Seinfeld premiered July 5, 1989, on NBC and forever changed the sitcom landscape. “A show about nothing,” Seinfeld’s comedy stood in stark contrast to other shows at the time, being non-family oriented and centered on four extremely deplorable individuals.
Today Seinfeld’s mark can be felt on every modern sitcom, from the focus on mundane settings as shown in series like The Office and Parks and Recreation, to casts of morally questionable individuals as shown in series like Trailer Park Boys and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
To celebrate the show moving to Netflix, here are the top nine episodes of Seinfeld:
1. “The Contest” Season 4
The beauty of “The Contest” is its pure absurdity. It begins with George telling the crew at the cafe about his mother’s back injury. She fell over after walking in on him masturbating to an issue of Glamour. This leads to the cast taking bets to see who can go the longest without masturbating.
What makes the episode great is the temptations everyone faces. Jerry is currently dating a virgin who has an internal crisis at the mention of anything sexual. Elaine is attempting to set up a romantic encounter with John F. Kennedy Jr. George, in the most repugnant scenario, is turned on by the silhouette of his mom’s hospital roommate changing behind a curtain. Kramer doesn't even last a day.
The word “masturbation” is never actually used in the episode, for it was considered too lewd by television censors. Instead the phrase “master of your domain” was used instead. The phrase eventually entered everyday usage.
2. “The Pilot’ Season 4
This episode is a stand-in for the series itself. Jerry gets offered the chance to pitch a television pilot to executives at NBC.
Not knowing what to pitch, Jerry eventually collaborates with George on the project. After a long night of brainstorming, and waiting till the last minute, the two decide to create “a show about nothing” that encapsulates their daily lives.
The meta humor here is deep, and the phrase “a show about nothing” eventually came to characterize Seinfeld itself. This episode also introduces the character Susan who became a key figure in later seasons.
3. “The Subway” Season 3
This episode involves the cast being stuck on crowded subway trains, each having their own unique experiences. This episode splits the cast up entirely, letting each member play to their strengths.
Jerry falls asleep on the train and wakes up next to a public nudist. While the rest of the car makes distance from the man, Jerry decides to strike up a conversation with him.
Elaine gets stuck in a crowded car that keeps breaking down and is squashed between a throng of fellow passengers. The lights go out and her claustrophobia is activated.
Kramer goes horse betting and is eventually stalked by someone who saw him take his winnings.
George gets close to an attractive woman he found in his car and lies about his job to get her into bed. The woman is revealed to be scamming him and leaves him tied up to a bed frame, taking his clothes and money.
4. “The Marine Biologist” Season 5
My personal favorite. “The Marine Biologist” weaves a complex and interesting plot, but does so in the most inexpensive way possible.
The A-plot involves Elaine editing a book for her client, Yuri Testikov, an elderly Russian man with a fierce temper. Jerry has recently given Elaine an electronic organizer as a gift, and the beeping of the device sends Testikov into a fury. This results in Testikov throwing the device into the street, damaging the head of a local pedestrian and sending them to a hospital. Who’s going to pay the medical bill?
The B-plot involves George reuniting with a college crush. Currently lacking a job, George lies to her about becoming a marine biologist. Meanwhile, Kramer is shooting random golf balls into the ocean. I wonder if the two events will intertwine?
5. “The Invitations” Season 7
This episode is the season 7 closer and the last episode producer Larry David contributed to. To die hard fans, this is the last “true” episode of Seinfeld.
This episode is the culmination of George and his fiancee’s Susan’s relationship which had been building since season 4. Throughout season 7, George has tried to end their engagement through a variety of questionable methods. In this episode, he finally gets his wish, but through unexpected means.
By itself, the episode is quite boring, but with previous episodes taken into account, it’s one of the best episodes in the series. The resolution was shocking when it came out, but has since become one of the most beloved twist-endings of all time.
6. “The Chicken Roaster” Season 8
With producer Larry David leaving the show, the last two seasons of Seinfeld started to adopt more and more ludicrous plots. Many view the later seasons as trying too hard and devoid of the subtle humor that made earlier seasons funny. Despite this, the ridiculousness of some of the scenarios are quite memorable.
The episode begins with Jerry bumping into his old college mate Seth. Jerry convinces Seth to blow off his office appointment and come have lunch, resulting in Seth being fired.
Meanwhile, a chicken joint named Kenny Rogers Roasters has moved in across from Jerry and Kramer’s apartment building. The red neon light from the restaurant infiltrates Kramer’s room causing him to go crazy. In response Kramer begins a campaign against the chicken restaurant.
The catch is, Seth has recently become a manager at the restaurant. Jerry, feeling bad for what he did to Seth, now has to negotiate with Kramer to not cause the restaurant's closure.
7. “The Chinese Restaurant” Season 2
The first two seasons of Seinfeld were relatively simplistic compared to later seasons. They relied more on Jerry Seinfeld's observational comedy chops, as opposed to complex plots and surreal situations. “The Chinese Restaurant” is a bottle-episode that encapsulates these early traits.
The episode is shot in real time, and revolves around Jerry, Elaine and George waiting in a Chinese restaurant for their reservation to open up. This episode has no real “plot” to speak of, instead relying on the characters' examinations.
When this episode first came out, it received low scores in the Nielsen ratings. However, it has since come to be considered a classic.
8. “The Soup Nazi” Season 7
“No soup for you!” The iconic quote from this episode’s titular character has become the most oft repeated one liner from the series. This episode follows a more simplistic plot-structure than other episodes, but that’s to its strength
The episode is centered around the cast’s fascination with a new soup centered restaurant that has recently opened. The soup is so good customers subject themselves to torture from the restaurant’s wicked owner, who has become colloquially become known as “The Soup Nazi”.
Eventually, Elaine gets banned from the restaurant and plots to take the Nazi down. Luckily, an armoire she buys earlier in the episode may aid her in her plot.
9. “The Finale” Season 9
The final episode of the series. In this episode, all the despicable actions of the characters catch up to them as they are tried in a court setting for violating the good samaritan law.
A fitting conclusion, the episode brings back guest characters from across the entire series. It also shows some fitting revelations from previous episodes. It ends with a reference to the very first episode of the series.