What’s the Deal with Seinfeld?
There does not seem to be much difficulty in ranking a TV show where literally every character, every dialogue exchange, every outfit, and every circumstance is memorable. But because Seinfeld is predicated on shared experience, when you and your college roommate watch an average of 2.75 episodes per day, as we did some years ago, you tend to develop a parochial appreciation for, and an understanding of, its genius. Thus the show that we love may be the show that others barely recognize. But whatever. It’s Seinfeld! Onto the rankings! You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts!
Best episode overall. “The Limo.”
Quick recap: George and Jerry steal O’Brien’s limo at the airport, with George pretending to be O’Brien. Then they pick up O’Brien’s two friends, who turn out to be neo-Nazis.
Brief commentary: This episode toggles between the limo, where the typical banter between George and Jerry is exceeded only by Jerry’s perfectly executed sarcastic deadpans and George’s attraction to the neo-Nazi blonde, and a Manhattan street corner, where Kramer entertains Elaine (the episode’s voice of reason) by pretending to be Michael Jordan and falling into a pile of garbage cans.
Best part: When Kramer gets into the limo and instantly addresses Jerry as O’Brien.
Artsy fact: This episode wasn’t filmed in front of a live audience, so it has the feel of pure dramatic acting (the laugh track was added in post-production).
Best episode overall runner-up. “The Betrayal,” otherwise known as “The Backwards Episode.”
Quick recap: Sue Ellen Mischke gets married in India, only we begin the end of the episode, so time unfolds backward.
Brief commentary: This easily could have been clunky, but the execution is effortless (e.g. George beginning by antagonizing Jerry and, as the episode unravels backwards, becoming nicer).
Hilarious caveat: Kramer’s circus lollipop getting larger in each scene.
Goosebumpish feature: Time-traveling into the past to when Jerry and Kramer first met.
Best two-part episode. “The Bottle Deposit.”
Quick recap: Newman and Kramer road trip to Michigan in a mail truck to cash in on recyclables. Meanwhile, Elaine bids on JFK’s golf clubs for Peterman, and Jerry’s Saab gets taken for a joyride by a deranged mechanic (played by a mountainous Brad Garrett).
Exemplary performance: The Kramer and Newman duo. From business planning to number crunching to bottle collecting to final packing to driving while singing “99 Bottles and Cans” to Kramer unloading Newman by tricking him into seeing a pie stand . . . just watch this entire clip.
Motivational fact: When Wayne Knight (playing Newman) ran through the cornfield while being shot at for coming onto the farmer’s daughter, he was so out of breath that he resolved to lose weight and stop being known as That Morbidly Obese Actor Guy from Jurassic Park.
Best two-part episode runner-up. “The Finale.”
Quick recap: NBC reboots the defunct show “Jerry” and lets the gang take the private jet anywhere in the world. On their way to Paris, they encounter technical problems, ground in Lathon, MA, and violate the Good Samaritan Law. A lengthy trial follows, and then they are found guilty and sentenced to jail.
Brief commentary: This episode was harshly criticized at the time by both viewers and critics, but with all the rumors and expectations, how could anyone have been satisfied? Watch it now; from all the characters returning to root against the gang, to ending with the same joke the series began with (which both made it cyclical and allowed for an ounce of sentimentality), to Jerry happily performing stand-up in prison (the nihilistic exclamation point), it’s pure brilliance.
Forgotten fact: Larry David, who had stopped writing for the show two seasons earlier, wrote this episode.
Best episode staged outside NYC. “The Hamptons.”
Quick recap: Everyone goes to Long Island to see a baby, which turns out to be hideous.
Funniest yet overshadowed part: When Jerry’s girlfriend, who keeps kosher, sneaks into the kitchen at night, where Kramer is sitting at the table in the dark. He startles her, lights a cigar, and refuses to let her taste the lobster.
Iconic but overplayed line: When Jerry’s girlfriend sees George naked and George flaps his arms and screams, “I was in the pool! I was in the pool!”
Most intelligently absurd episode. “The Marine Biologist.”
Quick recap: Jerry tells a woman that George is a marine biologist (which angers George, since he prefers to lie by claiming to be an architect), and George ends up saving a whale by pulling a golf ball (that Kramer had hit) out of its blowhole.
Apex of absurdity: The look on George’s face when the woman tells everyone that he’s a marine biologist and will save the whale.
Semi-relevant insider fact: This is the first episode that showed final plot developments, rather than clips from Jerry’s stand-up comedy, during the credits.
Most zanily absurd episode. “The Calzone.”
Quick recap: George, working for the Yankees, delivers daily calzones to Steinbrenner.
Apex of absurdity: Toward the climax, Kramer walks down the street with his cargo pants stuffed with coins, slips in the rain, stumbles into Paisano’s (the calzone shop), buys a calzone, and gets the pizza guy to warm up his clothes in the oven (the guy burns them into tatters). Then he tries to pay for his food in coins, which angers the guy, and they get into a screaming match in Italian.
Pointless fact: Dutch date manipulator Todd Gack’s mention that he’s going to Montreal to get Cuban cigars for dirt cheap is the only time in the history of the show that a Canadian city is mentioned.
Most absurdly absurd episode. “The Merv Griffin Show.”
Quick recap: After discovering a discarded set of the old “Merv Griffin Show” in a dumpster, Kramer redecorates his apartment and starts hosting shows, even playing the old theme music and fake-laughing while “interviewing” “guests.”
Apex of absurdity: When animal expert Jim Fowler, “appearing” on a “Scandals and Animals” “segment,” looks out at the “audience” and says, “Where are the cameras?”
Elitist fact: Jerry’s apartment is not featured in this episode.
Worst episode. Some terrible one from the early years that we’ve forgotten (hence the reason why it’s the worst). Really, though, any episode featuring Mr. Pitt (one of Elaine’s bosses) qualifies. He’s the anti-Peterman. Let’s pretend he never existed.
Best major character. George. Perfectly acts out Larry David’s child-adult neurosis that was the show’s vehicle. Best character in sitcom history. This cannot be debated.
Worst major character. Jerry. Manages to successfully pull off being a bad character actor while playing himself.
Most inventive major character. Kramer. There are some early episodes where he barely speaks, yet it doesn’t matter because his mere presence has a way of balancing the comedic tone.
Best significant minor character: Mr. Kruger . . . or David Puddy? Even after ruling out Newman (basically a major character) and Jackie Chiles (too much of a shtick), we couldn’t come to a consensus. Kruger is George’s inept boss at Kruger Industrial Smoothing and Sanding (“I’m not too worried about it”) who shows up at Frank and Estelle’s house for Festivus, and Puddy is Elaine’s brain-dead Born-Again Christian boyfriend who wears an 8-ball jacket. Draw.
Best insignificant minor character. Dr. Tim Whatley. The prototypical sleazy dentist.
Best old person. Jack Klompus, for four reasons: 1. He’s Morty’s close friend but does everything to bring him down. 2. He looks, dresses, and talks like Al Davis. 3. Other than Kramer, he’s the only person who can make Jerry break character and smile. 4. He’s ridden in hundreds of Cadillacs . . . thousands of Cadillacs!
Meanest character. The Bubble Boy.
Evilest character. FDR (Franklin Delano Romanowski).
Most arrogant character. The Maestro.
Most criminal-minded character. The woman who seduces George on the subway, chains him to the hotel room bed, and then robs him for the very little money he has.
Most mysterious characters. The Van Buren Boys.
Most mentally unstable characters. Four-way tie between Ramon (the pool guy), Jimmy (the guy at the gym who refers to himself in the third-person), Lloyd Braun (George’s childhood friend who has a nervous breakdown after working for mayoral candidate David Dinkins and later “sells” computers for Frank Costanza while “using” a phone line that isn’t connected), and Crazy Joe Davola (the NBC writer who leaves his apartment door open to “encourage intruders”).
Best sports moment. When Jean-Paul Jean-Paul drinks Kramer’s coffee during the marathon.
Best alcoholic moment. When Kramer drinks enough Hennigan’s scotch to do impromptu ads.
Most bizarre moment. When Jerry and Elaine see Frank Costanza and his lawyer (played by Larry David), who is wearing a cape.
Most foreign moment (general). When Silvio colludes with Kramer to force Jerry to wear the man purse (European carry-all).
Most foreign moment (Soviet). When the Ukranian guy upends Kramer and Newman’s Risk board on the subway.
Creepiest moment. When Jerry, George, and Kramer approach Elaine at the same time as their bizarro versions.
Evilest moment (unintentional). When Jerry forgets to give Babu his mail (which contains his Visa renewal form) and Babu gets deported.
Evilest moment (quasi-intentional). When George buys the cheapest wedding invitations that contain the toxic adhesive that kills Susan.
Evilest moment (intentional). When Elaine gets revenge on the Soup Nazi by exposing his secret recipe.
Best facial expression. Elaine’s squinting.
Best running joke. Lomez and Bob Sacameno, Kramer’s fake friends.
Second-best running joke. George’s career as an architect.
Most annoying running joke. Anytime Jerry mentions Superman.
Best nickname. “Man Hands.”
Worst nickname. “Schmoopy.”
Best accessory. Costanza wallet.
Best business plug. When a Kenny Rogers Roasters opens in the neighborhood and the large neon chicken sign beams into Kramer’s apartment.
Best catch phrase. “These pretzels are making me thirsty.”
Most annoying catch phrase. “Yada, yada, yada.”
Best outfit. Kramer’s pimp suit.
Worst outfit. The puffy shirt.
Highly unfortunate circumstance. When Jerry slaps Kramer’s hand and the Junior Mint falls inside Elaine’s boyfriend during surgery.
Best dialogue exchange. George tries to rationalize to his girlfriend, Eric the Clown, and some firefighters why he pushed women and children out of the way during the fire.