After 17 years off the air, Seinfeld is one of the rare 90’s sitcoms that is just as watchable today as it was when it premiered. Set in New York City, the self-described “Show About Nothing” featured a group of four friends who weren’t working toward a goal or character development, they were just facing exaggerated versions of the absurdities we all face on a daily basis, but in their own warped ways.
Teamed for years with other rating juggernauts The Cosby Show, Cheers, Mad About You, Friends, Frasier, and ER, Seinfeld served as the heart of the NBC Thursday night monopoly on comedy, Must See TV. A ratings darling through most of it’s nine-season run (1989-1998), Seinfeld’s numbers are seen as unmatchable today. Even it’s worst season had an astounding 17.7 million viewers per episode, and it’s final season drew 38 million viewers on a weekly basis. The series finale, “The Finale,” was watched by 76.2 million Americans, or 27.9% of the nation’s population at the time.
There have been attempts to quantify the beloved series and rank all episodes from best to worst. Notably, Vanity Fair and Vulture.com have conducted this exercise, with widely varying results. Only two episodes overlap in their top tens. Even our own Best Episodes of Seinfeld doesn’t match either of these perfectly. This disparity is understandable with 169 episodes, each with at least three subplots, all intersecting throughout every half hour episode.
The differences do leave us with an uneasy feeling, as these lists may have forced some hidden gems to the bottom, just waiting to be found. We took a look at the episodes that averaged in the lower half of the combined rankings, and yadda yadda yadda, these are Screen Rant’s 10 Most Underrated Episodes of Seinfeld:
The Parking Garage (Season 3, Episode 6)
With the whole episode taking place in the parking garage of a New Jersey mall, this episode is one of the rare few that doesn’t feature multiple diverging and converging storylines.
Jerry Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld), George Costanza (Jason Alexander), Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and Kramer (Micheal Richards), have all traveled to New Jersey for Kramer to buy up an air conditioner. Faced with ticking-clock problems like Elaine holding a live goldfish in hand, Jerry needing to urinate, and George’s dinner plans with his parents back in Manhattan, not to mention Kramer carrying the heavy appliance, hours pass while they look for Kramer’s car in the massive garage.
An earlier episode, “The Chinese Restaurant,” is widely acknowledged for its use of the similar “bottle episode” device, where the characters are all kept in one location for the entirety of the adventure. “The Parking Garage” not only does this better, but also accomplishes the mission of the series: nothing.
Notable Line: “You know, I’ve been issued a public urination pass by the city because of my condition. Unfortunately my little brother ran out of the house with it this morning.”
The Alternate Side (Season 3, Episode 11)
To begin, let’s acknowledge that this is an infamous episode. Jerry’s car is stolen, a man suffers a stroke, Woody Allen gets glass in his eye, and a secondary plot involves a guest character losing his job. There is one line that redeems the episode, the often-quoted and one of the most famous lines from the series, “These pretzels are making me thirsty!”
To keep locals from getting parking tickets, a local man, Sid, moves cars from one side of the street to the other. When George fills in for him while Sid visits his sick nephew, he proceeds to mess up the job and cause an accident.
This accident effects both Elaine and Kramer. Elaine’s boyfriend, who she planned on breaking up with, suffers a stroke that is made worse when the ambulance can’t arrive due to the accident, while Kramer, who had been given a bit part in a Woody Allen movie, reports back to the group that the director wants to stop making films in New York due to the delays. By the end of the episode, Sid’s clients have abandoned him, and Kramer has caused a major workplace accident on set.
With a storyline revolving around Elaine’s discomfort having to care for her stroke victim boyfriend, it is easy to see why people undervalue the episode. It’s not just fans who are uncomfortable with the concept; Jerry Seinfeld even calls this his least favorite episode for just that reason. Nevertheless, the darker elements can be quite fun if they don’t leave you feeling uncomfortable.
Notable Line: “These Pretzels are Making Me Thirsty!”
The Good Samaritan (Season 3, Episode 20)
If each character was created with the thought of bringing one unique attribute to the show, Kramer arguably is there for mainstream laughs, considering that his lankiness brings a certain level of physical comedy to the series. Of all the episodes, “The Good Samaritan” is the crowning achievement of Kramer’s physicality, with his epileptic seizures key to the whole episode.
Plagued by seizures he doesn’t remember, Kramer cannot figure out why he has been hitting his head. It is revealed that his affliction is triggered by the sound of Entertainment Tonight’s Mary Hart’s voice. George deals with the ramifications of being the “other man” in an affair, especially when the husband figures it out. Jerry and Elaine’s relatively mundane stories focus on lies; Jerry lying to Elaine about confronting a hit-and-run driver, and Elaine inventing a bull fighting former lover.
Aside from Kramer’s uniquely triggered seizures, a particular highlight is Jerry’s suggestion to say “you are so good looking” instead of the standard “bless you” after another person sneezes. Aside from a real life sexual harassment suit this may have caused in 2009; we still think it’s a possible solution for anyone looking for an alternative post-sneeze blessings.
Notable Line: “You are so good looking.”
The Letter (Season 3, Episode 21)
By the time this episode aired, Seinfeld had already effected popular culture through the popularization of phrases like “Hello, Newman” and “These pretzels are making me thirsty.” But this episode is the first time the series created a commercial item, one which can still be found in college dorm rooms across the world.
Kramer poses for a portrait by Jerry’s artist girlfriend, Nina (Catherine Keener). An older couple sees the painting and fall in love with the “inner beauty” of the unrefined Kramer. George visits her loft with Jerry, and after she offers the gang tickets to her father’s box at the Yankees game, he feels he has to buy something. After lying to her boss to go to the game, Elaine causes a ruckus at the stadium because she refuses to take off her Orioles cap. With a picture of the fight making the papers, she works to make sure Mr. Lippman (Richard Fancy) doesn’t learn she ditched his son’s bris to go to a ball game.
The couple’s admiration of “The Kramer,” is one of the series’ best self-reflective moments. The awe of him matches the way audiences had become devoted to a character oft-described as a “hipster doofus.”
Notable Line: “He is a loathsome, offensive brute, and yet I can’t look away.”
The Pitch (Season 4, Episode 3)
An extremely important episode for many reasons, “The Pitch” begins a story arch that continues until the end of the season: Jerry getting a TV deal. This births the uniquely meta angle of “a show about nothing” within “a show about nothing.” As well, George meets a woman who pops in and out of the show as the only woman other than his mother who he can maintain any semblance of a relationship with, changing his life from this point forward.
After putting on a great standup act, Jerry gets approached by NBC executives to pitch a sitcom idea. But when he gets hit by writers block, he enlists George’s help, and he suggests that they create a “show about nothing.” George gets worked into an anxious frenzy, and after the executives pass on the idea, launches into a typical Costanza style tirade. However, after the meeting, George starts a relationship with one of the executives, Susan Ross (Heidi Swedberg).
This episode also marks the beginning of a recurring story about “Crazy” Joe Davola’s obsession with the Elain Benis. While interesting, this story is fairly dark and ends with an attempted assassination in the style of John Wilkes Booth.
Notable Line: “That’s the kind of help you need. Not the once-a-week for eighty bucks, no. You need a team. A team of psychiatrists working around the clock, thinking about you, having conferences, observing you like the way they did with the elephant man.”
The Junior Mint (Season 4, Episode 20)
“The Junior Mint” is like a 22-minute version of the kind of joke a 12-year-old boy would love. However, the titular Junior Mint only features in a small part of the secondary storyline, and the episode would be better referred to as “The Mulva.”
Jerry is dating a woman (Susan Walters) whose name he has forgotten. He can only remember one fact, and that is that her name that sounds like a female body part. This tease is both one of the episode’s greatest features and potential downfalls, as it is easy to spend more time thinking about the name as opposed to focusing on the plot.
Deciding that the best name option is “Mulva,” she walks away, with him figuring out her actual name at the very last moment.
Notable Line: “Delores!”
The Chinese Woman (Season 6, Episode 4)
Seinfeld was never shy of venturing into the topic of race (“The Cigar Store Indian,” “The Puerto Rican Day Parade,” “The Diplomat’s Club”). “The Chinese Woman” does go down that road too, but it does it in a way that serves as an examination of stereotypes we hold about other people and how cultures can be appropriated.
Jerry and Elaine see Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller) walking down the street and meeting with a man in a cape (Larry David). Trying to talk to George about the mystery man, Jerry gets a crossed line and strikes up a conversation with the mistaken caller, Donna Chang (Angela Dohrmann), who he assumes to be Asian. Throughout the episode, Jerry wrestles with the fact that Donna, while Jewish, seems to work hard to be involved in Asian culture.
George finds out that the man in the cape was Frank’s lawyer, and that his parents are considering divorce. After a few wise words from Ms. Chang, George’s mother Estelle (Estelle Harris) follows the Confucian wisdom and decides to stay with Frank.
Considering how much screen time series creator Larry David has received on Curb Your Enthusiasm, it’s surprising how little he spent onscreen in Seinfeld. Beyond voicing Mr. Steinbrenner, this is one of the times we do see him, and as “The Man in the Cape” he makes a striking impression on the audience.
Notable Line: “How could Jerry not say Hello?”
The Soup Nazi (Season 7, Episode 6)
There must have been a clerical error of some sort for this episode to appear on a list of underrated episodes of Seinfeld. Likely the best-known episode of all, “The Soup Nazi” is also one of the most quoted episodes of the whole series. The Soup Nazi is such a cultural icon that he has popped up numerous times since the episode; selling Accuras, promoting a food charity, and in an episode of NBC’s Scrubs.
With all four main characters involved in the main plot, the gang starts eating soup from a stand run by a man who is known as the “Soup Nazi” (Larry Thomas) for his strict ordering rules: specifically, that you don’t get to complain about the service. When George asks for his free bread, his soup is taken away. When Jerry’s girlfriend Sheila (Alexandra Wentworth), kisses him in line, she is kicked from the stand. After Elaine flippantly takes too much time to order, she is banned from the store for a year. However, Elaine has her revenge after Kramer finds her a replacement armoire, which just happened to be owned by the Soup Nazi at one time and contains all of his secret recipes.
Notable Line: “No soup for you!”
The Millennium (Season 8, Episode 20)
While named after the fact that Kramer and Newman (Wayne Knight) have unwittingly planned competing parties for the night of December 31st, 1999, “The Millenium” is more focused on George’s story than on the Kramennium/Newmannium feud.
With an offer to take over the Mets’ scouting program, George is presented with a dilemma in that he needs to be fired by the Yankees, rather than quit, to get the new job under MLB rules. Jerry works to get his name to the top of his girlfriend Valerie’s (Gilmore Girls‘s Lauren Graham) speed dial; and in the process displeases her stepmother, who has worked years to get to the top. Looking for Mayan clothing, Elaine finds an enemy in a nonchalant shop owner, with Kramer helping Elaine to enact her revenge by removing clothing desiccants.
This episode stands out as an excellent character study of George Costanza: offered an opportunity at his dream job through the failure always expected of him, George can’t drop the ball well enough. When he ruins Babe Ruth’s uniform with a sloppy lunch, Mr. Steinbrenner praises him for an “out with the old, in with the new” attitude. When he streaks across the field during a game in a body suit, the fans cheer him on. After destroying the world series trophy, he’s about to be fired when his boss, Mr. Wilhelm (Richard Herd), swoops in to steal the thunder and the Mets position. Through his vain attempts at getting fired, George proves he is truly terrible at everything.
Notable Line: “Alright. I guess I just have to pick myself up, dust myself off, and throw myself right back down again.”
The Reverse Peephole (Season 9, Episode 12)
While the series was wrapping up, this episode gives some extra screen time to two non-main cast fan favorites; Elaine’s on-again, off-again love interest Puddy (Patrick Warburton), and her long time admirer and Jerry’s long-time nemesis, Newman.
Elaine has a problem with Putty’s fur coat, which she has never seen, as they’ve never dated in the winter. Invited to their friend Joe Mayo’s apartment warming party, Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine decide to buy him a massage chair between them, but George ends up using the chair and gets stuck with the full cost. Kramer and Newman install reverse peepholes to avoid ambushes, but run afoul of their landlord, especially when Newman is found to be the secret lover of the landlord’s wife, Svetlana.
Likely one of the last episodes of the series to introduce a new term into the vernacular, the “George Costanza wallet” as a term for any billfold that has been filled to a breaking point with cards, cash, and receipts. The moment the overstuffed wallet explodes is oddly satisfying and symbolic of the amount of comedy the series has crammed in, and the impending fate of show with only nine episodes remaining.
Notable Line:“All signs point to yes.”
Of course, everyone has their own favorite Seinfeld episodes. What are your favorites? What should have been included on this list? Let us know in the comments!
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