Celebrating its 25th anniversary this past summer, Seinfeld remains a force in pop-culture, even though a new episode hasn’t aired since 1998. Thanks to it revolutionizing the network sitcom (inspiring countless imitators), and its constant presence on syndication (earning it new generations of fans), the “show about nothing” is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most popular TV shows ever created. It has a lasting legacy that’ll be hard to replicate.
One of Seinfeld's more enduring additions to the lexicon is that of Festivus, the alternative holiday created by Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller) as a means of protesting the commercial nature of Christmas. A perfect example of the program’s unique sense of humor and creativity, Festivus has become a staple of modern society and is celebrated by Seinfeld fans from all over.
With December 23rd marking the occasion (and as a way to honor the show’s milestone anniversary), we figured now would be a better time than ever to list some of the best episodes Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, and their team had to offer. If you’re a newcomer to their New York, this is a great place to start; longtime followers can also relive the moments of these classic memories.
NOTE: As a way of illustrating the strength of Seinfeld’s entire run on NBC, we are singling out one episode from each of the nine seasons (with an honorable mentions list to follow).
Season 1: "The Stake Out"
It’s hard to believe now, but when Seinfeld first went on the air, NBC gave it a confidence-boosting order of a four-episode first season (not including the pilot episode). As such, the pickings are rather slim here, but some seeds that would go on to define the series were planted in the third episode, titled “The Stake Out.”
In it, Jerry attempts to get a date with a woman lawyer he met at a party while out with Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and since Jerry and Elaine recently broke up, the comedian feels uncomfortable asking his friend for the woman’s number. He decides the best way to get in contact with her is to stake out her place of work with George (Jason Alexander), and make a move from there.
This was the first real meaty Elaine story (following her brief cameo in “Male Un-bonding”) and provided the first hints of romantic tension between her and Jerry that would be explored in later episodes. Also, many of Seinfeld’s running gags (Art Vandelay, George’s love of architecture, etc.) were introduced in a sequence where Jerry and George scheme an excuse for the two of them being at the law office, so in essence, “The Stakeout” acts as an origins tale of what’s to come down the line.
Season 2: "The Chinese Restaurant"
Taking the slogan “a show about nothing” to the extreme, this episode sees Jerry, George, and Elaine simply waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant before seeing Plan 9 from Outer Space. The whole thing plays out in real-time, with the three characters doing nothing but sitting in the lobby as they hope something will free up before their show.
It was quite groundbreaking at the time, and it showed how the writers could take the minutiae of everyday life and turn it into something special. Despite its single-location nature, “The Chinese Restaurant” wasn’t short on laughs, as George pondered the rules of how long a pay phone call should be, Jerry struggled to remember the name of someone he’s met, and Elaine got hungrier and more impatient. It was strikingly relatable and provided a template that many other episodes (like “The Subway” and “The Parking Garage”) would follow.
Season 3: "The Boyfriend"
Casual fans probably know this as the “Keith Hernandez episode,” where the former New York Mets great made a memorable guest-appearance as a potential new friend for Jerry. Exploring the oddity of starting a relationship with a new companion in adulthood and the nature of celebrity fandom, the writers made great use of Jerry’s love for the Mets – as he obsessed over Hernandez like he was a dating prospect and not just a guy.
But the hour-long block had much more to offer than a Jerry-Hernandez-Elaine love triangle. George, who was well into his prolonged unemployment period, has one of his finest moments as he attempts to fake a job interview with Vandelay Industries (with a terrific ad-lib by Jerry to cap it off). Meanwhile, Kramer (Michael Richards) and Newman (Wayne Knight) star in their parody of Oliver Stone’s JFK, accusing the Mets first baseman of hitting them with a “magic loogie,” which is a sequence for the ages.
Season 4: "The Contest"
Ask someone on the street to name a Seinfeld episode, and most people will probably give you this one. Arguably its most iconic, “The Contest” won an Emmy for Best Writing, thanks to its sublime handling of a taboo topic that led to hilarious results – which included not actually coming out and saying what that was. It's arguably the show's most extreme example of pushing the envelope for what's appropriate on network TV.
Giving each character their own obstacle to winning the contest, the episode had everything from the temptation of John F. Kennedy, Jr. (launching another series staple), Kramer’s most famous entrance, sponge baths, and George Costanza tossing a box of Tic-Tacs on his mother’s hospital bed. And it all tied together when the multiple storylines dovetailed, creating a hysterical climax that showcased one of the show’s greatest strengths – taking unrelated narratives and connecting them in unexpected and amusing ways.