Taking a cue from The A.V. Club, this feature is a list of ten episodes from a particular television show that more or less best represents that program.
Seinfeld is the best sitcom of all time. Or, wait, that might actually be Arrested Development. Or maybe, a few decades from now, I will look back and decide that Community actually fits that bill … Seinfeld is definitely one of a select few shows that could legitimately qualify for that distinction. Here are ten great episodes.
“The Chinese Restaurant” (Season 2, Episode 6)
Jerry, George, and Elaine wait to be seated at a Chinese restaurant. That’s it. That’s the entire episode. As they wait, they have Seinfeldian conversations. Eventually, they decide they’ve waited long enough and they leave without eating (resulting in the all-time classic punchline: “Seinfeld: 4!”).
“The Deal” (Season 2, Episode 13)
Can you remain friends with an ex? Sure you can, Seinfeld proved that for nearly a decade. Some people may find it difficult, but Jerry and Elaine were the perfect exes to make it work. But can a friends with benefits arrangement ever work? Long before J.T., Ashton, Mila, and Natalie were pondering this query, Jerry and Elaine got greedy with their deal. In one of the series’ first great diner conversations, George displays a rare bit of wisdom, nothing that for thousands of years, people have been trying to have sex without the messiness of a relationship. This early classic shows that Seinfeld originally had a softer heart, as Season 9 Elaine probably would have been perfectly fine with $182 cash as a birthday present from Jerry.
“The Boyfriend” (Season 3, Episodes 17-18)
About 20 years before Louis C.K. made the awkwardness of male friendship a cornerstone of his sitcom, it was an oft-overlooked theme of another stand-up-starring sitcom, epitomized in the 2-parter “The Boyfriend.” Elaine starts dating New York Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez, but it’s Jerry, a big fan, who ends up going through the motions of a relationship with him. “The Boyfriend” is also notable for reaching the heights of Seinfeld’s cultural references, with the “2nd spitter” sequence: Kramer and Newman hate Keith Hernandez because he spit on them after a game. But, in a nod to JFK’s 2nd-shooter theory, Jerry demonstrates that there must have been a second spitter, or else that’s “one magic loogie.”
“The Pitch” (Season 4, Episode 3)
How many shows have the chance to explain what they are AND portray the creation of itself within the context of an episode? Seinfeld was famously “a show about nothing,” as so insistently and memorably spelled out by George Costanza to NBC executives. But it was really a show about everything, or nothing in particular, as it were. The contrast between all that did happen on any given episode and the extreme nothingness endorsed by George made it clear how much “a show about nothing” was a misnomer, but a useful one nonetheless. The scene in the diner in which Jerry addresses the fallout of the meeting (“You’re not artistic, and you have no integrity!”) is an all all-time great portrayal of the struggle to bring a creative vision to life.
“The Contest” (Season 4, Episode 11)
What other show can claim that the episode often cited as the one that turned it into a massive hit revolved around masturbation? That may not seem like a big deal to present-day viewers of 2 Broke Girls, but twenty years ago, pleasuring oneself was not a commonly discussed topic on television. It was a good thing that it was a taboo topic actually (and that Seinfeld had such great writers), as it led to the all-time classic euphemism “Master of Your Domain.”
“The Race” (Season 6, Episode 10)
It is hard to imagine the characters of Seinfeld in their childhood iterations, but that didn’t stop the show from being in touch with their pasts. Take “The Race,” which recalls a legendary moment from Jerry and George’s high school days, when Jerry won a foot race in gym class thanks to an inadvertent false start that has remained a secret for all these years. “The Race” also features Lying George Costanza at his fanciful best, as he paints himself as a millionaire who lost his virginity to his homeroom teacher.
“The Fusili Jerry” (Season 6, Episode 21)
This episode might be filling the “personal favorite” spot of this list, as the main reason it is here is because it made me laugh a lot. It also earns its place thanks to the first appearance of Patrick Warburton’s career-making turn as David Puddy and its exemplary use of Jerry Stiller as Frank Costanza. Both contribute to the Seinfeldian sexual politics of this episode, with most every character entangled in a web of “move-stealing,” which metaphorically captures the politics of comedy and joke-stealing. Kramer has one of his best plots of the series, with his wackiness married perfectly to the Seinfeldian conversation about what sort of person would have a vanity plate that reads “ASSMAN.” Of course a proctologist would have that sort of sense of humor. The “one in a million” ending that confirms this theory after Frank gets Kramer’s pasta statue of Jerry stuck in his rectum is one of the most satisfying endings of anything, ever.
“The Bizarro Jerry” (Season 8, Episode 3)
Elaine dates a guy who is the opposite of Jerry. He has two friends who are the opposite of George and Kramer: they volunteer, they buy each other groceries, the Kramer opposite always rings the doorbell and identifies himself before walking through his neighbor’s door. The episode itself is a bizarro version of a comforts of home tale in which Elaine realizes that she belongs with the petty people she’s always been friends with instead of her new thoughtful friends.
“The Little Kicks” (Season 8, Episode 4)
Seinfeld has the reputation of plots from the same episode seeming like they must have come from different episodes. Its fans have often been heard to say, “That was all one episode?!” But those seemingly disparate elements often somehow come together, never better than in “The Little Kicks.” Jerry and Kramer’s bootlegging, George playing the role of the bad boy, and Elaine’s herky-jerky dancing converge in a bravura final sequence in which everyone shows up to pick up George at the police station. Elaine and Frank Costanza have a piece of each other, and in the tag, the streets of New York are alive with Elaine’s little kicks.
“The Betrayal” (Season 9, Episode 8)
Seinfeld faced criticism of its characters becoming overly cartoonish in later seasons, but it was still churning out bold concepts all the way to its final year. “The Betrayal” – a.k.a the Backwards Episode – may be thought by some as overly reliant on its gimmick, but with the tight plotting of Seinfeld at its disposal, it made the most out of that gimmick (sample gag: Jerry says “God bless you” [three seconds earlier] Elaine sneezes). Offering a new perspective proves that no matter what order you go, the people of Seinfeld are essentially always the same.
And here are ten more:
“The Parking Garage” (Season 3, Episode 6), “The Limo” (Season 3, Episode 19), “The Pilot” (Season 4, Episodes 23-24), “The Marine Biologist” (Season 5, Episode 14), “The Hamptons” (Season 5, Episode 21), “The Opposite” (Season 5, Episode 22), “The Soup Nazi” (Season 7, Episode 6), “The Cadillac” (Season 7, Episodes 14-15), “The Merv Griffin Show” (Season 9, Episode 6), “The Bookstore” (Season 9, Episode 17)