When it became one of the biggest sitcoms of the ‘90s, Seinfeld didn’t rely as much on big-name guest stars as its cousin Friends did, but it still had them in there. The difference was that Friends would build an episode around a certain guest star, whereas Seinfeld would only bring in a guest star who happened to suit a one-off role in one of their episodes.
As with any show’s use of guest stars, Seinfeld had some great ones whose appearances were memorable and some not-so-great ones whose appearances were forgettable. So, here are Seinfeld’s 5 Best (And 5 Worst) Guest Stars.
10 Best: Lawrence Tierney
Lawrence Tierney played Elaine’s father, a famed novelist named Alton Benes, as early as season 2. Tierney’s roles in movies like Reservoir Dogs have made him the quintessential Hollywood tough guy, and he plays his gruffness hilariously for comedy in the episode “The Jacket.”
Jerry and George found themselves in an awkward situation when Elaine was late to their dinner with her father, and everything he said either depressed or terrified them. Tierney did a terrific job with the character – so terrific, in fact, that Alton was never written into the show again, because the actor had scared everyone on the set, too.
9 Worst: Rob Schneider
Before making his guest appearance in the Seinfeld episode “The Friar’s Club,” Rob Schneider had actually opened for Jerry Seinfeld on the standup circuit. In the episode, he played Bob, a co-worker of Elaine’s who she suspected was faking his bad hearing to get out of doing extra work.
The character and the storyline that came attached to him weren’t very funny to begin with, but Schneider doesn’t do anything to elevate the material above a subpar episode of Seinfeld, or even make his character seem like a real person as he launches himself at Elaine in the episode’s climax.
8 Best: Judge Reinhold
Judge Reinhold didn’t rely on the crutch of being Judge Reinhold to make an impression in the two-part episode “The Raincoats.” He actually played a memorable Seinfeld character – Elaine’s boyfriend Aaron, the “close-talker” who got unnervingly close to Morty and Helen Seinfeld during their visit to New York.
His final scene ties his plot from the episode to the other plot involving Jerry making out while watching Schindler’s List. Aaron wondering if he could’ve done more to make Morty and Helen’s stay worthwhile mirrors the scene in the movie in which Oskar Schindler wonders if he could’ve saved more Jews.
7 Worst: James Spader
As The Blacklist has shown, James Spader is a very intense actor. And as The Office has shown, that intensity can be channeled pretty brilliantly into comedy. The problem with Spader’s guest appearance in the Seinfeld episode “The Apology” – in which he plays a recovering alcoholic who George feels owes him an apology – is that it channels his intensity all wrong.
Spader can play a specific type of character and he plays it really well, but it can’t be fit into a wacky Seinfeld character. That’s why his role as Hanky in “The Apology” felt out of place and didn’t go over so well.
6 Best: Courteney Cox
Courteney Cox guest-starred on Seinfeld in the same year that her own show, Friends, premiered. At this point, she hadn’t become typecast as Monica-like characters and could actually play characters who were quite wicked. In the Seinfeld episode “The Wife,” Cox played Meryl, the woman who dated Jerry and pretended to be his wife to get his dry-cleaning discount.
As the relationship grows, the two fall into the pitfalls of an actual marriage and Jerry eventually realizes that he doesn’t even really like her and has an “affair.” Cox plays the character perfectly, because her portrayal of Meryl is unlikable in the funniest way.
5 Worst: Michael Chiklis
Long before he solidified his place as a TV badass in FX’s crime drama The Shield, Michael Chiklis appeared in the Seinfeld episode “The Stranded.” In the episode, he was hosting a party that Jerry and Elaine were stuck at, because George had left with the car and Kramer couldn’t find the house.
Jerry made an empty gesture in case Chiklis’ character was ever in the city. Next thing Jerry knows, this guy has shown up at his apartment, unannounced. He spent the night in Jerry’s apartment, drinking with Kramer and ordering hookers. His character was too annoying to be funny, unfortunately.
4 Best: Jon Voight
A celebrity guest appearance rarely helps a sitcom. At the very least, it doesn’t hurt it. But the Jon Voight appearance in Seinfeld actually did help the episode it was a part of. The joke was that George had bought a car he didn’t really want, purely because the salesman told him that it once belonged to Jon Voight.
As it turned out, the car belonged to “John Voight,” who was just a dentist and not a renowned actor, but while George thought it still belonged to the actor, Kramer ran into him as he was getting into a cab. He mistook Kramer for a mugger and bit his arm, which served the plot (and was hysterical).
3 Worst: Al Roker
Al Roker’s guest appearance on Seinfeld felt shoehorned in at the end of an already overstuffed narrative. Throughout the episode, Elaine had taken Frank Costanza’s TV Guide to read on the subway, Frank had gotten furious that someone had taken a TV Guide out of his precious collection, and she’d attracted a creepy guy who was obsessed with TV and tried to woo her with his knowledge of Lucille Ball’s sitcoms.
At the end of the episode, Elaine was on the subway with the TV Guide and saw Al Roker sitting across from her, emulating his pose from the TV Guide cover. It felt tacked-on.
2 Best: Marisa Tomei
Marisa Tomei was one of the few guest stars to play themselves. The makers of Seinfeld understood that celebrities don’t just show up in normal people’s lives very often, as lazier sitcoms tend to portray, so they had to hand-pick which moments would feature real celebrities.
The Marisa Tomei storyline had a hilarious link to the season 7 arc of George’s engagement as he found out a mutual friend could get him in touch with a gorgeous movie star who happened to have a thing for short, stocky, bald, quirky men. The ridiculousness of the situation is played up, because George can’t do anything due to his engagement.
1 Worst: Denise Richards
It’s not that Denise Richards herself gave a bad performance in her Seinfeld guest spot in the episode “The Shoes.” It’s just that the storyline she was in was so creepy. She played Molly Dalrymple, the teenage daughter of the head of NBC. The fate of Jerry and George’s sitcom pilot was in his hands.
They were over at his apartment and the pair saw his 15-year-old daughter leaning over, then they got caught looking at her cleavage. It’s not Richards’ fault that she was cast in such a perverse narrative, but it does tarnish her guest appearance in the show.