The first three seasons of Seinfeld can often best be described as “under construction.” The pace is sometimes slow; the plots are not as thoroughly polished and complex as shows in later seasons; and the gang is still trying to establish the idiosyncrasies of their character.
Nevertheless, season two’s “The Jacket” deserves to be included among the classics, particularly considering the semi-identity crisis the production team was facing.
The episode centers on Jerry’s newly purchased and apparently expensive jacket (the price is never mentioned – though by the antics of the rest of gang, viewers can assume it’s rather expensive). The suede jacket is a piece Jerry always wished to own, and is convinced to purchase is despite the – dare I say – hideous pink interior lining. Folks, let me say this – the jacket’s lining is comically frightful, and it sets up a great scene when Jerry wears it along with George to meet the rather intimidating – and rather homophobic – Alton Benes.
Elaine’s father, Benes, is a famed author with an extremely grumpy disposition, and his introduction is played out nearly to perfection. Jerry and George do a fantastic job of sustaining the inevitable awkwardness created by Mr. Benes when they meet in a hotel lobby and wait for Elaine. The scene is one of those situations that are easy to relate to – trying to kill time with an unfriendly acquaintance and only creating an implausible stir of silence and awkwardness.
Feeling more like an encounter than a meeting, Jerry and George try to duel the awkwardness by hastily ordering drinks, dashing to the restroom, and creating small talk that is less fruitful then the fig tree. Finally, when they choose to meet Elaine at another locale and Jerry adorns his brand new, pink-lined overcoat, Benes – who mistakenly perceives Seinfeld and Costanza as being gay, lambastes Jerry and forces him to don it frontside-out in the snow. The suede jacket is ruined.
What separates this episode is how the show takes advantage of longer-cut scenes by providing unique depth in the encounter between Jerry, George and Mr. Benes. Viewers have time to soak in the nuances of the measurable discomfort experienced in the scene, whereas other scenes of this type can be drawn out by conversation and become emotionless. Instead, these scenes are based on feel for the moment, with a distinct edginess about what is going to happen next.
Benes, played by Lawrence Tierney, was suburb, but because of his off-camera antics (which can be explained on the extras section of the season two DVD), was never invited back. It is a shame, because his character could have had a profound part in the series. Regardless, his one appearance in “The Jacket” is good enough to set the episode apart in the series’ early stages.