Seinfeld: The 10 best episodes
Matthew Turner | On 29, Jan 2017
Picking the 10 best episodes of Seinfeld is a nigh-on impossible task. Created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the “show about nothing” ran for 180 episodes during its 9 season run from 1989 to 1998, racking up a frankly astonishing hit rate that few shows can hope to match. One of the many great things about Seinfeld is that newcomers can pretty much jump in at any point, since the dynamic between the four leads – Jerry (Seinfeld), George (Jason Alexander), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Kramer (Michael Richards) – is immediately apparent. To that end, we’ve put together a list of the 10 best episodes, each of which could act as a perfect entry point to the series.
(Note: The episodes are listed in chronological order.)
1. The Parking Garage (Season 3, Episode 6)
If we’re being brutally honest, you can probably skip Seasons 1 and 2 (both of which are truncated anyway), as the series doesn’t really find its feet until Season 3. After that, though, it’s all gold. The Parking Garage is an early example of the show’s brilliance, taking a simple, single-set concept – no one can remember where Kramer (Michael Richards) parked the car – and spinning it out into 22 minutes of pure gold. Highlight: Jerry getting caught urinating by a security guard and trying to pretend that his young cousin stole his Public Urination Pass. “He’s probably out there right now, peeing all over the city!”
See also: The Chinese Restaurant (S2, E5), in which Jerry, George and Elaine spend the whole episode waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant.
2. The Contest (Season 4, Episode 10)
Frequently named as the series’ all-time best episode, The Contest is remarkable for getting away with an entire episode about masturbation without once actually saying the word itself. The plot revolves around all four characters staging a contest to see who can go the longest without masturbating, after George confesses that his mother (the wonderful Estelle Harris) caught him pleasuring himself to an issue of Glamour magazine. Throughout its run, the show was notable for contributing a multitude of catchphrases to our general lexicon and there’s an early example of that here with the concept of being “master of your domain” in regards to will-power.
See also: The Cheever Letters (S4, E7), in which Jerry is asked to talk dirty during foreplay and panics, with hilarious results.
3. The Outing (Season 4, Episode 16)
When an interviewer assumes that Jerry and George are gay, she writes an article to that effect, which is subsequently picked up by the Associated Press. The pair attempt to quash the rumour, but they’re both worried that they’ll be seen as homophobic, so they qualify each denial by saying, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”, another line that became one of the show’s most popular catchphrases. As well as cleverly skewering both homophobia and political correctness, the episode is a master-class in taking a single idea and building upon it, resulting in a farce-like pile-up of multiple misunderstandings.
See also: The Marine Biologist (S5, E14), in which George attempts to style out a lie about his profession by wading into an unfortunate beach encounter.
4. The Implant (Season 4, Episode 18)
In most TV sitcoms, you’d be lucky if you get one even one memorable catchphrase throughout the entire run. By contrast, Seinfeld’s catchphrase game was so strong that The Implant gives you two of them in a single episode. The first (“They’re real… and they’re spectacular”) comes when Jerry mistakenly dumps his girlfriend (Teri Hatcher), when he thinks she has breast implants, then tries to get her back, after Elaine accidentally gropes her and confirms otherwise. The second occurs during a parallel subplot, when George gets into trouble at a funeral after he’s caught “double-dipping” a tortilla chip (i.e. putting it back in the dip after taking a bite).
See also: The Switch (S6, E11), in which Jerry attempts to dump his girlfriend (who doesn’t laugh at his jokes) and go out with her roommate (who does) instead.
5. The Puffy Shirt (Season 5, Episode 2)
One brilliant trick that Seinfeld regularly pulls off is to have its seemingly unrelated sub-plots dove-tail in unexpected ways at the end of the episode. Season 5’s The Puffy Shirt is an excellent example. In the main plot, Jerry becomes a laughing stock on The Today Show, after he unwittingly agrees to wear a puffy shirt, following a conversation with Kramer’s “low-talking” girlfriend (“low-talker” became another popular lexicon addition). Meanwhile, in the subplot, George lands a gig as a hand model and is consumed with vanity over his apparently beautiful hands. The ensuing collision of the two plots is as unpredictable as it is hilarious. Also wonderful: Jerry’s repeated protests: “But I don’t want to be a pirate!”
See also: The Label Maker (S6, E12), in which Elaine and Jerry discover that their dentist (Bryan Cranston) is “regifting” unwanted presents by giving them to other people.
6. The Hamptons (Season 5, Episode 20)
During a trip to visit friends in the Hamptons (“You have to see the baaaaybeeee!”), Jerry’s girlfriend accidentally walks in on George naked after he’s been in the swimming pool, and he panics that she’ll tell his new date what she saw, unaware that he was suffering from “shrinkage” due to the cold pool. Added to this is George’s insistence that he be allowed to see Jerry’s girlfriend naked, since everyone else saw his own date sunbathing topless earlier. Perfectly constructed and brilliantly acted, The Hamptons serves as a perfect showcase for the fizzing ball of insecurity and self-loathing that is George Costanza.
See also: The Comeback (S8,E13), in which George spends the entire episode trying to deliver a witty comeback to an insult from a co-worker the day before.
7. The Opposite (Season 5, Episode 21)
After suffering the latest in a long list of humiliations due to his terrible instincts, George decides that from now on, he’s going to do the exact opposite of what he would normally do in any given situation. Incredibly, it works, leading to George suddenly landing a great job and a beautiful girlfriend. Meanwhile, Elaine’s life takes the exact opposite path and she loses her job, boyfriend and apartment in quick succession, leading to her beautifully played realisation that she’s “become George”. An ingenious idea, executed to perfection.
See also: The Fusilli Jerry (S6, E20), in which Kramer discovers a different world after he gets new license plates that say “ASSMAN”.
8. The Soup Nazi (Season 7, Episode 6)
“No soup for you!” Next to The Contest, The Soup Nazi is probably Seinfeld’s most famous episode. When the gang start frequenting a wildly popular soup stand, they quickly run foul of the tyrannical owner (Larry Thomas), who insists on a strict ordering procedure. In an equally funny subplot, George gets annoyed at Jerry and his new girlfriend, when they keep calling each other “Schmoopie” in public. It should be clear by now that Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer are all terrible people (although we love them anyway), something that’s hammered home here when Jerry pretends not to know his girlfriend in order to be served soup.
See also: The Yada Yada (S8, E19), in which Jerry is labelled an “anti-dentite” after he suspects his dentist (Bryan Cranston, again) of converting to Judaism “for the jokes”, and George thinks his girlfriend is using “Yada yada yada” to gloss over incriminating behaviour.
9. The Sponge (Season 7, Episode 9)
A perfect Elaine episode, in the same way that The Hamptons is a perfect George episode. When Elaine’s beloved contraceptive device is discontinued, she goes on a desperate shopping spree, buying up every sponge she can find in a 25-block radius. With her supply now limited, she has to determine whether her current boyfriend (Scott Patterson) is “spongeworthy” and puts him through a rigorous vetting procedure. Meanwhile, Jerry’s vanity is exposed after it’s revealed that he tells everyone he wears 31-inch jeans, when the actual size is 32. See? Terrible people.
See also: The Little Kicks (S8, E4), in which Elaine’s employees lose all respect for her. after they witness her terrible dancing at a work party.
10. The Strike (Season 9, Episode 10)
Kramer discovers that he can return to work at the bagel shop he left 12 years previously due to a strike action. Meanwhile, Jerry dates a “two face” who looks completely different in contrasting lighting, Elaine tries to retrieve a sandwich loyalty card that she used to give someone a fake phone number and George has to prove that his father Frank’s (the magnificent Jerry Stiller, father of Ben) invented holiday “Festivus” exists, after he’s caught handing out fake donation cards for a charity he made up to get out of buying gifts for his co-workers. This is another terrific example of all four sub-plots dove-tailing beautifully, but the lasting legacy of The Strike is Festivus and all the accompanying details, such as “the airing of the grievances” and “the feats of strength”, while George’s exasperated relationship with Frank is a continual delight. Altogether now: “A Festivus for the rest of us!”
See also: The Serenity Now (S9E3), in which Frank imparts to George his tried and tested anger management technique: shouting “Serenity Now!” (another of the show’s most famous catchphrases) at high volume until you calm down.
Seinfeld Season 1 to 9 is available on All 4.