The Best of Frank Costanza
Nobody in the Seinfeld cast brought more laughter to our households than the great Jerry Stiller, who passed away from natural causes the Monday after Mother’s Day at the age of 92.
As George’s father Frank Costanza, Stiller portrayed the former Lower East Side garment hustler as comically cantankerous, fiercely loyal and inherently wise in his own odd way. Nobody made us laugh harder than Jerry Stiller when he appeared on screen.
It’s hard to believe that Jerry Stiller only appeared on 26 of the 180 episodes of Seinfeld that aired between 1990 and 1998. Maybe it’s because most of my favorite ones involve Frank Costanza, but it was very hard to whittle it down to six. I hope we did justice for one of the most beloved dads on television, both as Frank and his co-starring role as Carrie’s dad Arthur Spooner in all nine seasons of King of Queens.
Hats off to a New York original.
Season 9, Episode 10. Original air date: December 18, 1997
In 1997, Seinfeld established the ultimate non-denominational holiday for the Christmastime season with Festivus. Conjured up by Mr. Costanza because, much like Charlie Brown, he was disillusioned by the commercialism of the yuletide season and came up with “Festivus for the rest of us!” Years after it first aired on NBC, the Festivus episode of Seinfeld ranks up there with Christmas And The Hard-Luck Kid II and A Very Bundy Christmas”as one of the best holiday episodes in sitcom lore. Of course, Frank’s best line in the episode comes at the apex of Festivus dinner–The Airing of Grievances–when he starts laying into George’s boss Mr. Kreuger: “You couldn’t smooth a silk sheet if you had a hot date with a babe….I lost my train of thought.”
Season 6, Episode 17. Original air date: February 23, 1995
Having seen his father’s man boobs in what he called “his own personal Crying Game,” George faces an existential crisis that inspires Kramer to come up with the concept of support undergarments for top-heavy gents. Only Mr. Costanza loves it so much, he wants to call his old crony Sid Farkas to help Frank and Kramer bring their concept to life. But there’s just one barrier, do they call it the BRO or the Manzier?
The Cigar-Store Indian
Season 5, Episode 10. Original air date: December 9, 1993
It’s already a rude look to steal a magazine off somebody’s coffee table. But Frank Costanza surely rehabilitated any would-be periodical poachers when it was revealed in this episode how he collects TV Guides like they were Marvel comic books. Elaine swipes the latest edition with NBC meteorologist Al Roker on the cover. Boy, does that give Frank a conniption fit! Then after Elaine meets a creepoid with a television fetish (the great character actor Sam Lloyd) on the subway, the dude shows up at the Costanzas’ house with a bouquet of flowers made from Frank’s TV Guide. Stick around for the end credits on this one as well for a great cameo.
Season 8, Episode 6. Original air date: October 31, 1996
“I’m like a Phoenix, rising from Arizona,” proclaims Frank Costanza at Jewish Singles Night on his first shift slinging hash for people since the time he sent 16 of his men to the latrines after serving them rotten meat during the Korean War. What makes “The Fatigues” a top Frank fave is because, though it was strictly to set up the punchline, Stiller’s dramatic acting chops, which landed him roles in such action classics as the original Taking of the Pehlam 123 and Airport ’75, are on full display.
The Shower Head
Season 7, Episode 15. Original air date: February 15, 1996
Not since the Jeffersons and the Bunkers had there been a more explosive set of TV parents as The Costanzas (Stiller and the exceptional Estelle Harris) and The Seinfelds (played to such neurotic perfection by Barney Martin and Liz Sheridan). The families of best friends Jerry and George came to its boiling point, however, after Morty tries to circumvent Frank’s intentions of moving to the Seinfelds’ retirement community in Florida.
The Fusilli Jerry
Season 6, Episode 21 Original air date: April 27, 1995
The”bro”-mance between Kramer and Frank Costanza nearly imploded at its core after Estelle accused Cosmo of “stopping short” with her after he pulled the mom arm in response to abrupt traffic while driving her home from the doctor.
Jerry Stiller, RIP.