Dear Los Angeles friends: If you’re ever near Fairfax Avenue, do us a favor, stop by Genghis Cohen and give the maître d’ a big hug. They’re the responsible party.
One of Seinfeld‘s most iconic episodes, “The Chinese Restaurant,” was dreamt up by the great and ornery Larry David as he and the show’s star patiently (well, impatiently) waited for a table at the aforementioned restaurant in the early ’90s. As the pair stood by for seating, David decided the mundane and run-of-the-mill activity was perfect for a real-time episode of the hit show about nothing.
In “Restaurant,” the often reproachable onscreen friends of Seinfeld grow more and more distressed as they wait to dine before heading to a screening of Plan 9 from Outer Space. As their movie time approaches, a starving Elaine gets increasingly desperate, an anxious George battles for use of the restaurant’s pay phone, and a guilty Jerry attempts to place a woman he recognizes.
While not much happens, the season two episode has oft been labeled “groundbreaking.” In fact, the 1991 installment was so important to David that he threatened to walk away from Seinfeld all together. Behold, David’s stand off with NBC execs, the secret meaning of “Cartwright” and more fun little tidbits from the gang’s attempted egg roll excursion.
David threatened to quit over the episode.
So, what had our creator so riled up? Seinfeld and David penned the latter’s brainchild into a full-fledged episode together and pitched the one-set plot. Unfortunately, NBC execs weren’t buying it. Warren Littlefield, former president of the network, said he thought his script was missing pages. “Are they trying to save money? I didn’t get it,” he said in a special Seinfeld: Inside Look clip.
Littlefield and other higher-ups felt the “bottle episode” was too static and that audiences would be uninterested. Writers added the movie crunch-time element to “up the stakes,” but the network was still not on board — they hated it and didn’t even want to run it. David put up a front and threatened to leave the show, and (thankfully) got his way. NBC aired the episode, but much later in the season than initially intended.
“Who’s Cartwright?” was a secret Bonanza reference.
Throughout “The Restaurant,” George is vying to use the payphone to call Tatiana, the woman he’s dating. After several failed attempts to get the phone, he finally calls her and leaves a message asking her to dial the restaurant. When she does return the call, the host mistakenly calls out “Cartwright” rather than Costanza, and a frazzled George misses his chance to invite Tatiana out.
The “Cartwright” moment is humorous on its own, but the backstory makes it even better. Earlier this year, former Seinfeld writer Spike Feresten revealed that the moment was a nod to Bonanza.
Bonanza sounds like Costanza, and Cartwright was the main character on the long-running show. While the episode was before Feresten’s time, he insists the intel is from a Seinfeld head honcho. “Like Deep Throat… This goes all the way to the top,” he said.
For one fleeting moment, Jerry had a sister.
As far as we’re concerned, (fictional) Jerry Seinfeld is an only child. In the numerous scenes with his parents throughout the series’ lengthy run, a sibling is never mentioned.
Ah, but wait – then who’s the sister Jerry mentions in “The Restaurant?” After realizing the woman he recognizes is the receptionist for his Uncle (who he blew off for dinner), the comedian launches into the tailspin of events he expects to come from the run-in.
“Oh, this is bad, you don’t know, the chain reaction of calls this is gonna set off. New York, Long Island, Florida, it’s like the Bermuda Triangle. Unfortunately, nobody ever disappears. My uncle to my aunt, my aunt to my mother, my mother to my uncle… My uncle to my cousin, my cousin to my SISTER, my SISTER to me.”
Jerry’s sister is never to be mentioned again. Did she die tragically? Did she leave the family for a cult? Or was she just better left unseen (like George’s brother and Elaine’s sister Gail)?
David makes a (vocal) cameo.
David spent most of his time on Seinfeld working behind-the-scenes, but occasionally stepped on set for some hilarious cameos.
Jerry offers Elaine $50 to steal an egg roll from someone’s table and, as hunger has taken over her better judgment, she accepts. (NOTE: This is the first time we hear of Elaine’s disdain for movie theater concessions.) She attempts to offer half of the money to the diners in exchange for the egg roll, but is caught trying to give Jerry the run-around when the geriatric table can’t understand what she’s whispering. As the golden-agers share their confusion, one voice stands out: David’s.
“What’d she say? Will someone tell me what she said?” he can be heard demanding from off-screen.
The episode was only one of two without Kramer.
While his absence was explained away as Kramer’s initially reluctance to leave his apartment, Richards was bummed to be left out. In the previously noted Inside Look clip, the actor said, “When I wasn’t in ‘The Chinese Restaurant’ episode, I felt hurt. I felt I was being written out of the show.”
“‘The Chinese Restaurant’ episode was so unique that I just wanted to be a part of that uniqueness because it was cutting edge. I knew that was a very important episode,” Richards said in the clip.
Richards’ stand-in is, however, in the installment.
Norman Brenner played Kramer’s stand-in for the show’s entire run – apparently, even in episodes without Richards. The actor took on more than 30 background characters over the nine seasons, all documented on a dedicated Facebook page.
He can be seen, sitting patiently by the door as Jerry and company first enter the eatery.