Seinfeld is quite possibly the greatest sitcom ever made. It transcended the trappings of the genre to create a mesmerizing comedic experience that blended standup and stories and did away with emotions and hugging to ensure non-stop laughs.
The Writers Guild of America gave Seinfeld the second spot (after The Sopranos) on its list of the Best Written TV Series of All Time. It had the fourth highest-rated series finale of all time. E! called it the “number one reason the ‘90s ruled.” But it’s not infallible. It had a few weak episodes (and plenty of great ones). So, here are The 5 Best (And 5 Worst) Episodes Of Seinfeld.
10 Worst: The Deal
Larry David wrote this season 2 finale to appease the network execs who’d been pestering him to get Jerry and Elaine back together and turn Seinfeld into a generic imitation of every other sitcom on the air. The idea was that the show was on the brink of cancellation anyway, so screw it, Jerry and Elaine get back together and that’s the end of the show.
But then it was renewed for a third season, Jerry and Elaine were quickly broken up again, and the show really found its feet. It’s just awkward watching Jerry and Elaine show their emotions in an uncharacteristically romantic episode of the show.
9 Best: The Fire
This episode is famous for two things: George pushing his way through old ladies and children to get out of a burning building, and Kramer telling the story of how he heroically rescued a pinky toe. But that’s what makes it so great – we see the two opposite ends of the courage spectrum. George is a total coward in the face of danger, while Kramer will beat up a mugger and hijack a bus just to save someone’s pinky toe.
There’s something to enjoy in every scene, particularly when George tries to justify his response to the fire as “leading the way.” Plus, Jerry gets to live out every comedian’s ultimate fantasy: going to the office of a heckler and heckling them while they work.
8 Worst: The Chinese Woman
“The Chinese Woman” is flawed from the ground up with a mildly racist premise that doesn’t really make sense. A woman named Donna Chang who isn’t really Chinese enjoys the fact that people think she’s Chinese before meeting her. And Jerry is disappointed that she’s white, because he has a thing for Chinese women.
And Estelle Costanza gets advice from her on the phone and decides to ignore the advice when she finds out it didn’t come from a Chinese person. It’s all very unusual, needlessly offensive, and ultimately, one of the worst episodes to ever come out of the Seinfeld machine.
7 Best: The Chinese Restaurant
Season 2’s “The Chinese Restaurant” went a long way towards earning Seinfeld its “show about nothing” nickname. That was George’s pitch for the show-within-a-show, Jerry, but it also describes Seinfeld itself – in a good way. What other show could do a whole episode of waiting for a table in a Chinese restaurant and not get boring?
“The Chinese Restaurant” has all the makings of a great sitcom episode, with every character going through their own relatable conflicts – it just happens to be confined to a Chinese restaurant. It’s genius, and set the template for many great bottle episodes to come.
6 Worst: The Dog
This is basically just a whole episode of Jerry yelling at a dog named Farfel and the dog barking back at him from off-screen. He’s saddled with the evil dog after its owner is taken to hospital from a flight where he was sitting next to Jerry, making small-talk.
Farfel’s owner is among the most annoying one-off characters in Seinfeld history, playing every line like an exhausted drunk, doing a bad Richard E. Grant impression – it’s insufferable. However, “The Dog” does get points for being the first Seinfeld episode to refer to fake movie titles as if they were real movies.
5 Best: The Pen
The grasp that Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David have on the inner workings and politics of a retirement community in Florida is just sensational. The episode “The Pen” captures it perfectly, weaving deftly in and out of what people say to each other and what people say behind each other’s backs.
Barney Martin and Liz Sheridan continue to play Jerry’s parents hilariously in every situation. It all revolves around a pen, but the mere gesture of Jack Klompus offering Jerry a pen becomes the downfall of several different friendships and a whole organized event. Plus, this is the episode with Elaine’s drug-induced “STELLA!!” meltdown.
4 Worst: The Stock Tip
Here’s what’s wrong with “The Stock Tip,” the final episode (of the shortest run in TV history) of the first season: things don’t work out for Jerry and they do work out for George. As we’d come to see from countless classic episodes, the Jerry character works best when everything goes well for him and he’s surrounded by miserable friends who fail at everything, while the George character works best when he can’t do anything right and continually gets screwed over in his attempts at happiness.
When Jerry loses money on the stock tip and George sees a flood of return on his investment come into his bank account, it brings out the worst in each character. It reminds us why we want to see Jerry succeed and why we want to see George fail.
3 Best: The Marine Biologist
Seinfeld is famous for dovetailing storylines and this one gets a lot of points for hiding its B-plot setup in plain sight. Kramer invites the guys to come to the beach and hit golf balls into the ocean, then we see him doing it. But we get distracted by George’s A-plot, in which he pretends to be a marine biologist to impress a woman, which culminates in the most epic climax in Seinfeld history.
George tells the story of how he went out into the ocean to save a beached whale, only to find its blowhole was clogged by a golf ball. Jason Alexander delivers the monologue so well that you feel like you’re there, and the two plots converge in the most hysterical way.
2 Worst: The Smelly Car
There are a few less-than-great Seinfeld episodes to choose from: the one where George indirectly murders Susan, the one where Kramer goes to L.A. and is mistaken for a serial killer, the finale etc. But the truly worst Seinfeld episodes are the ones with a totally insubstantial premise, and a bad smell that Jerry can’t get out of his car is about as insubstantial as it gets.
This was the only one out of the hundreds of ideas the writers’ friends pitched them over the years that actually made it to air, and it’s easy to see that it’s a writer’s friend’s idea. The fact that no one will even steal the car is a good visual punchline, but it’s a punchline to a nonsense setup.
1 Best: The Contest
This is an obvious choice, but there’s a good reason for that. “The Contest” is not only widely considered to be the best Seinfeld episode; thanks to TV Guide, it’s widely accepted as the best episode of television ever made, period. Everyone faces their own obstacles: Jerry’s dating a virgin and has a nudist living across the street from him, Elaine is in a yoga class with JFK, Jr., and George has to witness a silhouetted sponge bath every day when he visits his mother in the hospital.
It’s a perfectly written sitcom episode (courtesy of Larry David’s Emmy-winning script) that happens to be about something disgusting – but that’s okay, because the actual word is never uttered once!