The first title for this post was “10-List: Essential Seinfeld Episodes.”
But, that didn’t quite define this compiled list. They’re also not my ten “favorite” episodes. Well, not necessarily. Let me tell you why.
As a ground rule for this list, I decided to do something different. There were nine seasons of Seinfeld (all of which I didn’t begin watching until after the series was off the air). The first two seasons had only five and twelve episodes. If I were writing about my ten favorite episodes, across all seasons, it is conceivable that some seasons may not get represented at all on this 10-List, especially Season 1. I didn’t want this. Instead, I gave myself the rule that I must choose a single episode from each season that I think best exemplifies both the season and the series. Since this fills only nine of the ten slots, I was free to choose the tenth episode from any season I wanted.
The result is this list of ten Seinfeld episodes. There are episodes that didn’t make it to the list (because of my self-imposed rules, damn me) that I actually like more than a couple of these. I’m going to try not to point out which ones, instead focusing on the positive reasons the episodes listed do appear on the list.
“A Hearty Sampling of Seinfeld” doesn’t quite get it either, I know. I couldn’t say “random” sampling, because it’s the opposite of random. At any rate, it’s difficult for me to winnow the Seinfeld episodes down to ten episodes only, whatever criteria I’m using.
It’s a great series. You should watch it.
So, in seasonal order (plus a bonus episode), the list:
SEASON 1: “The Stake Out”
You might think I’d choose the pilot “The Seinfeld Chronicles” as my representative of the first season. But, there are so many things in the pilot that knock me out of the fictive dream, the illusion that this is a show about real people. The apartment is all wrong. There’s no Elaine. Kramer (Michael Richards) is called “Kessler,” and he owns a dog. You know, awkward stuff like that.
This episode isn’t innocent of that either, by the way. The actor playing Jerry’s dad, Morty, isn’t Barney Martin, who will play the role going forward. Elaine feels a bit too positive compared to the character later in the series. And, Jerry’s apartment still isn’t quite right, although it’s closer to the mark.
But, this episode has the first appearance of Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who wasn’t a part of the pilot, and the Jerry-Elaine dynamic of ex-lovers who are now friends is established. For the first time, George (Jason Alexander) pretends to be an architect. Also, my favorite alias, “Art Vandelay,” is introduced to the series.
The story itself, about Jerry stalking a woman at her workplace after meeting her at a party, is entertaining, but it’s probably the least important thing about this episode. This is the first episode that felt more like what the show was to become.
SEASON 2: “The Chinese Restaurant”
This bottle episode was the penultimate episode of Season 2, although it was meant to be the sixth episode. The network held it back because they didn’t have confidence in its structure. The entire episode took place on a single set, a Chinese restaurant, and was in real-time. The story is about Jerry, George and Elaine waiting to get a table at a busy restaurant prior to going to see Plan 9 from Outer Space. At the time, one of Kramer’s defining character traits was that he never left his apartment, so he wasn’t in this episode. The gang never gets to eat, and while the actors all have their various side-business during the episode, there’s no real plot. Literally, nothing of any conseqence happens.
This episode frequently makes “best of” lists. It’s a work of comedic genius. It doesn’t represent what the series becomes, just what was possible within the sitcom format. The network was wrong about the episode.
SEASON 3: “The Parking Garage”
Like “The Chinese Restaurant,” this episode from the third season features a story that takes place in unfamiliar locations, while familiar sets like Jerry’s apartment or Monk’s diner are absent. This entire episode is set in the parking garage of a mall. We never even see the inside of the mall. This time, all four of our main characters are on-deck, and all is right with the world. Which, in the world of Seinfeld, means everything is seriously messed up. If you’ve ever had to search for your car in a parking deck or lot, you’ll relate to this one.
For the overly-sensitive, the makers of this episode swear that no goldfish were harmed during filming, although actor Michael Richards gave himself a fat lip when the air conditioner box (which the actor asked to be filled to the correct weight for realism) struck him as he dropped it in the trunk of the car. As Lawrence Olivier might have said, “Dear boy, have you tried acting?”
SEASON 4: “The Bubble Boy”
You know you’ve met a Seinfeld fan when you ask the question, “Who invaded Spain in the 18th century?” and you receive the answer, “The Moops, of course.” A good, fairly George-centric episode that also gives free advertising for Yoo-hoo chocolate drink. It’s a fine product, according to Bill Murray’s brother.
SEASON 5: “The Hamptons”
The working title for this episode was “The Ugly Baby,” which might jog your memory as to which one this was. Elaine is thrilled that a doctor referred to her as “breathtaking,” until he uses the same adjective to describe an ugly baby. There’s a lot of other character stuff going on in this, though. Kramer poaches commercial lobster traps. George’s girlfriend sunbathes topless while he’s away buying tomatoes. Jerry’s girlfriend-of-the-week sees George naked, and George spends an inordinate amount of time trying to explain penile “shrinkage” due to the cold water. The individual plot threads all come together at the end with a seriously screwed-up, non-kosher breakfast.
SEASON 6: “The Jimmy”
Sometimes, to annoy my wife, I’ll refer to myself in the third person. Heck, it even annoys me, just as it always has when sports icons are interviewed and they do the same. This is an episode about that. It’s also the episode where Kramer is mistaken for a mentally challenged man and is serenaded by Mel Tormé, Jerry thinks dentist Tim Whatley (a pre-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston, in a recurring role ) and his female assistant may have molested him while he was under the gas, George is accused of stealing by George Steinbrenner, and Elaine ends up on a date with Jimmy, after being confused by the third-person references.
SEASON 7: “The Soup Nazi”
Say “No soup for you!” to a Seinfeld fan, and no further explanation is necessary. George loses his soup privileges, Jerry’s girlfriend-of-the-week is Ali Wentworth, and Elaine enlists Kramer’s aid with an armoire she purchased. In the end, the Soup Nazi has all the permanence of one of Jerry’s girlfriends.
SEASON 8: “The Bizarro Jerry”
This episode introduces the concept of the Bizarro Universe, ripped entirely from the pages of Superman comics. Elaine and her boyfriend decide to breakup and be “just friends.” Kevin, the ex-boyfriend, is “The Bizarro Jerry,” who is Jerry’s opposite in every way. He also has two other good friends, Gene and Feldman, who are also Bizarro analogs to George and Kramer. Jerry also begins dating a woman with “man hands.” Of course, the relationship is doomed from the outset. George, meanwhile, uses a photo of Jerry’s new girlfriend (who is an attractive lady, hands notwithstanding) to gain access to “the forbidden city,” a club full of attractive women and models; George tells the women he meets that the photo is of his late fiancee Susan Ross. Kramer also begins working for a company by accident.
SEASON 9: “The Frogger”
“The Frogger” was the eighteenth episode of the final season of the series. Of course, it is memorable for me because of the classic arcade video game tie-in. I can’t help but wonder how many millenials even know what “Frogger” was. George had the high score at his and Jerry’s favorite pizza place, which is about to close its doors for good. For old time’s sake, George and Jerry go to the pizzeria one last time. George finds out that his old high score still stands, and hatches a hair-brained scheme to purchase the game and move it to his apartment. As George is trying to get the game cabinet across the street, the viewer is treated to an overhead shot and sound effects directly from the Frogger game. It ends predictably. Other story threads are about Elaine swearing off work celebrations and mistakenly eating a 60-year-old piece of cake from Peterman’s mini-fridge, and Kramer obsessing about a serial killer called “The Lopper.”
SEASON 4: “The Contest”
Because there were only nine seasons, we get a bonus episode. I chose this classic from Season 4. After George’s mom catches him in the act of self-pleasure, George swears off the activity. Jerry and the gang end up putting up $100 each ($150 for Elaine because, according to the guys, it’s easier for females not to do it) in a wager to who can go the longest without masturbating. The writers on the show were classier than I am, because they never once use the words “masturbation” or “self-pleasure,” or, in fact, any of the more vulgar terms to describe the act. The careful word choreography to avoid close scrutiny by the network censors is a thing of beauty, and more important than the results of the contest itself. I will add that Elaine was out after running into John F. Kennedy, Jr. at her fitness club.
That’s it for this 10-List. Just compiling it made me want to begin watching the series again from the beginning.