike is undeniably the clear exception. Last year, somebody actually greeted me with “Happy Festivus!” and hadn’t even seen an episode of Seinfeld or knew that it was referring to the show. I don’t find that charming, by the way. What a despicable person. Still, the cultural significance given by “The Strike” has perfected the episode itself, not that it didn’t need much to push it there. A great episode, and in my opinion, the best of season 9.

Oh, and there’s also a plot where Elaine wants a free sandwich.

Tomorrow: It’s not all comedy around here, you know; we like serialized drama too! Well, some of us do. Or one of us does. Maybe…

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