Worst to First: Ranking Every Episode of ‘Seinfeld’
20 years ago today, there was finally no more nothing.
After nine seasons and 169 episodes, the final Seinfeld aired on May 14, 1998 to an audience of 76 million people. It was one of the most intensely anticipated finales in TV history and, for many viewers, one of the most disappointing. For the last time Jerry (Seinfeld), George (Jason Alexander), Kramer (Michael Richards), and Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) bickered about the minutia of life and got into an impossibly intricate morality play, this one involving their being brought up in charges of violating a Good Samaritan law as an excuse to bring back many of the show’s supporting characters as witnesses at their trial.
In the end, the quartet were found guilty, and tossed into prison for one year. As the camera tracked away from the characters, Jerry critiqued the placement of the buttons on George’s shirt; an exact duplicate of their first conversation on the very first episode nine years earlier.
I remember being more befuddled by the finale than angry. They actually went to jail? But only for one year? Did that mean the show wasn’t canceled and that they would be back after a break? Unfortunately no, although the seventh season of Seinfeld creator Larry David’s HBO sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm became an unofficial reunion. 20 years later, the final Seinfeld remains the final Seinfeld, although the show is still beloved thanks to endless syndicated reruns, nine DVD box sets, and Hulu — where every episode is currently available for streaming.
As an obsessive Seinfeld fan since my teenage years, the 20th anniversary of the finale made me wistful. How could it be so long ago so soon? Am I really as old as the characters on the show now? That in turn led me to revisit many of the episodes and then, in a scheme so crazy not even Kramer would have attempted it, to rank every single one.
Generally I found the show holds up really well. A couple of the scenarios wouldn’t work in 2018, and there’s a reason Jerry pulled the show at its ratings peak: Creatively, it had run out of gas. But there are still so many half hours of pure genius, and even moments of greatness in the lesser episodes. For us to still be talking about Seinfeld 20 years later, it’s clear that the “show about nothing” was really something. And here is all of it, ranked from worst to best.
176. “The Puerto Rican Day,” Season 9 Ep. 20
Though the series finale got all the negative reviews, the penultimate Seinfeld deserved the bad press. It did get some; it was criticized in its day for its portrayal of Puerto Ricans (along with Kramer accidentally burning the Puerto Rican flag), which caused it to be pulled from summer repeats on NBC and removed from the Seinfeld syndication package for a while. If Castle Rock had buried the episode forever, no one would have missed it; even putting aside the questionable racial material, the episode is painfully boring, like being stuck in traffic behind a slow-moving parade.
175. “The Blood,” Season 9 Ep. 4
Kramer becomes obsessed with storing his own blood, which comes in handy when Jerry gets a fluke injury, prompting a visit from the single worst recurring character in all of Seinfelddom: Lloyd Bridges’ ultra-competitive fitness nut Izzy Mandelbaum. George decides to integrate food into his lovemaking. I have seen popular horror films that were less disturbing than the site of Jason Alexander lunging at a woman with a mouthful of pastrami.
174. “The Junk Mail,” Season 9 Ep. 5
It’s hard to believe you could hate any episode that ends with George walking in on his parents having sex in a van. The rest of this lifeless late-run installment proves that it is possible.
173. “The Wizard,” Season 9 Ep. 15
Jerry’s trips to his parents house in Florida grew repetitive in later seasons, and this is one of the staler examples; Kramer, who’s sold the movie rights to his coffee table book about coffee tables, moves in next door to Morty and Helen and runs for condo association president. Elaine dates a man of ambiguous race, which goes about as well — for her and the show — as you would expect.
172. “The Stranded,” Season 3 Ep. 10
An episode in two halves, both of them bad. First Jerry and Elaine get stranded at a party on Long Island (where she says “Maybe the dingo ate your baby!” a reference to a Meryl Streep film that is only remembered because of Seinfeld). Then Jerry’s Long Island host (played by a pre-The Shield Michael Chiklis) shows up on his doorstep and won’t leave. If this was supposed to capture the ceaseless anguish of being trapped somewhere you don’t want to be with people you dislike, uh, good work I guess?
171. “The Busboy,” Season 2 Ep. 12
The B-plot, featuring Elaine’s desperate attempt to get a boyfriend to the airport in time to make his plane, is a winner. The A-plot, with George playing the innocent guy trying to smooth over a faux pas he didn’t mean, plays more like a crummy dry run for Curb Your Enthusiasm than a real Seinfeld plot.
169 and 170. “The Finale,” Season 9 Eps. 23 and 24
Okay, 20 years later, how does the controversial finale look? Better than its reputation — but not by much. The opening scenes, with Jerry and George returning to NBC when their busted pilot from Season 4 finally gets picked up for series, have a lot of promise. Then the main foursome wind up prosecuted under a ludicrous “Good Samaritan law” after they don’t help a man who’s carjacked and it all falls apart. From that point on it’s basically just an extended curtain call, with cameos galore and only a sprinkling of jokes. Meanwhile: Jerry has a beeper!
168. “Male Unbonding,” Season 1 Ep. 4
The only episode in the entire run without the word ‘the’ in the title is a slow-moving car crash of a story about Jerry trying to extricate himself from a childhood friendship that has run its course. The only highlight is one of Kramer’s earliest get-rich-quick schemes; a pizza place where you make your own pie, an idea that would be put to much better use in later seasons.
167. “The Wig Master,” Season 7 Ep. 19
One of the series’ weaker forays into the world of retail, with Elaine romancing a salesman at a posh clothing store who might be working her in exchange for a discount on a Nicole Miller dress. The subplot where Kramer starts hanging out with the wig master for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and winds up wandering the streets of New York dressed like a pimp while funk music plays on the soundtrack does this one no favors.
166. “The English Patient,” Season 8 Ep. 17
Very few shows would have dedicated a whole episode to trashing the most critically acclaimed movie of its moment, but Seinfeld gleefully went there. Unfortunately, Jerry’s visit to his folks down in Florida involves a dopey subplot involving Dominican Cuban cigar rollers and another appearance by Izzy Mandelbaum. At least the movie Elaine wants to see instead of The English Patient, Sack Lunch, is the funniest of Seinfeld’s many fake movies. (It’s about a family inside a big brown paper bag. How the heck did they get in there?)
165. “The Seinfeld Chronicles,” Season 1 Ep. 1
The Seinfeld pilot hadn’t quite cracked the code to the series’ success; there’s no Elaine (in one of the standup scenes, Jerry jokes that he has no idea what women are thinking, which sort of explains the lack of any substantive female characters) and Kramer is called “Kessler” and he’s a shut-in who hasn’t left the apartment building in years. The banter between Jerry and George was already in place, though, and the dialogue has a few winners, like George urging Jerry to “always do the opposite” of his instincts; a premise that would later become the premise for one of the show’s best episodes.
164. “The Good Samaritan,” Season 3 Ep. 20
Even bad Seinfelds usually have at least one unforgettable moment. For example: Kramer’s epic seizure (and Michael Richards’ epic physical performance of it) when he hears the voice of Mary Hart. (Kids, ask your parents.) The rest of this one is a whole lot of yada yada yada.
163. “The Slicer,” Season 9 Ep. 7
I am going to have to disagree with Seinfeld here and state for the record that using a deli slicer to slice things other than deli meat is not particularly funny.
162. “The Suicide,” Season 3 Ep. 15
Wayne Knight’s introduction as Newman was anything but auspicious, as part of a storyline that’s really dark — after Jerry’s neighbor tries to commit suicide, the neighbor’s girlfriend begins hitting on Jerry, and Jerry worries Newman will rat him out. (Jerry eventually tries to buy Newman’s silence with Drake’s coffee cake, one of the show’s earliest food fixations). The subplot about George canceling a vacation because a psychic warns him of doom, and Kramer going in his place and hangs out with Sports Illustrated swimsuit models (and get a mild jellyfish sting) is one of the series’ lovelier karmic moments.
161. “The Susie,” Season 8 Ep. 15
We’re making fun of grand entrances and Daylight Savings Time now? Okay.
160. “The Baby Shower,” Season 2 Ep. 10
Elaine throws her friend what looks like the worst baby shower in human history, while George seizes on an opportunity to tell off one of the guests, who years earlier ruined a beloved shirt by pouring chocolate sauce on it. Jerry reluctantly has a couple of sketchy dudes install an illegal cable box (kids, ask your parents), which leads to one of the series’ funniest and strangest dream sequences, where Jerry imagines his own death at the hands of angry FBI agent, and Kramer sobs over his lifeless corpse “What have you done to my little cable boy?!?”
159. “The Reverse Peephole,” Season 9 Ep. 12
It wasn’t so much that Seinfeld got bad in its final season as it struggled to find ideas that could stand up to an entire episode of discussion and became limited by the self-imposed requirement that all of its storylines intertwine by the final notes of the theme song. Case in point: “The Reverse Peephole,” where George’s gigantic wallet has to somehow dovetail with Jerry and Elaine buying a friend a massage chair and Kramer and Newman reversing the peepholes on their doors.
158. “The Butter Shave,” Season 9 Ep. 1
Seinfeld set the tone for its final (and far and away worst) season with an episode where Kramer starts using butter as shaving cream, then covers his whole body in butter, then falls asleep in the sun and cooks himself, which makes Newman want to eat him. The end was near.
157. “The Barber,” Season 5 Ep. 8
Anyone who’s ever had to “break up” with a stylist can relate to the premise of this episode, where Jerry “cheats” on his longtime barber. But for some reason transposing that to a Barber of Seville spoof never quite lands — maybe because the two barber characters are so flat and underwritten. George’s B-plot, with a job interview that ends so abruptly he’s not sure if he got the gig or not, bears riper fruit.
156. “The Statue,” Season 2, Ep. 6
Jerry inherits a statue that bears an uncanny resemblance to one George accidentally broke as a kid. Then the statue goes missing, prompting Kramer to do his best Joe Friday impression and steal it back. It’s a solid set-up, but one that would have been exponentially better on a later season, after the show had cast George’s parents and we could have seen their reactions to this roller coaster.
155. “The Burning,” Season 9 Ep. 16
While I can’t completely reject an episode in which Kramer dramatically announces “Well, I got gonorrhea,” “The Burning” does suggest Seinfeld was rapidly running out of universal annoyances to observe. In this one Jerry gets upset that his girlfriend opens a phone call with the phrase “It’s me,” which feels petty even for him.
154. “The Voice,” Season 9 Ep. 2
Standard Season 9 fare, but I can’t deny that I spent at least two or three years in the ’90s imitating the funny voice Jerry imagines coming out of his girlfriend’s stomach after she goes to sleep.
153. “The Truth,” Season 3 Ep. 2
Kramer dates Elaine’s roommate (Siobhan Fallon’s Tina, one of the show’s most underrated recurring characters) which delivers some very funny scenes involving the eclectic details of their lovemaking habits. But Jerry’s storyline feels like a waste of one of one of the show’s more promising subjects: An IRS audit.
152. “The Diplomat’s Club,” Season 6 Ep. 22
There are many great Seinfeld episodes, a lot of good ones, a few bad ones, and very few forgettable ones. But I’m struggling to remember much of this one, even as I look at plot descriptions. The stuff where Jerry chokes a gig because the pilot of his flight home is in the audience and then the pilot kicks him off the plane isn’t bad.
151. “The Bookstore,” Season 9 Ep. 17
Kramer and Newman running rickshaws? An old people shoplift joke? Elaine worries she’s “the office skank”? Yo yo ma — just watch the opening where we see how Kramer spends the day in Jerry’s apartment when he’s gone and skip the rest.
150. “The Millennium,” Season 8 Ep. 20
Four plots, four duds. Kramer and Newman plan rival Y2K parties (Kids, ask your parents.) while Elaine goes to war with a pair of clothing stores owned by the same woman and Jerry fights for supremacy on his girlfriend’s speed dial. (Kids, ask your parents.) The sole bright spot: Kramer as his occasional alter ego, eccentric industrialist H.E. Pennypacker.
149. “The Nose Job,” Season 3 Ep. 9
George at his superficial worst, cajoling a lovely woman into getting plastic surgery because her nose is a little oversized, offset by Kramer at his blunt best. (“You got butchered,” he tactlessly tells her when she pulls off the bandages for the first time.) This crew deserved each other.
148. “The Muffin Tops,” Season 8 Ep. 21
I could absolutely see Elaine’s idea here — a store that only sells the tops of muffins — becoming an actual business. (My wife would be its best customer.) I’m not sure if that makes this episode better or worse. The less said about Jerry becoming fixated with his chest hair, botching an attempt to shave it, and concluding the episode howling the woods like a werewolf, the better.
147. “The Friars Club,” Season 7 Ep. 18
All you need to know about this one is that it guest stars Rob Schneider.
146. “The Dog,” Season 3 Ep. 4
Seinfeld frequently walked the line between finding the humor in the exasperating nature of everyday life and trapping viewers in situations that were actually exasperating. This episode, with Jerry becoming the unwitting dog sitter to an unseen mutt that never stops barking, is like the sitcom version of torture porn.
145. “The Postponement,” Season 7 Ep. 2
The only supporting character who gives Izzy Mandelbaum a run for his money in the automatically-drags-down-an-episode department is Rabbi Glickman, who tries to help Elaine sort through her feelings about George’s engagement to Susan (Heidi Swedberg), then can’t keep a secret. Why in the world did they bring this guy back for a second episode (and a cameo in the finale)?!?
144. “The Maid,” Season 9 Ep. 19
Fans were devastated when Jerry Seinfeld announced the show wouldn’t return for a tenth season but episodes like this one proved it had run its course. Seinfeld already did a superior episode about a maid back in season 6, and this is at least the third time I can think of where the show had done the Exact same gag where cops walk in on one of the men handing women some money and assume they’re hiring a prostitute.
143. “The Little Jerry,” Season 8 Ep. 11
A line you can use in your own life: “These are not scraps. These are the historic remains of a once great society of hair.”
142. “The Frogger,” Season 9 Ep. 18
Typical Season 9 shenanigans, including George becoming so desperate to preserve an old Frogger high score that he attempts to move the arcade cabinet across the street in a shot the perfectly mirrors the old Frogger game. Maybe you could buy it if Seinfeld had ever mentioned video games even one time in any of the previous 160 episodes. By this point the stories had gotten so outlandish the phrase “moved the Frogger” could have become the new “jump the shark.”
141. “The Apology,” Season 9 Ep. 9
Kramer stays in the shower all day long. He even cooks his food in it, an idea so revolting the network censors should have rejected it as a matter of basic principle.
140. “The Old Man,” Season 4 Ep. 18
A rare misfire from the show’s best season, with Jerry, Elaine, and George all becoming volunteers for the elderly. The only one of the three that’s a keeper is Elaine’s, who has an enormous goiter and recounts her affair with Mahatma Gandhi in excruciatingly intimate detail. (“He used to dip his bald head in oil and rub it all over my body.”)
139. “The Nap,” Season 8 Ep. 18
George starts sleeping under his desk at work in an episode that is, somewhat fittingly, a bit of a snooze.
138. “The Gum,” Season 7 Ep. 10
I’ve always suspected that at a certain point Seinfeld writers just began brainstorming mundane topic they hadn’t talked about yet. “Gum? We haven’t done a gum episode yet, right? Great, fun! What’s the deal with gum!” (Not much, as it turns out, although Matt McCoy’s Lloyd Braun is always a welcome guest.)
137. “The Face Painter,” Season 6 Ep. 23
Patrick Warburton’s second appearance as frequent Elaine love interest David Puddy cemented his place in the Seinfeld firmament. This time he paints his face for a Rangers/Devils playoff game and terrifies a priest who believes he’s really Satan. Shame about the Kramer storyline where he gets into a fight with a chimp.
136. “The Movie,” Season 4 Ep. 14
Seinfeld stayed pretty innovative through most of its run, but it did return to a few tropes over and over. After “The Chinese Restaurant” became a sensation, the series kept trying to replicate its success, usually with much less success. In this case, the cast spends 22 minutes hopping theaters in a multiplex.
135. “The Parking Space,” Season 3 Ep. 22
Parking — and specifically the lack of parking — was a comedic gold mine for Seinfeld. In this episode, George and a friend of Kramer’s try to take the same spot at the same time, leading to a tense standoff. The friend claims he was in the spot first; George insists that you have to back in to a parallel parking spot. For one of the few instances in 170-odd episodes, George is actually correct.
134. “The Non-Fat Yogurt,” Season 5 Ep. 7
Is it possible we can blame Rudy Giuliani’s recent erratic media appearances on all the ultra-fatty “non-fat yogurt” he ate in this episode?
133. “The Money,” Season 8 Ep. 12
A great supporting cast (including Sarah Silverman as Kramer’s girlfriend who kicks him in her sleep) can’t quite redeem yet another misadventure involving Jerry’s parents and their petty neighbors.
132. “The Checks,” Season 8 Ep. 7
Season 8’s slide into forced zaniness continued in this busy installment that throws together Japanese tourists sleeping in Kramer’s oversized chest of drawers, George flirting with joining a cult that masquerades as a bunch of carpet cleaners, and the Eagles song “Desperado.” By this point in its run, the show would only occasionally come to its senses.
131. “The Sniffing Accountant,” Season 5 Ep. 4
The scene of Kramer drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette at the same time became a staple of Seinfeld highlight reels for a reason. Here’s to feeling good all the time.
130. “The Kiss Hello,” Season 6 Ep. 17
Charting Jerry’s slow slide into full blown germaphobia and misanthropy is one of the pleasurable aspects of Seinfeld’s second half. Here he alienates his neighbors by refusing to kiss them hello when entering and exiting their apartment building.
129. “The Van Buren Boys,” Season 8 Ep. 14
Jerry contemplating dumping his perfect new girlfriend (Christine Taylor) because she doesn’t seem to have much of a social life and therefore might be a “loser” is a iconic act of Seinfeld self-sabotage.
128. “The Strongbox,” Season 9 Ep. 14
George dating a woman who refuses to break up with him is a clever reversal of the usual dynamic, as is the comparison to sailors on a submarine turning their keys to launch missiles. (“Turn your key, Maura!”) Alex Kapp Horner’s performance as the unflappable Maura makes her one of George’s best girlfriends.
127. “The Soul Mate,” Season 8 Ep. 2
This one’s best in the smaller moments of observational humor about language; George’s fixation on a guy’s suspicious throat clearing and Jerry’s disappointment that he’s not “gaga” over his new girlfriend. One interesting note: In the cold open, Jerry and George share their fascination with prison and George wistfully notes “Maybe someday,” foreshadowing the final scene of “The Finale.”
126. “The Merv Griffin Show,” Season 9 Ep. 6
One of the highpoints of the show’s later years was this surreal journey into Kramer’s mysterious apartment, transformed in this case into the old set from The Merv Griffin Show. (Kramer found it in a dumpster and reassembled it in his house.) The show’s commitment to the bit — including a cameo from animal expert Jim Fowler as himself — seals the deal.
125. “The Bris,” Season 5 Ep. 5
“Pigman baby, Pigman!” The titular ceremony is a non-starter. Kramer’s encounter with an anonymous hospital patient who looks like a pig, and his subsequent obsession with a hidden race of Pigmen is gold Jerry, gold! So is Elaine’s description of uncircumcised penises. (“It had no face. No personality!”)
124. “The Stock Tip,” Season 1 Ep. 5
The pieces were just starting to come together in this final episode of the truncated first season; it’s a little odd to see George so happy when a stock tip actually comes in just after Jerry sells his stake. (If the show had tried the same premise in a later season, Kramer would have surely been the one to get rich while George would have lost everything.)
123. “The Outing,” Season 4 Ep. 17
Believe it or not, this episode about Jerry and George freaking out after a journalist mistakes them for a gay couple actually won a GLAAD Award in 1993. Today it would almost definitely inspire angry online protests (and not totally unfairly). Love it or hate it there’s an inventive bit involving a two-line phone. (Kids, ask your parents.) Plus, George picks his porno actor name!
122. “The Alternate Side,” Season 3 Ep. 11
Best remembered for Kramer’s one line in a Woody Allen film (“These pretzels are making me thirsty!”) and the scene where Jerry tries to rent a car and has to lecture the cashier about the difference between taking and holding a reservation. Otherwise meh, as it’s all too easy to see disaster coming when George takes a job parking cars, and Elaine’s boyfriend suffering a stroke and almost dying plays bleaker than Larry David probably intended.
121. “The Shower Head,” Season 7 Ep. 16
If this episode had been released in 2018, Twitter would have been abuzz with stories of humble bagel salesmen freaking out about the sudden dive in poppy seed bagels, after “The Shower Head” revealed that eating too many poppy seeds can make you fail a drug test for opium. Kramer hating the apartment building’s new low-flow shower heads so much that he buys a black market head which blasts him out of his tub is silly — but it’s my kind of silly.
120. “The Pledge Drive,” Season 6 Ep. 3
George’s quest to get revenge on a driver who might have cut him off and given him the finger literally goes nowhere. Thumbs up, though, to the subplot about the couple who sound too much alike on the phone because the man is a “high talker” and Mr. Pitt’s preference for Snickers bars eaten with a knife and fork.
119. “The Cartoon,” Season 9 Ep. 13
A show about the inscrutable nature of New Yorker cartoons written by an actual New Yorker cartoonist (Bruce Eric Kaplan) is a meta-joke to rival Jerry and George’s show about nothing. And Kathy Griffin slays her return as Sally, who’s performing her own one-woman show Jerry Seinfeld, The Devil.
118. “The Robbery,” Season 1 Ep. 3
A fun game of chess between the characters; Jerry gets fed up after his apartment is robbed and is ready to move into a great place that George finds, but the place is so good that George wants it for himself. That jeopardizes the move and Elaine’s plan to move into Jerry’s old spot. In typical Seinfeld fashion, the punchline is no one gets what they want and everyone remains miserable.
117. “The Package,” Season 8 Ep. 5
The seminude photos George takes in this episode because he thinks his girlfriend slipped him some sexy pictures of herself became a thing. “The timeless art of seduction,” indeed.
116. “The Betrayal,” Season 9 Ep. 8
The desperation to keep the show fresh in its final reason resulted in this gimmick episode that is played in reverse; it begins with the Castle Rock logo and ends with the Seinfeld logo and the actors’ credits. What comes in between isn’t outstanding, but props at least for taking the idea all the way; the final scenes travel back in time to the very first time Jerry met Kramer, explaining why he’s called Kessler in “The Seinfeld Chronicles.”
115 and 114. “The Bottle Deposit,” Season 7 Eps. 21 and 22
This two-parter starts with a priceless set of golf clubs and a scheme to carry empty soda bottles across state lines for the large deposit in Michigan and builds to Newman being chased off a farm at the business end of a shotgun. That’s a shame.
113. “The Handicap Spot,” Season 4 Ep. 22
Desperate for a parking spot at the mall, the gang takes the handicap spot. When they return to the car (George’s dad’s, amplifying the problem), they find it trashed by an angry mob. You don’t need to look in the credits to know this one was written by Larry David. Only his mind could have dreamed up a story where such innocent acts has such disastrous consequences for all parties.
112. “The Revenge,” Season 2 Ep. 7
Speaking of Larry David, the A-plot of this installment — with George quitting his job, immediately regretting it, and trying to pretend like it never happened — was something David actually tried while he worked at Saturday Night Live. (The only difference: At SNL, they actually bought it, and David was able to get his job back.) Jerry’s storyline involves missing money at the laundromat, which is seemingly designed as an excuse to let Michael Richards do what he does best with a washing machine and an oversized bag of cement.
111. “The Glasses,” Season 5 Ep. 3
There’s something beautiful about the airtight logic in a show where a character can be described as a “horse face,” and a George who’s lost his glasses believes he’s seen said character kissing Jerry’s girlfriend, only to learn, after his glasses are recovered, that he was looking at a horse.
110. “The Foundation,” Season 8 Ep. 1
If you had any doubts that Seinfeld might walk back Susan’s death, or at least feel a little bad for murdering her with poisoned envelopes, the very first shot of the first episode of Season 8 — a slow pan to Susan’s gravestone — dispelled those notions immediately. Left alone at her grave, George tells her what the Yankees have been up to since the All-Star Break. Cold, George. Ice cold.
109. “The Understudy,” Season 6 Ep. 24
In a parody of the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan incident (kids, ask your parents), George injures Bette Midler in a charity softball game, which means her understudy — Jerry’s girlfriend, of course — gets to step into the role. Midler singing the lyrics of Rochelle, Rochelle: The Musical (“Well you made a long journey from Milan to Minsk, Rochelle, Rochelle!”) is still funny 23 years later.
108. “The Note,” Season 3 Ep. 1
George gets a massage from a man and freaks out. (“I think it moved!”) in a scene that is both cringe-inducing and beautifully acted by Jason Alexander. And speaking of cringe-inducing: This episode introduced a version of the Seinfeld theme music with verbal scatting and nonsense lyrics. It was so horrific it was dropped after just this episode.
107. “The Cigar Store Indian,” Season 5 Ep. 10
Nearly a one-act play on the subject of obsession. There’s Frank Costanza’s fixation on his complete collection of TV Guide (kids, ask your parents), and the guy who finds the Guide Elaine takes and his fixation on Elaine, plus Elaine’s boss’ fixation on a statue that belongs to Kramer. Frank confronting George over the condom wrapper he finds in his bed is one of the show’s most exquisitely awkward moments.
106. “The Apartment,” Season 2 Ep. 5
Another game of apartment hot potato, with Elaine trying to get her hands on an apartment in Jerry’s building, and Jerry then worrying that having her around all the time might crimp his style. The house-hunting dilemma spurs the first-ever time Elaine shoves Jerry and yells “Get out!” The show would never be the same.
105. “The Andrea Doria,” Season 8 Ep. 10
Yet another game of apartment hot potato, with George trying to talk his way into a great place (ahead of a survivor of the Andrea Doria disaster) by recounting some of his most embarrassing and painful memories from the history of the show. The shellshocked looks on the faces of the condo board as he recounts the shrinkage incident are tremendous. Meanwhile: Jerry becomes Newman!
104. “The Chinese Woman,” Season 6 Ep. 4
The title character isn’t Chinese — George’s mom only thinks she is, which is why she accepts “Donna Chang”s advice about her floundering marriage. It’s one of the show’s least incisive examinations of race (and that’s saying something), but Kramer discovering his low-sperm count, then rejecting the discomfort of boxers (“I’m flipping, I’m flopping!”) for the free and easy feeling of no underwear at all (“I’m out there Jerry and I’m loving every minute of it!”) is quintessential K-Man.
103. “The Soup,” Season 6 Ep. 7
Steve Hytner joins the world of Seinfeld as Kenny Bania, a hack standup and Jerry’s perpetual frenemy in the comedy world. The character leaves a bigger impression than his middling debut episode, which also features Kramer getting rid of his refrigerator as part of a new health regimen and then desperately trying to scrounge food at Jerry’s apartment to appease his new, perpetually hungry girlfriend.
102. “The Mango,” Season 5 Ep. 1
George’s discomfort with activities “below the Equator” and Jerry’s embarrassment at the discovery that Elaine faked orgasms with him makes “The Mango” feel like a deliberate attempt to recapture the magic of “The Contest” on another taboo subject. In true sequel fashion, they don’t quite get there, although there is some supernatural alchemy to Jason Alexander’s performance when he tastes the potency-enhancing powers of mango for the first time.
101. “The Ex-Girlfriend,” Season 2 Ep. 1
After an improbable pickup for a second season, Seinfeld started to find its groove with this twisty comic melodrama about the girlfriend that George discards and Jerry finds himself helpless to resist. Jerry agonizes about whether to keep seeing the woman, only to find himself the dumpee after she’s unimpressed by his standup act. The structure here — pining for something forbidden, only to get it and then have it blow up in your face — became a Seinfeld hallmark.
100. “The Scofflaw,” Season 6 Ep. 13
Jon Lovitz making an ideal addition to the Seinfeldiverse (as a man who exploits his own cancer diagnosis for free stuff) is maybe the least surprising thing in television history, and Lovitz’s performance after his character gets a confidence-boosting toupee is absolutely hysterical. (Spoiler Alert: Newman is the scofflaw.)
99 and 98. “The Cadillac,” Season 7 Eps. 14 and 15
The YouTube compilation of every time one of the characters says “Marisa Tomei!” in this episode (George learns she loves quirky bald men and becomes obsessed) is a magnificent work of modern art.
97. “The Serenity Now,” Season 9 Ep. 3
Pros: More Lloyd Braun, the portmanteau “shiksappeal” (to describe gentile women’s lure to Jewish men), and the perversity of saying “Serenity now!” driving every character insane. Cons: More Rabbi Glickman, Kramer turning the hallway outside his apartment into “Anytown, USA,” a folksy front porch complete with American flag, screen door, and bug zapper.
96. “The Summer of George,” Season 8 Ep. 22
George pledging to use his severance from the Yankees to finally do all the stuff in life he never had time for (frolf, reading a book) then doing none of that to instead waste away in an easy chair and slowly turn into one of the future humans from WALL-E is aces.
95. “The Couch,” Season 6 Ep. 5
Speaking of George not reading, in this episode he’s so reluctant to crack Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the book club he joined that he winds up barging into a stranger’s apartment to watch his video store’s only copy of the film version. You’ve got to love the thinly veiled allegory of the abortion debate, refracted through Kramer’s ludicrous make-your-own-pizza business. Is it a pizza when you take it out of the oven or the moment you put your fists in the dough?
94. “The Airport,” Season 4 Ep. 12
Solid yuks in this story of missed connections when Jerry and Elaine’s flight gets canceled and George and Kramer have to adjust their dreaded airport pickup from JFK to LaGuardia. Jerry selfishly taking the one first-class seat on the flight ahead of Elaine, and then being rewarded with impeccable service and the company of a model is another sublime slice of Seinfeld’s twisted philosophy of life: Those who dare, win.
93. “The Big Salad,” Season 6 Ep. 2
Supposedly this whole episode was inspired by Larry David buying the show’s editor a big salad and then not getting credit for it. Can you imagine how exhausting it must be to know Larry David?
92. “The Pothole,” Season 8 Ep. 16
Jerry drops his girlfriend’s toothbrush in the toilet and then she uses it. After she learns what he did, she puts something of his in the toilet, but refuses to tell him what. Quite understandably, this drives Jerry completely nuts, and he systematically throws away everything in his apartment just to be safe. Somehow this also involves Newman burning alive inside a mail truck screaming “Oh, the humanity!” This show was weird, guys.
91. “The Label Maker,” Season 6 Ep. 12
Come for the plot about the ethics of “re-gifting,” after Jerry receives a label maker from Tim Whatley (a pre-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston) that looks suspiciously like the one Elaine gave Tim a few months earlier. Stay for Kramer and Newman’s intense game of Risk, and the indignant Ukranian man who destroys their board after he hears Kramer insulting Uranian strength.
90. “The Pie,” Season 5 Ep. 15
Of all the essential truths Seinfeld explored, there may not be one more pure than this: People get really upset when you turn down dessert. Things get complicated when Jerry goes to his girlfriend’s father’s restaurant and he catches the chef, Poppie (Reni Santoni), using the bathroom and then not washing his hands. Suddenly he’s the one who doesn’t want to eat something. At least Poppie didn’t pee on his furniture.
89. “The Seven,” Season 7 Ep. 13
A cautionary tale about the dangers of revealing your preferred baby name before you’ve actually used it on a child. George wants to name his kid Seven (after Mickey Mantle’s uniform number) but then Susan’s cousin steals it.
88. “The Doll,” Season 7 Ep. 17
George finds a doll that looks like his mother — and it really does look like Estelle Harris. He begins imagining it talking to him, a plot line that is both funny and disturbing. Kramer and Frank playing pool in a tiny room is good for a few chuckles, as is Kathy Griffin’s first appearance as Susan’s old roommate Sally who keeps accidentally screwing things up for Jerry.
87.“The Hot Tub,” Season 7 Ep. 5
Convoluted even by later Seinfeld standards. Kramer gets a hot tub, it knocks out the power in the apartment building, causing Jerry to oversleep, and for Elaine’s marathon runner houseguest to nearly miss his spot in the New York Marathon. Meanwhile: George starts swearing!
86. “The Doodle,” Season 6 Ep. 20
Jerry accidentally eats pecans that his girlfriend had spit out; in other words, a massive crisis. (He kisses this woman, right? This is extreme even for you, Jerry.) George’s girlfriend draws an unflattering doodle of him, and Elaine makes a cardinal mistake: She tells George that the girlfriend said “looks aren’t very important to her.” Whoops. Meanwhile: Kramer likes Mackinaw peaches!
85 and 84. “The Raincoats,” Season 5 Eps. 18 and 19
The show’s willingness to poke fun at taboo subjects works like gangbusters here, when Jerry and his girlfriend are so hot for each other after a long separation that they can’t help making out during Schindler’s List. Seinfeld had high-talkers, low-talkers, and here a “close-talker” — Elaine’s boyfriend Aaron (Judge Reinhold) who is both absolutely delightful and also weirdly into standing an inch and a half from someone when having a conversation.
83. “The Letter,” Season 3 Ep. 21
Another bizarre storyline — Elaine gets in trouble for wearing an Orioles cap in George Steinbrenner’s box at Yankee Stadium — that was taken from a real life incident (Larry David got into trouble in Gene Autry’s box with a friend who wore a Yankees hat). Most famous for the painting of Kramer, which adorned posters and even T-shirts. Yes, in the 1990s, people wore paintings of Michael Richards’ face on their chest. It was a weird time.
82. “The Invitations,” Season 7 Ep. 24
This episode premiered in 1996, before the age of DVR. In those days, you had to tape shows if you wanted to rewatch them, which I frequently did for first-run Seinfelds. And when the show killed off poor Susan with poisoned envelopes — and then the gang reacted by going to Monk’s for a bite to eat — I was so shocked at their (and the show’s) callousness, I rewound the scene and watched it several times. I couldn’t believe it. To be honest, I still can’t.
81. “The Wallet,” Season 4 Ep. 5
A story that’s largely putting pieces in place for latter payoffs, both in the next episode, “The Watch,” and throughout Season 4 — like the box of cigars that George gets from Susan’s dad. He gives them to Kramer and a few episodes later he uses them to accidentally burn down Susan’s family cabin.
80. “The Dealership,” Season 9 Ep. 11
Jerry goes to buy a car from Puddy and the whole cast gets stuck at the dealership while they haggle; when Elaine breaks up with Puddy, Jerry suddenly has to pay sticker price. George’s obsession with getting to the bottom of a stolen Twix candy bar is one of the more relatable stories in the show’s history. (Twix is objectively the best candy bar because it is the only one with the cookie crunch.)
79. “The Tape,” Season 3 Ep. 8
George tries to cure his baldness with a special cream from China; the image of Jason Alexander with this white schmutz on his head is enough to carry this episode that also features Elaine jokingly leaving an erotic message on Jerry’s tape recorder. Meanwhile: Jerry does a Cockney accent!
78. “The Visa,” Season 4 Ep. 15
This episode is why I never agree to get my neighbors’ mail while they’re on vacation. George worries his girlfriend might think Jerry is funnier than he is, so he forces him to be serious. And Serious Jerry is even funnier than Funny Jerry.
77. “The Stand-In,” Season 5 Ep. 16
Maybe Jerry is too funny; in this episode, Jerry is so intent on making a sick friend laugh that he keeps trying until he has him cackling so hard that he actually dies. Kramer’s friend Mickey (Danny Woodburn) is introduced as the stand-in for a child actor on All My Children, but the kid keeps growing, putting his job in peril. And in a sequence that looks very different in 2018, Jerry sets up Elaine on a date with a friend who takes out his genitals in his car on their first date, and then Jerry and Kramer refuse to believe it happened.
76. “The Pez Dispenser,” Season 3 Ep. 14
One of the best Seinfeldisms comes from a conversation in “The Pez Dispenser” (Jerry puts one on Elaine’s leg during a concert and she laughs so loud she throws off the pianist’s concentration) when George laments his lack of “hand” in his relationship. (“Hand is tough to get!”) Yeah, tell me about it soul sister!
75. “The Heart Attack,” Season 2 Ep. 8
George plus vulnerability (he’s laid up in a hospital after he mistakes tonsillitis for a heart attack) equals a winner. As a writer, the Jerry storyline where he has an ingenious idea in his sleep then forgets it in the morning is too painfully real.
74. “The Wife,” Season 5 Ep. 17
A pre-Friends Courteney Cox plays Jerry’s girlfriend turned fake wife, a scam they each use to hustle a dry cleaning discount. But even being pretend married sours their relationship and they start to fight all the time. I’m not sure if you can tell, but Seinfeld did not have the most optimistic outlook on dating.
73. “The Stake Out,” Season 1 Ep. 2
Elaine arrives, along with George’s signature fake job and alter ego, architect Art Vandelay (although in this instance, George is supposedly visiting an importer/exporter by that name who lives in the building of a girl that Jerry met at a party).
72. “The Limo,” Season 3 Ep. 19
Nazis in modern America? What an outlandish premise! High marks for Jerry and George’s Nazi pseudonyms: Dylan Murphy and Colin O’Brien.
71. “The Chicken Roaster,” Season 8 Ep. 8
Jerry Seinfeld’s acting was a persistent source of criticism throughout the series’ run, but his work here — when Kramer and Jerry switch apartments and then personalities — is top notch. He almost out-Richards Michael Richards (who does a great Jerry in this episode as well). Rounding this superbly acted episode is John O’Hurley, doing Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now as an unhinged J. Peterman.
70. “The Maestro,” Season 7 Ep. 3
Strange but true: In many cases, the title plot of a Seinfeld episode is its weakest element. The Maestro of “The Maestro” was completely overshadowed by the introduction of another character: Kramer’s slick lawyer Jackie Chiles.
69. “The Bizarro Jerry,” Season 8 Ep. 3
A high-concept episode that became a little overrated, probably because a lot of the episodes around it in the show’s final two seasons were sub-par. Elaine falls in with a new group of friends who are the opposite of the core cast: Kind, considerate, and not super funny, hence the slight overrating.
68. “The Comeback,” Season 8 Ep. 13
Seinfeld became a bit of a catchphrase factory in its later seasons, something the show seemed to allude to in this episode, where George struggles to think of a comeback after a co-worker insults him and the best he can do is “the Jerk store called, and they’re running out of you!” Ironically, “jerk store” entered the lexicon as well.
67. “The Watch,” Season 4 Ep. 6
Elaine attempts to break up with her psychiatrist boyfriend by having Kramer pose as her new boyfriend. The drink Kramer attempts to order when he visits the psychiatrist office — a decaf cappuccino — followed by his indignant shock when they don’t have that has been my go-to joke drink order for 25 years now, and for that I owe this episode an enormous debt.
66. “The Shoes,” Season 4 Ep. 16
A cleavage peak gets George in trouble with his boss at NBC, so he and Jerry recruit Elaine to help them prove that it’s impossible not to look at cleavage. The debate over the ethics of ogling is funny; Bob Balaban’s full-throated puking noises as the NBC executive when he gets a stomach bug is transcendently funny.
65. “The Fatigues,” Season 8 Ep. 6
Speaking of puking noises, “The Fatigues” gives Jerry Stiller one of his best showcases, in an uproarious flashback to his days as an Army cook in the Korean War. The show makes no attempt to mask Stiller’s age in the flashbacks, which makes them even funnier. Note: Please do not try Frank’s meat seasoning method at home.
64. “The Jimmy,” Season 6 Ep. 19
One of the series’ greatest strengths was its ability to build organically upon its own stories and characters. Events and incidents had consequences, and they reverberated down through each season. The title of “The Jimmy” refers to a character who talks about himself in the third person (“Jimmy might have a compound fracture!”) and while the characters all hate this curious tic, George immediately picks it up — and would continue to occasionally refer to himself in third person (“George is getting upset!”) through Seinfeld’s three remaining seasons.
63. “The Engagement,” Season 7 Ep. 1
Season 7 charts George’s engagement with Susan, one of the NBC executives he met and dated during Season 4. That begins here after George and Jerry mutually realize their immaturity but only George acts on it and asks a woman to marry him. George’s fury over this broken “pact” became a key running gag for the next 20 episodes.
62. “The Beard,” Season 6 Ep. 16
There’s a major hair theme going here. Elaine acts as the beard for a gay man, while George is still wearing the toupee he gained in “The Scofflaw” — which becomes an issue when he dates a bald woman and refuses to acknowledge his own hairlessness. Elaine gets fed up and yanked the wig off George’s dome, screaming “I don’t like this thing, and here’s what I’m doing with it!” The audience’s collective roar at that beat is one of the biggest in the entire run of the show.
61. “The Cafe,” Season 3 Ep. 7
Another attempt at kindness turns to disaster when Jerry patronizes the new restaurant on his block, and convinces the friendly owner Babu that he would be better off if his “Dream Cafe” served his native Pakistani food. Babu tries it and promptly goes out of business, and decries Jerry as a “very bad man.” The ironic part is Jerry is a very bad man, and yet in this case he was trying to do something good.
60. “The Little Kicks,” Season 8 Ep. 4
Elaine’s dancing — and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’ enthusiastic performance of it — was a true gift to the world. Sweet fancy Moses, is that scene funny.
59. “The Secret Code,” Season 7 Ep. 7
George’s loss of self amidst his ongoing engagement to Susan nears a breaking point when she wants his ATM code, something he staunchly refuses to give up until, through a clever bit of script engineering, revealing his pin number is literally a life or death choice. Meanwhile: Kramer drives a fire truck!
58. “The Caddy,” Season 7 Ep. 12
Elaine gives her bra-averse friend Sue Ellen Mischke (Brenda Strong) a brassiere as a gift and she begins wearing it as a top. Kramer gets into an accident while staring at her on the street, and then he sues her with the help of Jackie Chiles. At the trial, after Sue Ellen tries on the bra over her clothes and it doesn’t fit, Jackie cries “A bra's gotta fit right up against a person's skin, like a glove,” a reference to O.J. Simpson’s infamous gloves not fitting at his trial. (Kids, ask your parents.)
57. “The Strike,” Season 9 Ep. 10
Largely unremarkable — except for the introduction of one of Seinfeld’s most enduring cultural legacies: The invention of the brilliant non-denominational December holiday Festivus, created by Frank Costanza to air his grievances with his family. Meanwhile: Kramer goes back to his old job working at a bagel store!
56. “The Pick,” Season 4 Ep. 13
Jerry and Elaine suffer dueling humiliations when his girlfriend thinks she catches him picking his nose and she takes a Christmas card photo that somehow exposes one of her nipples. 25 years later, I still can’t figure out how that could have happened.
55. “The Mom & Pop Store,” Season 6 Ep. 8
No good deed goes unpunished on Seinfeld (in fairness, there were very few good deeds), as when Kramer suggests to the Mom and Pop who own a local shoe repair store to fix their electrical wiring, which sets of a chain reaction of events that results in Jerry losing all of his sneakers. George buys a car because he believes it once belonged to Jon Voight. In fact it was owned by “John Voight.” Then the real Jon Voight shows up for a cameo and bites Kramer’s arm. The aristocrats!
54. “The Abstinence,” Season 8 Ep. 9
A line you can use in your own life: “I can do six weeks standing on my head. I'm a sexual camel.”
53.“The Library,” Season 3 Ep. 5
An unusual episode with a very different flavor, thanks to guest star Philip Baker Hall as Bookman, a library cop, and his rat-a-tat dialogue with Jerry. The payoff to George’s terrifying high-school flashbacks and the gym teacher who gave him a wedgie is one of the series’ earliest examples of disconnected storylines beautifully syncing up in Act 3.
52. “The Secretary,” Season 6 Ep. 9
George acts responsibly for once in his life and passes up the opportunity to hire a bombshell for a secretary and instead selects the most qualified candidate — then sleeps with her anyway. He also foolishly (and Georgeishly) screams “I’m giving you a raise!” mid-coitus — then has to figure out how to get her a raise or take it back.
51. “The Wink,” Season 7 Ep. 4
Jerry’s health kick causes problems for his love life when he eschews a steak for “just a salad” on a dinner date. He also eats a particularly juicy grapefruit, which sends pulp flying into George’s eye, causing him to wink uncontrollably, sending off signals he doesn’t intend. I am embarrassed to reveal how many times in my life I have howled “That pulp can move baby!” for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
50. “The Parking Garage,” Season 3 Ep. 6
Another obvious attempt to recreate the magic of “The Chinese Restaurant” in another setting. The real star here is the production design, which built a convincingly labyrinthian parking garage on the show’s lone soundstage. (The secret? Lots of mirrors.)
49. “The Soup Nazi,” Season 7 Ep. 6
Of all the Seinfeld bits that became cultural touchstones, this has to be the most improbable. Suddenly the entire country began yelling “No soup for you!” whether they were eating soup or not. Larry Thomas’ stingy soup master is on the Mount Rushmore of one-and-done Seinfeld guest stars, but the episode as a whole is dinged a bit by the so-so subplot about an armoire that’s been left out on the street that Elaine wants and Kramer agrees to protect.
48. “The Masseuse,” Season 5 Ep. 9
George falls for Jerry’s masseuse girlfriend — who refuses to give him a massage — specifically because she doesn’t like him. And Elaine’s boyfriend shares a name with a serial killer, which keeps causing problems. This episode got even better in retrospect, because Elaine’s suggestions for less murderer-y first names included O.J.
47. “The Wait Out,” Season 7 Ep. 23
Michael Richards did some of his best work in the entire series in this episode, scrunched into a pair of dungarees so tight he can’t bend his knees or sit in a chair. Jerry and Elaine try to subtly break up married couple Cary Elwes and Debra Messing. Naturally, George does it for them with a single joke.
46. “The Red Dot,” Season 3 Ep. 12
George sleeping with his office cleaning woman and then trying to buy her silence with a cashmere sweater is a pretty shocking storyline to modern eyes. His defense of his actions — “Was that wrong? Should I not have done that? I tell you, I gotta plead ignorance on this thing” — essentially predicted every modern politician’s denial of their bad behavior.
45. “The Pool Guy,” Season 7 Ep. 8
Kramer gets a new phone number that is one digit off from Moviefone (kids, ask your parents) and then decides to impersonate Russ Leatherman, AKA Mr. Moviefone. To this day, I cannot look at moviefone.com or discuss movie showtimes with friends without busting out Kramer’s “Why don’t you just tell me the name of the movie you selected?”
44. “The Gymnast,” Season 6 Ep. 6
Jerry dates a gymnast, expecting to enter a world of sensual delights that most men dare not dream about, but the sex is totally ordinary. George eats an eclair out of the garbage, because he’s George. Still, the funniest part may be that this originally aired in the middle of a themed “Blackout Night” on NBC where there was a blackout across every Thursday night show and Seinfeld, at the height of its power, simply ignored it and did a regular episode.
43. “The Keys,” Season 3 Ep. 23
Jerry gets pissed off at Kramer and demands his spare keys back, leading to all the characters swapping various sets of keys until Kramer decides he’s had enough of New York City and moves to Hollywood, a cliffhanger that wouldn’t be resolved until the start of the next season.
42. “The Stall,” Season 5 Ep. 12
The series was really clicking on all cylinders at this point; each of “The Stall”s plot lines belong in a Seinfeld best-of clip show. Elaine has a toilet paper crisis that Jerry’s girlfriend sitting in the next stall refuses to resolve. (She “can’t spare a square.���) Kramer gets addicted to a phone-sex line. And George has a crush on Elaine’s boyfriend, “mimbo” (i.e. male bimbo) Tony (Dan Cortese), who dismissively tells him to “step off.”
41 and 40. “The Trip,” Season 4 Eps. 1 and 2
Kramer’s Los Angeles tenure resolves in this lively two-parter where Jerry heads west for an appearance on The Tonight Show. Fish out of water George tags along, and winds up irritating both Corbin Bernsen and George Wendt, while Kramer becomes the suspect in a serial killer case. When he’s finally cleared because the “Smog Strangler” struck again while Kramer was in custody, Jerry, George, and Kramer literally dance for joy at the violent death of another human being, which has to be the apex of Seinfeld’s dark humor.
39. “The Pony Remark,” Season 2 Ep. 2
Horses come up a shocking number of times on Seinfeld. There are episodes about horse races, episodes about farting horses, and this episode, where Jerry jokes about hating anyone who had a pony at a dinner attended by an old lady who owned a pony as a child in Poland. Promptly after this egregious insult, she dies. If there was a lesson here, Jerry surely did not learn it.
38. “The Phone Message,” Season 2 Ep. 4
I just love when Jerry and George plan an elaborate scheme and it backfires spectacularly. Here they plot to steal the tape out of George’s girlfriend’s answering machine before she can listen to a bad message he left on it. They bring two different sizes of tapes, they work out an elaborate system of verbal signals (Tippy-toe! Lemon tree!), and just when they think they’ve pulled off their mission, the girlfriend reveals she listened to the message days ago and thought it was hysterical.
37. “The Chaperone,” Season 6 Ep. 1
Jerry romances Miss Rhode Island (Marguerite MacIntyre) but Miss America pageant rules require a chaperone. Enter: The K-Man, who takes his responsibilities way too seriously. Elaine starts working for Mr. Pitt (Ian Abercrombie), who proves hard to please; buying him a pair of socks becomes a weekend-long activity. Meanwhile: Jerry murders some doves!
36. “The Calzone,” Season 7 Ep. 20
Of all of Kramer’s far-fetched ideas, putting his shirts in a oven instead of a dryer might be the least far-fetched. I could see someone actually doing that. (Not me. I haven’t tried it. I swear. Okay, let’s move on.)
35. “The Doorman,” Season 6 Ep. 18
When Kramer discovers Frank Costanza’s ample bosom he concocts a support undergarment for men, with Frank as his first test subject. (Fun fact: The writers legitimately couldn’t decide whether “the bro” or “the manssiere” was the funnier name for Kramer’s invention, so they incorporated the debate over the name into the script.) Meanwhile: Frank eats a lot of kasha!
34. “The Race,” Season 6 Ep. 10
An old high school buddy challenges Jerry to rematch of a race they ran 20 years ago. (Naturally, Jerry cheated.) The climactic rematch, which Jerry wins through even more cheating, in dramatic slow motion to the sounds of John Williams’ Superman theme, makes explicit something that is buried beneath the surface of all of Seinfeld: That surviving the day-to-day grind of adulthood is itself a heroic act.
33. “The Cheever Letters,” Season 4 Ep. 8
The only thing funnier than John Cheever’s secret letters to Susan’s father is Jerry and George’s awkward attempt to extricate themselves from the room when the rest of Susan’s dysfunctional family discovers the truth. Jerry also ruins a relationship with some ill-advised dirty talk, remarking of his lover’s underwear “You mean the panties your mother laid out for you?”
32. “The Junior Mint,” Season 4 Ep. 20
Kramer’s addiction to Junior Mints (“It’s chocolate, it’s peppermint! It’s delicious!”) and then accidentally dropping one inside an open surgical wound is good. Jerry’s inability to remember his girlfriend’s name, learning it rhymes with a female body part, and then trying to brainstorm possibilities with George (Celeste? Aretha? Mulva?) is priceless.
31. “The Smelly Car,” Season 4 Ep. 21
A B.O. so odious it becomes a presence unto itself (“It’s the Beast!”) was one of the more fanciful ideas Seinfeld had presented in its first four seasons. But if you’ve ever had to sit in a car with someone with bad B.O., you know it’s not that ridiculous. Also not that ridiculous: The notion that a relationship with George might drive someone to abandon male relationships altogether and shack up with a woman (as Susan does here).
30. “The Bubble Boy,” Season 4 Ep. 7
“What's a bubble boy?” “He lives in a bubble?” “Boy!” Perhaps not the most respectful pop cultural representation of people with immune deficiencies, but easily the funniest. This really shouldn’t have worked but it did then and it still does now, mostly because we never actually see the bubble boy (the character remains a disembodied voice) and because a murder is very nearly committed over a game of Trivia Pursuit.
29. “The Sponge,” Season 7 Ep. 9
The origin of the famous “spongeworthy” catchphrase, which Elaine uses to determine the worthiness of her sexual partners after her preferred contraceptive is taken off the market, also sees Jerry finding two different ways to be enormously tacky in one episode: He changes the tag of his jeans so he can pretend he’s still a 31 waist, and he gets the unlisted phone number of a woman he wants to date off of an AIDS Walk donations list. (Serious question: Which one is tackier?)
28. “The Rye,” Season 7 Ep. 11
Seinfeld could go big and it could go small; “The Rye” manages to do both at once, with its exploration of the unspoken rules of dinner party hosting (Susan’s parents don’t serve the marble rye loaf the Costanzas bring, so they take it with them when they leave) and an ending that involves marble rye loaves hanging out of apartment buildings. “The Rye” also has one of Seinfeld’s funniest (and dirtiest) last scenes, with Elaine’s saxophonist boyfriend blowing a performance because he’s so worn out from pleasuring her.
27. “The Virgin,” Season 4 Ep. 10
Jerry to George, who wants to date other women even though he’s seeing Susan: “I’m looking at a guy on a semi-daily, with Tampax in his house and an implied date on Saturday night.” Seinfeld was just the best.
26. “The Fix-Up,” Season 3 Ep. 16
This deserving Emmy winner for Outstanding Writing (by Larry Charles and Elaine Pope) features superb parallel editing between dueling conversations, as Jerry and Elaine try to convince George and Elaine’s friend Cynthia to allow them to put them together on a blind date. Comparing the wants and needs of George versus Cynthia is some of Seinfeld’s finest commentary on gender relations.
25. “The Fusilli Jerry,” Season 6 Ep. 21
I still have never met a proctologist, so to this day, I assume that Kramer’s description of one — “They usually have a very good sense of humor!” — is entirely accurate. Frankly, I’m okay with that. Kramer accidentally gets “ASSMAN” vanity license plates. Landing a joke that cheap was a million to one shot, but they pulled it off.
24. “The Opera,” Season 4 Ep. 9
An embarrassment of comedy riches. Crazy Joe Davola stalking Jerry! A debate over what it means to be kiboshed! Jerry singing the theme song to The Bugs Bunny Show! George trying to scalp tickets to the opera in a tuxedo that doesn’t fit! Meanwhile: Kramer is afraid of clowns!
23. “The Lip Reader,” Season 5 Ep. 6
Writer Carol Leifer (who was supposedly one of the key inspirations for the Elaine character) hatched up the idea of using a deaf person who can read lips to intercept a private conversation, an ingenious premise that yields two all-time great setpieces: One where Jerry and George try to hide their mouths so the deaf woman (a terrific Marlee Matlin) won’t notice, and another where Matlin tries to relay the conversation they’ve recruited her to spy on and Kramer (who claims he knows sign languages) botches the whole thing. Meanwhile: Kramer becomes a ball boy!
22. “The Pen,” Season 3 Ep. 3
The pinnacle of the series’ frequent trips to visit Morty and Helen Seinfeld in Florida emphasizes the madness of the region’s senior communities (in this case, the “Pines of Mar Gables Phase II”) from the absurdly early dinners to the resentful generosity, as when Morty’s friend Jack insists that Jerry take his astronaut pen and then becomes furious when he accepts. “The Pen” is also the only episode that doesn’t feature Kramer and George — and, surprisingly, it doesn’t really miss them.
21. “The Dinner Party,” Season 5 Ep. 13
An oversized Gore-Text coat (have you heard about Gore-Tex?), a store refusing to break a $100 bill, and a hell of a food allegory (a black-and-white cookie as metaphor for race relationship) all feature prominently in this memorable episode about how the minor annoyances of attending a dinner party escalates into full-on existential despair.
20. “The Yada Yada,” Season 8 Ep. 19
Its reputation may be slightly inflated because yada yada-ing became a huge pop culture phenomenon in the wake of this episode, but there’s still some hilarious storylines, like Kramer and his buddy Mickey picking up two women, going on a double date, and being unable to decide which of the two they want. Also: Jerry’s response to a telemarketer selling New York Times subscriptions is timeless.
19. “The Jacket,” Season 2 Ep. 3
By all accounts, Lawrence Tierney was a nightmare to work with on the set of “The Jacket,” playing Elaine Benes’ irascible father. But that friction worked perfectly for the episode, where Elaine is late to a dinner date with Jerry, George, and her dad, leaving her friends to make awkward small talk with the gruff, miserable war veteran. The capper, where Tierney’s Alton Benes sings “Master of the House” from Les Miserables after George gets it stuck in his head, gets a big chef’s kiss emoji.
18. “The Deal,” Season 2 Ep. 9
The strictures of ‘90s network television censorship forced Seinfeld to get creative when it wanted to address adult subjects and themes, which often resulted some of the show’s most clever euphemisms. In “The Deal,” Jerry and Elaine contemplate a friends with benefits relationship without ever using words like sex or intercourse and instead describe a life of “this” (talking) “that” (sex) and “the other” (a relationship). In 2018, the internet would have exploded at the ending — Jerry and Elaine actually remain a couple — and the fact that in the next episode they’re back to being just friends as if it never happened.
17. “The Fire,” Season 5 Ep. 20
If you want to distill George Costanza down to his very essence this is what you get: A man who shoves women and children (and at least one old lady!) out of the way at a kid’s birthday party because a small fire breaks out in the kitchen. “The Fire” also boasts Kramer’s best monologue, about his bus ride through the city in a desperate attempt to save a woman’s toe. (Fun fact: The clown at the party is an unrecognizable, pre-Swingers Jon Favreau.)
16. “The Conversion,” Season 5 Ep. 11
George becomes Lavtian Orthodox for a woman (why else?) while Kramer learns from George’s new spiritual advisor that he has the kavorka — “the lure of the animal.” As George finds religion and Kramer covers himself in garlic, Jerry tries to figure out why his girlfriend has a tube of fungicide. In other words, a masterpiece.
14 and 15. “The Pitch” / “The Ticket,” Season 4 Eps. 3 and 4
Seinfeld expanded its ambitions with its fourth season, which told a season-long storyline about Jerry and George selling a pilot for a sitcom (that looks an awful lot like Seinfeld) to NBC and then struggling to create anything of value. That concept is introduced here in grand self-reflexive style, along with Crazy Joe Davola (Peter Crombie), Bob Balaban as NBC President Russell Dalrymple, and George’s future fiancee Susan, and you’ve got a winner. The only reason this one isn’t at the very top of the list: No Elaine. (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss was on maternity leave for the start of Season 4.) Meanwhile: Kramer vomits on Susan!
13. “The Puffy Shirt,” Season 5 Ep. 2
There’s a reason the Season 5 DVD box set came with a tiny replica of the puffy shirt. The notorious “low-talker,” Kramer’s fashion designer girlfriend, asks Jerry to wear her new pirate-inspired blouse, and he says yes without really hearing the question. And so there he is, on The Today Show with Bryant Gumbel, wearing a puffy shirt during an appearance to promote charities that help feed the hungry. Meanwhile: George becomes a hand model! To protect his incredibly valuable hands he walks around wearing oven mitts!
12 and 11. “The Boyfriend,” Season 3 Eps. 17 and 18
Fun fact: New York Mets first basemen Keith Hernandez titled his new memoir I’m Keith Hernandez after his memorable line after he kisses Elaine in this triumphant two-parter. High point #1: George pretending Jerry’s apartment is “Vanderlay Industries” to fool the unemployment office (and then Kramer botching the whole thing, sending George into a pantsless rage). High point #2: Jerry’s elaborate debunking of Kramer and Newman’s story about being spit on by Hernandez years earlier, inspired by the Oliver Stone film JFK. (Kids, ask your parents.)
10. “The Chinese Restaurant,” Season 2 Ep. 11
The ultimate Seinfeld show-about-nothing bottle episode sees the characters waiting for a table they will never actually get. I think of George’s pathetic cry “You know we’re living in a society!” after a woman refuses to let him use the pay phone (kids, ask your parents) at least once a week. The maître d’ yelling “Seinfeld, four!” immediately after they finally give up and leave the restaurant was the exact moment Seinfeld fully became Seinfeld.
9. “The Subway,” Season 3 Ep. 13
Seinfeld’s most authentically New York episode follows all four of the main characters on divergent paths through the New York City subway system, each one equally bizarre. George is seduced and robbed by a con woman, Kramer overhears a tip on a horse race, Jerry strikes up a conversation with a friendly nudist, and in the clear winner of the group, Elaine gets trapped on a stalled train on her way to the wedding, and her internal monologue reveals her descent into all-too-relatable boiling fury.
8. “The Implant,” Season 4 Ep. 19
When the already great core cast had help from good guest stars, Seinfeld was unbeatable. “The Implant” has a pair of all-star guests: Megan Mullaly as George’s partially deaf girlfriend and Teri Hatcher as Sidra, whose impressive breasts gave the world the famous catchphrase “They’re real — and they’re spectacular.” Plus, Hatcher’s great line overshadows one of the most quotable lines in the entire series (Kramer saying “It’s like a sauna in here!” in a sauna), the infamous “double dip” scene, and George mocking Mullaly’s grief behind her back as she receives a phone call about her aunt’s death.
7 and 6. “The Pilot,” Season 2 Eps. 23 and 24
Unlike “The Finale,” which bombed with audiences and failed to live up to months of hype, “The Pilot” paid off the Season 4 NBC storyline in brilliant fashion. Jerry and George get to make their pilot, casting uncanny lookalikes as Kramer, Elaine, and George (an unrecognizable, pre-hair Jeremy Piven) and then shooting their ridiculous story about a man who becomes Jerry’s butler. This is essentially the superior version of “The Finale” in every way, right down all of the season’s best guest stars — including Teri Hatcher, Jane Leeves, Heidi Swedberg, and Wayne Knight— returning for callback cameos.
5. “The Switch,” Season 6 Ep. 11
Both a landmark — we finally learn Kramer’s first name — and a hilarious comic affair in which Jerry attempts to jump from dating one roommate to another, a move that George insists can’t be done. (“In the Middle Ages you could get locked up for even suggesting it!”) The obvious delight Seinfeld and Alexander share in hatching their “menage a trois” plan — and the obvious discomfort Jerry feels when he realizes he may have to become “an orgy guy” — is absolutely delightful.
4. “The Marine Biologist,” Season 5 Ep. 14
You might as well fast-forward through the scenes involving Yuri Testikov, the Russian writer Elaine is tasked with minding. This one is all about George’s recounting of his misadventures as a marine biologist, which is maybe the greatest single scene in the entire series. That monologue, delivered with absolute precision by Jason Alexander, is a tour de force, rivaling Chaucer, Joyce, Tennyson and other people I am going to pretend that I have read, with a whale of a punchline by Kramer. (“What is that a Titleist? Hole in one!”)
3. “The Hamptons,” Season 5 Ep. 21
The most supremely uncomfortable moment in Seinfeld history — and let’s all dwell on the implications of that statement for a second — has to be when Jerry’s girlfriend walks in on George naked right after he’s gotten out of the pool and there is, say it with me, “significant shrinkage.” Toss in Kramer’s girlfriend who loves wandering around topless, stolen lobster traps, and a hideously ugly baby and you have the makings of a classic. Elaine has a crush on the baby’s doctor, who likes to call things “breathtaking.” It’s the perfect adjective to describe this episode.
2. “The Opposite,” Season 5 Ep. 22
It became known as a show about nothing, but at its best, Seinfeld was a show about the totality of existence. “The Opposite” is a practical yet profound guide to life in just over 22 minutes. George decides to follow the opposite of his natural instincts and finds a new job. Elaine sticks to her guns and loses hers. And Jerry embraces a life as “Even Steven,” where every action, good or bad, corresponds to an equal one of opposite measure. (Although unstated, Jerry is therefore living by his own opposite code.) Meanwhile: George tells off a bunch of loud movie talkers in perhaps the most cathartic scene in television history!
1. “The Contest,” Season 4 Ep. 11
Okay, maybe the opposite instinct isn’t always right because “The Contest” is the obvious number one Seinfeld episode — for good reason. George’s mom (Estelle Harris in a home run series debut) catches George pleasuring himself, prompting a friendly contest between the characters to see who can remain “master of their domain” the longest.
“The Contest” is a remarkable sitcom. It’s an entire story devoted to one topic, without every actually saying what that topic is. (You’ll never hear the word masturbation.) As it so often does, the universe conspires against our heroes; a naked woman moves in across the street from Jerry, who’s dating a virgin, Elaine meets John F. Kennedy Jr., George visits his mom in the hospital while her roommate gets a sponge bath, and Kramer ... well, he’s Kramer. The whole thing still feels edgy more than 20 years later, up to and including the ambiguous ending that doesn’t actually reveal who won.
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