NHL Viewers Club: Seinfeld's 'The Face Painter'

ByEmily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski ESPN logo
Wednesday, May 27, 2020

With the 2019-20 NHL season on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic (here's the latest update on where things stand), we've started the NHL Viewers Club, highlighting some of the most rewatchable games from this season -- such as when EBUG David Ayres beat the Maple Leafs -- along with some cool hockey documentaries on ESPN+. So far, that has included "Big Shot" -- covering the fraudulent purchase of the New York Islanders -- as well as "Kings Ransom," which explored the events leading to Wayne Gretzky's tradeto the Los Angeles Kings.

Today, let's rewatch the episode of "Seinfeld" that premiered on May 11, 1995, entitled "The Face Painter," the events of which take place during a particularly high point of the Hudson River Rivalry between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.

Describe this episode in 10 words or less.

Emily Kaplan: Elaine should have dumped Puddy for good after this.

Greg Wyshynski: What is the deal with painting 'D' on your chest?

Favorite '90s hockey nostalgia?

Kaplan: Puddy berating Mark Messier (one of the few hockey players to be called out by name in the episode) while banging on the glass at Madison Square Garden. This fake game is supposed to take place in the 1995 playoffs, a year after the New York Rangers' epic win over the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference finals. I love how much the Rangers got under Devils fans' skin after that. Messier is an easy target, after he guaranteed that Game 6 win.

Wyshynski: I've always admired the fact that Puddy is supposed to be a long-time Devils fan and rocks the red-and-green face paint. They dropped the "Christmas Tree" jerseys for the red and black in 1992. So while Puddy is wearing an era-appropriate Martin Brodeur jersey, as this episode was released in May 1995, his face paint is sufficiently old school -- the inference being that this isn't the first time he has cosmetically "supported the team."

Biggest hockey faux pas?

Kaplan: The game is at Madison Square Garden. However, when Stephane Richer scores for the Devils, you can hear a goal horn -- both in the arena and through the radio broadcast, which can be heard in George's cab ride (where he tells his girlfriend he loves her, which does not go over well. It's a terrible cab ride.)

Nonetheless, MSG would never play a goal horn if a visiting team scored, and definitely not for the Devils, one of the Rangers' biggest rivals.

Wyshynski: I'm sure Alec Berg (or, in a very dated reference to "The Paper Chase," they call him "Mr. Berrrrrrrrg") is a very busy man who can't always use his New York Rangers season tickets that are against the glass. But we're to believe he lets Jerry "use them" for one game and then for another?

This is a very kind gesture among acquaintances ... that is 100 percent based in fantasyland, considering what tickets against the glass for a Stanley Cup playoff game vs. the Rangers' rivals from Jersey would have fetched. Although maybe this is a candidate for "favorite '90s nostalgia," considering "Mr. Berrrrrrrrg" didn't have access to a third-party ticket broker website like he would have 20 years later.

Would you attend an NHL game with David Puddy?

Kaplan: No. I don't share all of Elaine Benes' sensibilities, but I do share a lot. And it's not that I don't like Puddy, I would just have some trouble getting past the face painting. Or chest painting. Or really any painting. There's no need for body paint at hockey games.

Wyshynski: I have already, actually, except he goes by the alias "Bob Wyshynski" and is my loving father when he isn't a frothing-at-the-maw Devils fan. I can't say I've seen him paint his face or a "D" on his chest, but he's the guy at the game who believes, wholeheartedly, that he can affect what happens on the ice by screaming "DEEEE-FENCE" from the nosebleeds.

'Seinfeld' character most likely to own a personalized jersey with their name on it?

Kaplan: Newman. He's the guy everyone loves to hate -- especially Jerry. This is just yet another thing for which Jerry can villainize him. And he has only one name (that we know of), so it's kind of perfect.

Also, this would just lend itself for a great bit: "So, what's the deal with personalized sports jerseys?" We begin the episode with that. We end it with an important package missing from Jerry's doorstep. The front door is wide open, so Jerry knows there is a thief. Jerry runs outside and looks down the street, where he sees the back of Newman, in his personalized hockey jersey, not-so-stealthily sneaking away. "Newman!"

Wyshynski: George. He parlays his job with the New York Yankees into a gig as assistant to the traveling secretary for the New York Islanders, where management gifts him a "Costanza No. 1" jersey for being employee of the month. He wears it to Jerry's apartment, where Kramer notes, "That's a Jersey Foul, buckeroo" before making that clicking noise with his mouth.

Jerry underscores this by proclaiming that George is "tempting the fate of the hockey gods" by personalizing his jersey. George claims he's unaffected as "a hockey atheist." Eventually, George's sweater is ripped apart by two Islanders fans who were irate that he personalized a jersey with Billy Smith's number, leaving him half-naked and bellowing about how he believes the hockey gods are real and have forsaken him.

What NHL personality would have made the best 'Seinfeld' guest star?

Kaplan: The name that keeps popping into my head is John Tortorella. The Seinfeld/Torts crossover possibility is ripe for content. That said, I'd actually prefer seeing Tortorella on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." An improvised scene between Larry David and John Tortorella would be absolutely priceless.

Wyshynski: Kramer meets Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk at a borscht restaurant in Brighton Beach, and they're immediately enthralled by his quirks. They spend a night carousing through New York City in a stretch limo. Kramer changes his first name to Cosmonaut. The players eventually hire him as their new agent. The episode ends with Kramer telling Mario Lemieux that Malkin "is a few rubles short of a czar, Le Magnifique."

Was this episode good for hockey?

Kaplan: I'm of the belief that any mainstream visibility is good for hockey. So yes, when one of the greatest sitcoms of the '90s -- and one of the most enduring comedies of all time -- creates an entire arc of an episode about a hockey game, it's good for our sport.

Wyshynski: Absolutely. It entered "gotta support the team" into the cultural lexicon as shorthand for "here's a hockey fan that's clearly gone too far in her or his fanaticism." Plus, Puddy screaming, "We're the Devilsssss! The Devilssssss!" became a JumboTron video mainstay in New Jersey, and wherever New Jersey played.

Lingering questions after watching?

Kaplan: Could this episode have worked if Puddy was an Islanders fan? Obviously the Devils' mascot is a key storyline when it comes to the priest. The Islanders were also going through a period of irrelevancy. That said, it would have been fun to see the Seinfeld gang riff on the "Potvin Sucks!" chant.

Wyshynski: What's the more outlandish "Seinfeld" plot in "The Face Painter" episode: Kramer getting into an altercation with a chimpanzee named Barry, or a group of six shirtless men in their 30s with "DEVILS" painted on their chests sitting in the blue seats and leaving Madison Square Garden without severe bodily harm during a playoff series?