' Cinema Romantico: Larry The Coffee Shop Manager: The Most Tragic Character In The Seinfeld Universe

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Larry The Coffee Shop Manager: The Most Tragic Character In The Seinfeld Universe

(Way back on Easter Sunday my friend Rory was in Chicago and we went out for brunch and then stuck around at the bar to toss back a few afternoon beers because that's what people like Rory and I do on Easter Sunday and I pitched him the idea for my hypothetical collegiate dissertation. Here is a significantly condensed version of that hypothetical dissertation.)

George Costanza's plight on the landmark TV show "Seinfeld" was tragic, and of this there can be no doubt. It was so tragic that in a one-on-one, mano-a-mano showdown with a survivor of the Andrea Doria shipwreck to determine whose life was more tragic and, thus, who would claim a fantastic Manhattan apartment, George Costanza won going away. And yet......the guy worked for the Yankees. He made a Pilot for NBC. The Marisa Tomei kinda dug him (until he mucked it up). He dated the woman who played Jessie St. Vincent in "Boogie Nights" and if he just hadn't gone in the pool...... George Costanza's existence was tragic, sure, but his lifelong tragedy pales mightily in comparison to the ongoing tragedy of the manager of Monk's Diner, Larry.


Played by Lawrence Mandley, Larry was glimpsed in a mere six episodes out of the show's whole 180 episode run. He was first seen in Season 4's "The Outing", in which Jerry and George are mistakenly outed as gay men, and he shows up to admonish George for raising his voice inside the coffee shop. "If you boys cannot control yourselves..." His last scene was in Season 8's "The Abstinence" when he appeared to admonish Kramer for smoking inside the coffee shop. This is to say that both times we saw Larry he was irritated and that, essentially, was his singular character trait - irritation. Every time he appeared onscreen he was irritated. Even when he didn't get a line he was irritated, such as in the famed "Soup Nazi" episode when George starts making out with Susan right there in the coffee shop booth to anger Jerry which prompts Jerry to start making out with "Schmoopie" right across from them which leads to Larry, in the background, off to the left, hands on hips, appearing and looking awfully - say it with me! - irritated. We don't see him bust up the party, but we know he does.

Despite the fact that in all probability Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer gave his diner more business than anyone else in all of New York, Larry could not have cared one iota less. If they misbehaved, they misbehaved. If they brought in outside syrup, they brought in outside syrup and he would threaten to confiscate it, regulars or not. No discrimination. But more than anything, more than the classic moment in which he and his whole staff are enlisted by Jerry in an attempt to figure just what makes a man most attractive to a woman, the two episodes that most define the misbegotten tragedy of Larry are two episodes in which he does not even appear.


The 4th season finale primarily featured the taping of the "Jerry" pilot but one of the hour long episode's subplots involved Elaine's anger with the new manager of Monk's appearing to only hire, uh, shall we say, as one of the characters does, "large breasted women." It turns out that all the women are simply the daughters of the new manager, but that's not the point. The point is, it's a new manager! What happened to Larry? Did he quit? Did he sell the place? Did he move to Nassau to open a little restaurant on the beach?

But then the very next year, Season 5, in the episode in which Courtney Cox appears as Jerry's "pretend wife" who turns up once again as the coffee shop manager but......Larry. Remember, he was glimpsed as manager prior to the Season 4 Finale. So......what are we to assume? That Larry bought the place back. That the "large breasted women" weren't really the new manager's daughters and he was forced out? Who knows. What we do know is Larry not only had his chance to get out of the sluggish life of Monk's but he did get out! And then he returned to it entirely of his own choosing! That's tragic.


The series finale, as you most likely recall, involved our quartet standing on trial and numerous secondary characters from the past returning to testify. From Sidra Holland to Mrs. Choate, from Joe Bookman to "The Low Talker". Even characters that don't get to testify are seen - Ramon the Pool Guy, The Rabbi, Mr. Lippman. But do you know what secondary character you don't see? Larry, that's who. And do you know why? Because he had to work. Of course, he had to work! You don't think he wanted to be there?! He had to deal with those idiots seven days a week! He probably had testimony to put 'em away for 10-20! But who's gonna make Monk's run? Larry was so loyal to a job he clearly hated that he didn't even get to be on the one episode of that show that everyone watched.

No real "Seinfeld" fan was happy that day when the show ended. In fact, probably the only person who jumped for joy when Jerry decided to call it quits and the show went dark was Larry. Dude finally got a day off.

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