The original “show about nothing,” Seinfeld’s influence is far-reaching, from the use of its catchphrases in American lexicon to the way future sitcoms would be developed. With each episode often comprised of four self-contained storylines, the fashion in which the show was able to juggle the separate plots is perhaps more impressive than getting away with having a show be about so little. Outrageously funny, Seinfeld continues to be enjoyed to this day by thousands.
In celebration of the iconic series’ 30th anniversary, join us as we highlight our 10 favorite Seinfeld episodes of all-time. Enjoy!
10. “The Soup Nazi” (Season 7, Episode 6)
One of many episodes with a cultural reference, even amongst those that don’t watch Seinfeld (no soup for you!), “The Soup Nazi” is pure comedic gold and a series classic that remains the favorite episode for many. The term “Nazi” is an exaggeration for the excessively strict behavior the titular character expects from his patrons. The fact that the show is able to use this term as loosely as it does and in a humorous sense without malice is a testament to the strong writing and charm of the show. When Jerry’s girlfriend is unable to meet the Soup Nazi’s expectations, Jerry choosing soup over his girlfriend is simply legendary. As well, Elaine’s armoire being stolen by homosexual thugs is another element that could have been treated crudely but instead appears as inoffensive as can be. Well-acted and well-written, “The Soup Nazi” arrives during the peak of the show and continues to hold up to this day.
9. “The Chinese Restaurant” (Season 2, Episode 11)
“The Chinese Restaurant” is as groundbreaking of an episode as there is. The first episode to truly be about nothing, the entire plot is contained in a restaurant with the group attempting to acquire a table for their meal. The episode plays out in real time with all 22 minutes flying by during their wait. This is the format that Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David envisioned for Seinfeld from the beginning; however, the network was hesitant about allowing the show to really be about nothing. With the overall success of this episode, Seinfeld was permitted to continue this trend with episodes playing out in real-time and limiting themselves to seemingly mundane daily activities. While the episode has been surpassed in the overall humor department (a lack of Kramer likely plays a factor), its influence can’t be dismissed as this is the most iconic episode of Seinfeld and rightfully deserves a place on this list.
8. “The Yada Yada” (Season 8, Episode 19)
An example of Seinfeld popularizing phrases in everyday culture, “yada yada” wasn’t invented by Seinfeld, yet is often attributed to the show by many. In reality, any fan of the show would be hard-pressed not to think of Seinfeld when they hear the phrase now. Fortunately, the episode is one of the best of the series and not only the platform for an amazing phrase. In “The Yada Yada” Bryan Cranston reprises his role as Dr. Tim Whatley and has converted to Judaism, to the chagrin of Jerry. Jerry believes that Tim has converted solely for the purpose of using jokes associated with the religion. The concept is absurd yet hysterical. Often forgotten is actress Debra Messing (Will & Grace) in her spectacular performance as Jerry’s girlfriend, who reveals herself to be anti-Semitic and racist during an outrageous conclusion. As a total package, the episode features some of the best guest stars and the funniest lines of the series and has cemented itself as one of the best episodes of the series.
7. “The Marine Biologist” (Season 5, Episode 14)
“The sea was angry that day, my friends…” George’s final monologue is likely one of the best-written pieces in the show, as his recounting of his rescue of a beached whale is endearing, hysterical, and ends with a surprising twist. Tying in the storyline of Kramer’s golf balls, “The Marine Biologist” successfully juggles the separate arcs until the epic finale. George is set up by Jerry with a former classmate only to learn that Jerry has misled her in believing that George is a marine biologist. Proving how lovingly despicable the character of George is, he complains that Jerry should’ve indicated he was an architect instead, saying “You know I’ve always wanted to be an architect Jerry!” Lying about an occupation isn’t enough; George would like to choose the occupation himself. Going through with the lie, George nearly pulls it off until he reveals the truth at the end. With Elaine falling for Jerry’s joke that War and Peace was not the original title, this episode comes around beautifully in comical fashion.
6. “The Abstinence” (Season 8, Episode 9)
George and Elaine experience vastly different results when both are forced to abstain from having romantic relations with their respective partners. While George becomes increasingly intelligent to the point of absurdity, Elaine seemingly becomes dim and easily entertained. Jerry, with the help of his agent (the wonderful Debra Jo Rupp from That ’70s Show fame), ends up having to entertain an entire auditorium of a junior high school for a full two hours. Not knowing how to fill the time, Jerry enlists the help of George and his newfound intelligence. The result is devastatingly predictable as George is never one to count on. After calculating his odds of ever having another chance with a Portuguese waitress, George concludes his abstinence and returns to his lovable self. The episode was uproariously funny throughout, even without factoring in Kramer’s arc of opening up a smoker’s lounge in his apartment.
5. “The Puffy Shirt” (Season 5, Episode 2)
“The Puffy Shirt” is a sight gag to behold. A photo of the shirt in question is all that is needed to raise laughter in the room. Fortunately, this episode is more than a prop gimmick and is another piece of pure gold. When Elaine and Jerry are introduced to Kramer’s girlfriend who is a “low-talker,” their inability to comprehend her has them unwittingly agreeing to wear her newly-designed shirt when Jerry appears on The Today Show. A fashion trend well ahead of its time, the puffy shirt is an atrocious piece of clothing that gives the appearance of a pirate. Meanwhile, George becomes a hand model, leading to some excellent throwbacks: “You don’t have to worry about me—I was in a contest.” As usual, things are too good to be true for George who eventually has an encounter with an iron in Jerry’s dressing room after tension escalates.
4. “The Hamptons” (Season 5, Episode 21)
George is the victim of a series of misfortunes in yet another spectacular episode from season five. Experiencing “shrinkage” after returning from swimming, George is embarrassed when a woman walks in on him. The word “shrinkage” is simply funny even without context and the writers ensured it would be said as often as possible throughout the episode. Popularizing the term in social conversations, “The Hamptons” ensures that women now understand precisely what “shrinkage” is. For those seeking laughs, “The Hamptons” has them in spades from Kramer stealing lobsters authorized by law, to the ugly baby, to George’s topless girlfriend parading in front of everyone except George. As Kramer puts it, “maybe she was trying to create a buzz.” George’s actions are often reprehensible, but, as always, the audience is able to sympathize and take his side through his act of revenge, which ends in a tomato being thrown at his face.
3. “The Betrayal” (Season 9, Episode 8)
The controversial “backwards” episode is one of the finest pieces of television ever to air. Divisive among fans, there are those that find the episode overrated, but that is far from reality. Told in reverse chronological order, “The Betrayal” begins where most episodes would end and each previous scene is subsequently revealed. Slightly confusing at first, the episode relishes in the notion that time and space are not essential and a story can be told regardless of the order. Offering great laughs from the sequence in which the story is told, the conclusion (actually the beginning of the timeline) proves so ludicrous it’s hilarious. Presented as a one-of-a-kind episode, “The Betrayal” in actuality is a typical Seinfeld story simply told in a unique way. Yes, if the episode was told in the correct order it would place much lower; however, the beauty of the episode is the backtracking itself and how inconsequential it proves to be.
2. “The Opposite” (Season 5, Episode 22)
The season five finale had such a profound impact on viewers that, to this day, actor Jason Alexander reports people let him know that they have lived their lives with this notion in mind. Throughout the episode, George acts in the opposite fashion that he normally would and experiences tremendous results that are far too surreal but absolutely hilarious. This episode concludes with George landing a job with the New York Yankees, which would be an excellent addition to the show. As well, this episode features an appearance from Regis and Kathie Lee, whose interaction with Kramer goes about as well as expected. With Elaine’s final line of “I’ve become George” being one of the funniest lines to ever be said on the show, this episode is an ultimate classic. George would ditch this concept entirely during the following season with no mention of his opposite success ever again.
1. “The Contest” (Season 4, Episode 11)
The marvel of this episode is how the writers were able to get away with the content while maintaining a PG rating. In so many ways, the phrases “master of my domain” and “I’m out” are filthy lines, yet they appear not out of context and are able to pass as family-friendly. Truly a masterful piece of writing, the language jokes and euphemisms present are a work of art. The episode itself is the peak of Seinfeld and has influenced many groups of friends to no doubt have a similar wager themselves. Without once saying the word the episode centers around, the audience is never left in doubt regarding the topic through 22 minutes of superb writing that will have them on the floor laughing. Balancing four subplots in expert fashion, “The Contest” is the best representation of the beauty that was Seinfeld.