[Contains ketchup secrets and SPOILERS!!!]
The fourth season of Seinfeld (1992) featured a self-reflexive story arc in which Jerry and George are hired to write a sitcom pilot for NBC, and decide to base all of the characters on their friends, while bragging that it’s “a show about nothing”… only to see their shot at the big-time scuppered by Lainey’s rejection of an obsessed network executive (Bob Balaban), who quits his job to join Greenpeace in an ill-fated attempt to impress her! Poor guy.
Sadly, Julia Louis-Dreyfus was still on maternity leave for the first four episodes of this season, with two brief pre-recorded cutaways to justify her credit… but Elaine was back in full-effect for the fifth episode, and even scored a little story-arc of her own, trying to dump the therapist she’d been smooching with in Europe, and then winding up with “Crazy Joe Davola” (Peter Crombie), a creepy comic intent on killing Jerry for (supposedly) spoiling his chances of landing his own show at NBC. Eep! The episode where our heroine finally discovers his “shrine” to her was a particular highlight, with her trying to charm her away out of Davola’s apartment before “macing” him with a handy bottle of breath-spray (#4.9, “The Opera”). She also started to develop some worrying clothing-related hang-ups, such as stubbornly refusing to remove her parka, no matter how uncomfortable it made the people she was talking to (ep #4.17, “The Outing”) (there’s also a great deleted scene illustrating the anxiety that her coat inspired in others, and her antagonistic attitude towards them), and becoming overly defensive and increasingly aggressive when a girlfriend of Jerry’s (Anita Barone) keeps making a fuss over a fancy pair of shoes she’s wearing (#4.16, “The Shoes”).
Meanwhile, George somehow managed to attract a major love interest in the form of NBC executive ‘Susan Ross’, played by Heidi Swedberg. The two of them meet in ep #4.3 (“The Pitch”), and her life immediately takes a turn for the worse, as she’s vomited on by Kramer, who then accidentally burns down her family’s prized log-cabin with a hastily discarded cigar (#4.7, “The Bubble Boy”), and steals her lesbian girlfriend after she leaves George and starts dating women! (#4.21, “The Smelly Car”) On top of that, her seemingly straight, married father is outed by a collection of torrid love-letters written by a famous male author, which wouldn’t have even come to light if the cabin hadn’t caught fire (#4.8, “The Cheever Letters”). Ironically, in an “Inside Look” featurette Swedberg admits that when she was first hired for the series, she was under the mistaken impression that her character was supposed to be keen on The K Man, so she gives him a big flirty “Hello!” when they’re introduced… though I think her reaction works just as well if you assume Susan has been hearing Jerry talk about his crazy neighbour in pitch meetings, and she’s like “Oh, so *this* is the guy…” sorta thing. Either way, she’s a great character, and she had a lot of fun scenes with the gang, so I’m glad they kept bringing her back.
The supporting cast was also stacked with a number of notable actresses, so let’s get to the laundry list: Elmarie Wendel appeared in ep #4.1 (“The Trip, Part 1”) as ‘Helene’, a “Baby Jane”-esque out-of-work actress living in the same Hollywood apartment block as Kramer, who tells him a hilariously bizarre anecdote about The Three Stooges. Julie Claire (nee Blum) made her screen debut in ep #4.3 as the NBC ‘Receptionist’ who calls Jerry and George into their meeting… and recurred in several later episodes, doing pretty much the same thing. Jessica Lundy appeared in ep #4.6 (“The Watch”) as ‘Naomi’, the hostess at a restaurant that Jerry visits with his parents, where he flirts with her and asks her out, only to discover that she has a laugh like “Elmer Fudd sitting on a juicer”. She returns in the next episode, and hears what he’s been saying behind her back, then storms out of his life. Good for her! O-Lan Jones appeared in ep #4.7 as the ‘Waitress’ who refuses to return a signed photo to Jerry, after Elaine makes fun of the lame joke he’s written on it. Grace Zabriskie debuted in ep #4.8, as Susan’s unsuspecting mother ‘Mrs. Ross’, who is shocked to discover her husband’s secret affair… but too anaesthetised with alcohol to really say much about it.
A pre-Frasier-fame Jane Leeves appeared in ep #4.10 (“The Virgin”) as ‘Marla’, a chaste closet-whisperer Jerry is dating… while Leah Lail appeared as her gal-pal ‘Stacy’, who George tries to impress with an out-of-date ski-lift pass! Estelle Harris made her glorious debut as George’s mother, ‘Estelle Constanza’, in ep #4.11 (“The Contest”)*, who’s bed-ridden after discovering her son “treating his body like an amusement park” in her home and fainting away. Meanwhile, Andrea Parker played the inexplicably saucy ‘Nurse’ who gives Estelle’s room-mate regular bed-baths behind a flimsy curtain, driving George to distraction… and Rachel Sweet appeared as his cousin ‘Shelly’, who tries to carry on a conversation with the man while his attention is fixed on the sexy silhouettes. Although I’ve always thought of Sweet as the singer who lent her (gorgeous) voice to ‘Allison’ in Cry Baby, it turns out she’s also a well-established comedy writer and producer, who’s worked on Hot in Cleveland, Dharma & Greg and Sports Night… so I’ve really been underestimating her! Maggie Han appeared in ep #4.15 (“The Visa”) as ‘Cheryl’, an easily-amused attorney who starts dating George, and assists his friends with various legal tangles.
Denise Richards appeared in ep #4.16 as ‘Molly’, the busty 15-year-old daughter of Balaban’s character, whose cleavage attracts the ogling stares of Jerry and George. Tsk-tsk! Kari Coleman appeared in ep #4.17 as ‘Allison’, a girlfriend of George’s who threatens to kill herself if he dumps her, thus ensuring that she’d recur in several more episodes (eventually ending up with Susan!)… while Paula Marshall played ‘Sharon’, a pesky student journalist who decides to “out” Jerry after overhearing Elaine jokingly suggest that he was dating George. Victoria Dillard appeared in ep #4.18 (“The Old Man”) as an ‘Agency Rep’ who arranges for the gang to do volunteer work befriending senior citizens. A subdued Megan Mullally appeared in #4.19 (“The Implant”) as ‘Betsy’, a half-deaf girlfriend of George’s who suffers a death in the family… while Teri Hatcher played ‘Sidra’, a gorgeous gym-goer who Jerry takes a fancy to, until Elaine suggests that her boobs have been surgically enhanced! Susan Walters appeared in ep #4.20 (“The Junior Mint”) as a girlfriend of Jerry’s, whose name he’s completely forgotten… hence her being billed simply as a ‘Mystery Woman’. And finally, Mariska Hargitay appeared in ep #4.23 (“The Pilot, Part 1”) as ‘Melissa’, an actress auditioning for the role of “Elaine” in the show-within-a-show, who makes fun of all the bald men in the waiting room.
* “The Contest” is one of my all-time fave Seinfeld episode, in large part because of how adorably giddy Elaine gets over John F. Kennedy jr., before losing him to Marla.