(This is the first part of a Larry David themed countdown tribute series with this article reeling off your humble narrator’s picks for the ten finest Seinfeld episodes.)
Seinfeld. It was the show about nothing that meant a heck of a lot to the millions of adoring followers who were taken in by an outrageously funny sitcom that was so refreshing in its vision of portraying people for who they really are. American values were thrown out of the window as friends needlessly back-stabbed one another, characters cared only for themselves and the sense of right and wrong became increasingly blurred.
Through nine seasons Seinfeld was consistently entertaining and inventive and this owed a lot to the fact that the show refused to let its characters grow stale by ironically never letting them undergo much change. The older they got and continued to act the same, the funnier it got to watch them and Seinfeld still stands up as one of the few shows to truly go out on top as opposed to crawling to the finish line as a shadow of its former self.
Choosing ten episodes for the following list was an extremely hard but also fun task as I was pleasantly reminded of why I fell in love with this show in the first place.
10.) THE PITCH (Season 4, Episode 3)
Written by Larry David
The most impressive aspect of this episode is that it skilfully set up so many storyline elements for the remainder of the fourth series.
It’s based around the main premise of George and Jerry pitching their show idea to NBC executives with George proudly promoting his idea for a show about nothing which of course goes down like a lead balloon. George’s assertion that it’ll work because people will watch anything is a line that has only become more hillarious in the mundane, reality tv infused decade that has just passed and which continues to prosper in the one we’re currently in now.
This episode also brought in the psychotic nutcase Joe Davola who would go on to cause Jerry endless aggro just over a slight miscommunication about Kramer’s party.
Last but not least this episode would mark the first time that George would meet Susan, a relationship that would prove to be a tumultuous ordeal for George for both this season and later ones that followed.
This episode features some all time great moments from Kramer excitedly coming up with an idea for a show about freaks, Jerry laying into George about how he’s nothing like Ted Danson and of course George’s hillariously misguided sitcom pitch.
9.) THE VOICE (Season 9, Episode 2)
Written by Alec Berg, Jeff Schaffer and David Mandel
Easily the most undervalued Seinfeld episode. Its central premise is not the best the show has ever come up with but The Voice delivers in spades with the development of its various sub-plots.
George deciding to stay in his workplace despite his boss discovering that he lied about having a disability is a classic Seinfeld moment that is so refreshing in its honesty of human character (although of course exaggerated for the sake of comedy.)
This episode also features my favourite Kramer storyline as he sets up his own business Kramerica Industries and has a genuine intern named Darren arrive at his home from NCU. The fact that Darren is so committed to his absurd role and genuinely looks up to Kramer makes it even funnier.
Meanwhile Elaine and Puddy engage in an on and off again sexual affair that features a brilliant exchange when Puddy expresses relief about a sex only arrangement that means he won’t have to hear Elaine jabber on only for Elaine to become offended and change tact.
The Voice ends with Kramer undergoing a scientific experiment that features sour consequences for all.
8.) THE OPPOSITE (Season 5, Episode 21)
Written by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
This episode is so much fun because it shows a character becoming fully liberated from their usual restraints of self-consciousness.
George has hit rock bottom and so decides that he is now going to do the opposite of whatever his instincts tell him. This do or die approach has a surpising impact on the people around him as he woos a woman despite confessing that he’s unemployed, puts some moron in place at the cinema and winds up with a job at the New York Yankees after telling club owner George Steinbrenneur that he is basically incompetent.
The Opposite is a great episode because it works on three counts. From a comedy perspective it’s a fantastic exercise
in going against the norm, from a character perspective there is a lot of truth in its positive vision of what happens when we let ourselves go and simply stop caring and from a structural perspective George’s flight from zero to hero satisfingly coincides with Elaine’s reverse fortunes.
7.) THE CONTEST (Season 4, Episode 11)
Written by Larry David
The Contest was perhaps the first Seinfeld episode to show that Larry David was a man who really liked to push the envelope a little. Indeed the funniest thing about four grown-ups engaging in a masturbation-free contest is the fact that neither one of them ever acknowledge the absurdity or childishness of their mission. These are people who should know better but the fact that they don’t is what makes this episode so refreshing and admirable.
Structurally it’s also tight as a button and the visual motif of breaking up acts by showing the participants in their beds – either fidgeting or fast asleep in order to highlight whose still involved is amusingly subtle and clever. Indeed there is something to be said about the charmful execution of an episode that is never once vulgar despite its admittedly vulgar subject matter.
6.) THE VAN BUREN BOYS (Season 8, Episode 14)
Written by Darin Henry
Jerry’s storyline aside, this episode features my three favourite story strands regarding the remainder of the major characters.
Elaine, who has always seen herself as something of an intellectual trapped in an everywoman’s body has to resort to documenting Kramer’s never-ending escapades in a bid to spice up Peterman’s autobiography. Listening to Kramer reel off an absurd account about losing his pants only for Elaine to become depressed that a man she has always seen as a doofus is somewhat admired by her boss unravels in hillarious fashion.
So too does the storyline involving George who is assigned a task by the Susan Ross Foundation of granting a young person a prestigious scholarship. Quickly tiring of all the “overachivering” candidates he becomes entranced instead by a student named Steven Koren who has middling academic grades but a profound interest in architecture.
After all George has always “wanted to pretend to be an architect” (vintage Larry David) and so decides against better judgement that this wannabe protege of his should be granted the scholarship. Things turn pear shaped for Costanza however when Steve decides that he would rather set his sights on being a town planner….
Incoporataing its way smoothly through these two story strands are the Van Buren Boys, the gang inexplicably named after the first President of the United States who wind up putting George in a very uncompromising position during a hillarious finale.
With fantastic structuring, and George and Kramer at their very best this episode truly packs a very solid punch.
5.) THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW (Season 9, Episode 6)
Written by Bruce Eric Kaplan
The structure of this episode is simply genius. Kramer discovers the old Merv Griffin set in a nearby dumpster and proceeds to put it up in his own apartment. Afterwards his friends come around to gossip with Kramer as he imagines himself as the the host of a talk show.
Subsequently all the various storylines that the other characters are involved in become talking points on the show itself. This off-beat but brilliant concept coupled with Kramer’s utter devotion to a fake tv show truly makes this one stand out.
4.) THE RACE (Season 6, Episode 10)
Written by Tom Gammill, Max Pross and Larry David
Whilst there were references throughout the show ad nauseum, The Race emerged as the full blown love letter to the creator’s obsession with Superman.
It features Jerry dating a girl called Lois whose sole attraction to her appears to be her name. Her boss Duncan recognises Jerry as an old schoolmate and despite now being a success is still for some reason torn up about losing a random school race in which he claims Jerry skipped the whistle and cheated to win.
Jerry later confirms this statement to be true and delivers an epic speech about how he could never run again for fear of being found out. In order to nullify Duncan though and help keep the legend alive, Jerry enlists the assistance of George who goes through with a plan to randomly enter the cafe whilst Jerry is with Duncan and pretend that he is meeting both men for the first time since school. When questioned about the race he will lie and testify that Jerry won it fair and square.
What follows however is perhaps my favourite Seinfeld moment of all time in which George finally gets to pretend to be an architect, claims to be a millionaire, mocks Jerry’s stand up routine and is so caught up in this fantasy life that he proceeds to turn to leave before Jerry has had time to ask him anything about the race ala the reason he was supposed to enter the cafe in the first place.
It all culminates in a race rematch executed in hillariously overblown slow-mo with superman theme intact.
3.) THE BETRAYAL (Season 9, Episode 8)
Written by Peter Mehlman and David Mandel
Inspired by the Howard Pinter play of the same name, The Betrayal is a gloriously experimental episode which is brave for playing backwards not just from a plotting perspective but also because it presents a number of jokes that don’t make sense until later on in the show.
There is something oddly satisfying about seeing all the story points concluded and then watching them gradually unravel back towards their various inciting incidents and the script manages to maintain intrigue throughout. In particular trying to discover why George is mad at Jerry and coming to gradually learn about how Kramer upset his friend FDR are particuarly satisfying. Plus I’m not sure any other drunken women has ever been as charming and likebale as Elaine is in this episode.
The Betrayal also features one of the rare, genuinely moving moments within the Seinfeld kingdom which occurs when we find out that George’s oft repeated phrase througout the episode of “You can stuff your sorries in a sack mister” was something that Susan used to say to him.
2.) THE LIMO (Season 3, Episode 19)
Written by Larry Charles
The Limo must surely rank as the most ridiculously comical case of mistaken identity ever set to the small screen.
George and Jerry as two Jewish men accidentally getting into a limousine with two Nazi loving sympathisers who mistake George as their leader O’Brien is made even more hillarious by the fact that George albeit temporarily seems to enjoy the sense of power and admiration.
Naturally Kramer and Elaine find themselves embroidered in the misadventure in an episode which has an irresistible sense of fun attached to it.
1.) THE LITTLE KICKS (Season 8, Episode 4)
Written by Spike Feresten
It’s the episode famous for Elaine’s dance but The Little Kicks is an all round comedic triumph from start to finish.
George playing the role of the bad boy and becoming sought after as a result is a pleasure to watch as is any George role where he plays so heavily against type.
The funniest story though is Kramer introducing Jerry to one of his many unhinged companions named Brody who goes with the pair to a cinema trip in which he hogs all the food and starts bootlegging the movie. Falling ill from the food, Brody hands the camera to Jerry who must unwillingly finish off shooting the picture. At first he is horrified at having gone through with it but when his work is praised he takes on the role of perfectionist film-maker in his quest to deliver the goods.
Not only is The Little Kicks hillarious in its own right but it boasts perhaps the most fluid interlinking of stories of any Seinfeld script. In fact it’s so funny that I’ll forgive the glaring character inconsistency given that Elaine dances fine in numerous episodes before and after this one.
Well there we have it. This is a list that is bound to divide opinion so don’t be shy to air your thoughts in the comment box below. Thanks for reading.