Seinfeld is often cited as being one of the greatest television series ever made, and there’s a very good reason for that. What Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David gave us is a study of society being viewed through a very particular lens. Very rarely does something so unique and idiosyncratic hit such a wide audience and create such a cultural phenomenon. Other hit sitcoms like Friends or The Big Bang Theory wish they were close to what Seinfeld was. The term “Seinfeldian” exists in the same way that “Shakespearean” does. There were nine great seasons of Seinfeld. Here are the best episodes from each of them.
9. Season 9: The Puerto Rican Day
Since “The Puerto Rican Day” was the last Seinfeld episode ever before the series finale, which Larry David returned to write on his own, every single member of the writing staff pitched in on the script. This was their finale. The episode was written by Alec Berg and Jennifer Crittenden and Spike Feresten and Bruce Eric Kaplan and Gregg Kavet and Steve Koren and David Mandel and Dan O’Keefe and Andy Robin and Jeff Schaffer – every single one of the show’s writers who were working on it in the ninth season. This was the last regular episode of the show, if you will, and thankfully, it was also one of its best. It’s one of the show’s classic ‘nothing’ episodes, like “The Chinese Restaurant” or “The Parking Garage,” as it sees the four characters stuck in traffic during the Puerto Rican Day parade. It was a great send-off for all the characters that we had come to know and love. We saw George being terrorized by a guy with a laser pointer and Elaine guiding a group of people to salvation, a la The Poseidon Adventure. We got to see Art Vandelay and H.E. Pennypacker in action one last time. Controversy over Kramer accidentally burning a Puerto Rican flag aside, “The Puerto Rican Day” is a home run.
8. Season 8: The Bizarro Jerry
As soon as Larry David left the show after the seventh season, Seinfeld became an awful lot more absurd, playing around with less realistic ideas. “The Bizarro Jerry” was the first of such episodes. It was clearly something that Seinfeld had wanted to do for a very long time that David had consistently shot down. When David was gone, he could finally do it. Seinfeld was always rife with references to Superman, since he’s Jerry Seinfeld’s favorite superhero and he loves the comic books. He was clearly very interested in the idea of the Bizarro world, where everything is the opposite, and in using it for comedy. At first, he says that Elaine’s new boyfriend who is nice to people and reads books is the Bizarro Jerry. But then we delve deeper into Bizarro Jerry’s world and meet his financially generous friend and his neighbor who knocks before entering and comes up with genuinely good ideas for inventions and then doesn’t follow through on them. Instead of a bicycle, Bizarro Jerry has a unicycle hanging up in his apartment. It’s such a hilarious episode, and it could only be done with a show that had established such defined and iconic characters.
7. Season 7: The Rye
The season arc in the seventh season of Seinfeld revolves around George getting engaged, which was a great idea for the character. In “The Rye,” his crazy parents meet his fiancée Susan’s miserable parents over dinner. The Costanzas bring a marble rye that the Rosses forget to serve, so Frank takes it back in the car with them. In order to maintain diplomacy, George will stop at nothing to make sure they don’t find out about it – by sneakily replacing the rye. There’s all kinds of wacky and hysterically funny stuff going on in this episode. You’ve got Frank Costanza’s inane dinner conversation with the Rosses about which animal has sex with a chicken. And then later in the episode, we’re treated to the sight of Jerry wrestling a marble rye out of an old lady’s hands – and then trying to toss it up to George in a third floor window. Eventually, George resorts to fishing it out of Jerry’s hands, at which point he is caught trying to sneak the rye back into the apartment. There’s Kramer feeding a whole can of Beef-A-Roni to a horse. “The Rye” is just a classic episode with so much to love in it.”
6. Season 6: The Big Salad
The idea behind “The Big Salad” is such a simplistic one, but it’s executed so well. Basically, George and his girlfriend are going to Monk’s Café, so Elaine passively asks them to pick her up a big salad. So, George buys her a big salad and they bring it up to Jerry’s apartment, where his girlfriend hands it to Elaine, Elaine thanks her, and she accepts the thanks. George is unhappy with this for two reasons: 1) he didn’t get the credit he deserved for buying Elaine the salad, and 2) his girlfriend was happy to take the credit for the big salad. So, he brings his grievances up with both Elaine and his girlfriend, and it blows up in his face each time. It seems really petty, and that’s what makes it so funny, but also, come on, you can sort of relate. Jason Alexander plays George’s frustration in this episode so well. One line in particular that he delivers perfectly goes, “You know, if it was a regular salad I wouldn’t have said anything – but you had to have the BI-I-I-I-G salad!” It’s hysterical. The whole thing is hysterical. It’s a classic episode of “the show about nothing.”
5. Season 5: The Puffy Shirt
“The Puffy Shirt” is Larry David’s personal favorite episode of Seinfeld. This episode is so iconic. Whether or not Jerry’s confirmation constitutes a binding legal contract to wear the shirt has been discussed in the law community. The shirt itself is exhibited at the National Museum of American History. This episode introduced many comic ideas that would become timeless classics of the show, like the idea of the “low talker.” It also brought back earlier ideas, like being “master of your domain” from “The Contest,” as George becomes a hand model and his agents worry that he will go the way of another great hand model who could never love another person more than he loved his own hand. There’s also that hilarious like, “But I don’t wanna be a pirate!” The way that Kramer is the one who gets Jerry into this situation epitomizes those two characters’ relationship. The turns that the plot takes, as Jerry is promoting a benefit to clothe the homeless with that horrible shirt as a way of also promoting the shirt in order to get stores to order it and then the shirt gets mocked and the stores pull out and all the unused shirts go towards clothing those very homeless people, is a perfect example of how Seinfeld used to dovetail storylines. It’s the perfect Seinfeld episode.
4. Season 4: The Contest
It is generally accepted that “The Contest” is the greatest Seinfeld episode ever. In fact, some publications have listed it as the single greatest episode of television ever created. TV Guide gave it the number one spot on their list of the 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. The plot of the episode, which was written by the brilliant Larry David, sees the four friends enter into a contest to see who can go the longest without masturbating after George’s mother catches him in the act. They all face temptations, as Kramer spots a nudist woman across the street and Jerry’s dating a virgin and Elaine’s in an aerobics class with John F. Kennedy, Jr. and George has to watch a woman get a sponge bath on his mother’s hospital ward every single day. And yet, the genius of the episode is that the word “masturbation” is never actually used once. David’s script, which is surprisingly intelligent considering how crass its subject matter is, ended up winning him a much deserved Emmy Award. “The Contest” is the quintessential episode of Seinfeld. It takes something that we all do but aren’t allowed to talk about and puts it out in the open, right over the network censors’ heads, and makes a satirical comment about it.
3. Season 3: The Limo
Season 3 was when Seinfeld really started to come into its own. A few of the show’s really classic episodes were in the third season, like “The Parking Garage” and “The Boyfriend” and “The Pez Dispenser” and “The Subway.” But it’s arguable that the best of the season is “The Limo,” in which Jerry and George decide to take some guy’s limo, just for the fun of it to see where it goes. It’s such a brilliantly written episode – as are most of the ones written by the great Larry Charles – with a plot that escalates more and more and more as it goes on. It starts with the two realizing that the limo is headed to Madison Square Garden, where they think they’ll be watching the New York Knicks play the Chicago Bulls. But then as more people get in the car and they hear the sounds of gunshots and get glimpses of the news, it becomes clear that the guy whose limo it is, who George is impersonating, is a neo Nazi leader on his way to speak at a controversial rally. Yikes! This is a prime example of Seinfeld tackling a dark subject in a very funny way.
2. Season 2: The Chinese Restaurant
There was a lot of pushback from NBC over this episode. The whole half hour is just Jerry, George, and Elaine waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant. On paper, that would sound really boring and unexciting. But it’s all in the execution. It’s what happens at the restaurant that makes it such a great episode. The restaurant is like a boiling pot of tension as they race against the clock. Elaine is starving, Jerry is trying to make a movie, and George’s relationship with his girlfriend is on the rocks. This is a really bad time for them to have to wait half an hour for a table. And the ending of the episode is perfect: the three give up and leave, and the second they’re gone, they’re called up for their table. That’s what makes it a classic Seinfeld episode. But NBC couldn’t see that. According to Jerry Seinfeld, this episode “was the point where the network said, ‘You know, we really don’t understand what you’re trying to do with this show, and we think it’s wrong. But we’re going to air it anyway.’ I was thrilled that NBC took that attitude. We had done enough good things at that point that they were willing to trust us.”
1. Season 1: The Stake Out
The second ever episode of Seinfeld is a strong one. The first episode felt a little muddled as both Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David had yet to perfect their process of combining observational humor with brilliantly complex storytelling. The pilot episode was more or less just a string of funny scenes and standup segments, but there was none of the sharp storytelling that would later go on to define the show. However, in “The Stake Out,” we start to get a sense of that wit. It’s a very relatable look at what it’s like when two exes try to make it as friends (this was before the fact that Jerry and Elaine used to date took more of a backseat) and it revolves around Jerry staking out an office building with George. See, he met a woman that he wanted to flirt with, but he couldn’t put the moves on her with Elaine right there, so he only ended up getting the name of her office. According to series co-creator Larry David, this episode was based on one of his personal experiences from real life – and he would end up mining his real life for many other terrific episodes, too.