"The Lip Reader" is the 70th episode of the sitcom Seinfeld. It is the sixth episode of the fifth season, and first aired on October 28, 1993. The episode brought in a 20.4 rating and 31 share.
Jerry and George are at the U.S. Open where George mentions that he had invited his girlfriend Gwen (Linda Kash) to a party. Jerry says this is a bad idea, as he cannot socialize with others when he is with his girlfriend. George buys an ice cream sundae at the match and eats it, getting the chocolate all over his face, which is caught by the cameras and broadcast on television. Jerry becomes smitten with the lineswoman, and when he tries to get her attention it appears as if she is ignoring him. Only after she turns around, Jerry finds out that she is actually deaf.
Elaine, who is using the company car service to travel, is tired of all the chatty drivers – so to avoid talking to one she pretends to be deaf. However, her plan fails when she "hears" the radio message to the driver to pick up Tom Hanks. To make it up to the driver, who was disgusted with her feigned deafness, she gets him tickets to a rock concert.
Jerry tells Kramer about the deaf lineswoman, Laura (Marlee Matlin). Kramer claims to know sign language because a deaf cousin lived with him for a year. He then gets an idea to become a "ball man" at the tennis center and asks Jerry to find out from Laura how to get the job.
Gwen breaks up with George, saying "it's not you; it's me"; George is offended, as he considers this to be his signature break-up line. Kramer tells George about seeing him on TV with the ice cream on his face, which George believes to be the reason for Gwen breaking up with him. Jerry takes George as the third wheel on a date with Laura, and they find out that Laura can eavesdrop on people by lip reading. George then gets the idea to take Laura to a party to read his girlfriend's lips to see what she is saying about him. After the date Jerry asks if he can pick up Laura at six for the party ("How about six?"), which she misinterprets as 'sex' ("How about sex?") and leaves him in a huff.
Kramer goes for the ball boy tryouts and aces it, getting the job. Jerry tells George about the 'six/sex' misunderstanding and that he straightened it out with Laura. Newman enters and asks to 'borrow' Laura to spy on his supervisor, and, not surprisingly, Jerry refuses. Later, in the limo, they find out that the driver has gone slightly deaf from sitting near the speakers at a Metallica concert: the same concert for which Elaine had given him tickets. When he recognizes Elaine, the driver throws everyone out of his cab.
They arrive late to the party and meet Laura who has a brief and nonsensical sign language conversation with Kramer. When Gwen arrives, Laura watches her conversation with Todd and signs to Kramer who voices it out loud. The conversation is surprisingly mundane—about peas, pea soup, carrots and carrot soup (a subtle joke; "silent" extras often mouth the phrase "peas and carrots" to give the illusion of conversation). Todd then asks Gwen to assist him in the post-party cleanup, asking if she wants to "sweep" with him. Laura signs the exchange correctly; however, Kramer mistakenly voices it as Todd asking Gwen to 'sleep' with him. George becomes hysterical. He runs up to them and rants about the disloyalty. When Gwen corrects him, he starts shouting at Laura and Kramer. When Laura and Kramer start arguing and signing furiously, she accidentally hits George in the eye. He topples over a table and ruins the party.
Later, the group are seen at a tennis match where Kramer is the "ball man". Kramer rushes at the ball and accidentally knocks out Monica Seles, thus ending the great ball man experiment. After the match, Laura gets into the limo with the same chatty driver. When he starts talking to her, she explains to him, "I'm deaf." He turns back with a slightly agitated and dubious expression before the credits roll.
David Sims of The A.V. Club gave the episode an A- / B+, calling it "perfectly good but just a little more forgettable than the stone cold classics season five opened with," including "some very memorable moments." Sims notes that much of the episode "makes George look like a fool."
Nick DeNitto remarked that "Laura's lip-reading isn't perfect, which leads to some funny moments of miscommunication."
Commentator Paul Arras praises the episode for its "jokes that take on stereotypes, political correctness, and other assumptions about etiquette."
While Elaine becomes the foil, Matlin plays the character with such self-confidence and empowerment, it's easy to forget that social etiquette implies her deafness should be cause for pity. In a hilarious scene, Jerry and George out to dinner with Laura, go to great lengths to guard their mouths in natural ways, raising a glass to their face or rubbing their eyes so Laura doesn't know they are talking about her. George, of course, lacks the shame he should be expected to feel about using Laura's skill for his own selfish interests. Jerry is more hesitant, saying, 'She's not a novelty act, George, where you hire her out for weddings and bar mitzvahs.' Eventually Jerry relents to ask, but before he can, Laura blurts out, 'Sure. I'll do it.' She's turned the tables and demonstrated her own empowerment. Their attempts to disguise their conversation from her failed. She is too good a lip reader to be outwitted.
Marlee Matlin told interviewer Heather Hogan about her experiences working on Seinfeld: