Seinfeld: What to watch (and skip) from each season
Seinfeld: What’s it about? As most have surely heard by now, nothing.
Well, at least that was the idea. In 1988, Jerry Seinfeld and fellow comedian Larry David came up with a novel premise for a sitcom: A stand-up and his friends riff on everyday topics. NBC bought it, and Seinfeld quietly debuted its pilot in the summer of 1989. Nearly a year would pass before additional episodes aired, and the first-year ratings were bleak. (It was regularly bested by Jake and the Fatman.)
But the network gave Seinfeld time to find its footing, and even when the series became a massive hit, it more or less stuck to its “nothing” approach. Seinfeld played a version of himself, a comedian constantly amused by his dysfunctional friends, particularly George Costanza (Jason Alexander), a neurotic easily triggered into fits of rage; Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a seemingly put-together career woman who racks up bad boyfriends and can unravel over a square of toilet paper; and Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), Jerry’s wild-haired neighbor who’s always good for a grand entrance and a wacky C plot.
Despite the series’ pervasiveness in the mainstream—”Serenity now!” and dozens of catchphrases went the ’90s version of viral; the series won 10 Emmys—Seinfeld was thoroughly transgressive, always staying funny while appealing to our most cynical selves. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
We’ve complied a list of an episode from every season that fans and newcomers alike should definitely check out—along with a few that they can skip. We’ll have even more Seinfeld content up on the site in the days to come in preparation for the entire series’ debut to Hulu on June 24.
Watching the first season now makes Seinfeld‘s success seem even more remarkable. These five episodes (the smallest sitcom order in TV history at the time) follow the “show about nothing” mantra a bit too literally.
“The Stake Out.” If only for the introduction of Elaine.
“The Seinfeld Chronicles.” Kramer is called “Kessler,” the theme music sounds like it came from a Roland D-50 preset, Elaine is nowhere to be found, and George unironically sports a Kangol hat. Sounds like a late-series “bizarro” ep, not the pilot for the greatest sitcom of all time.
With a prime-time slot following Cheers, Seinfeld started gaining viewership.
“The Chinese Restaurant.” The epitome of a “bottle episode,” these ground-breaking 21 minutes unfold in real time and take place entirely in a Chinese-food joint as Jerry, Elaine, and George wait for a table.
Watch for how Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ pregnancy was concealed—behind couches, laundry baskets, and formless ’90s fashion.
“The Pez Dispenser.” A perfect example of unapologetic Seinfeldian stupidity. Jerry perches a Tweety Bird Pez dispenser on Elaine’s leg, making her guffaw loudly during a piano recital. Meanwhile, Kramer tries to sell Calvin Klein execs on a cologne that reeks of the ocean.
“The Dog.” The title says it all. The main plot revolves around a yapping mutt named Farfel—the rare sitcom cliché the series merely perpetuated without sending up.
This season introduces a meta story arc about Jerry and George making a TV pilot for NBC. But the nonstop succession of iconic stand-alone episodes—”The Bubble Boy,” “The Outing,” “The Junior Mint”—is what makes this the best season.
“The Contest.” Credit goes to the writers for managing to talk about masturbation—indirectly but unmistakably—on network TV.
Seinfeld continued its winning streak with classics like “The Puffy Shirt,” “The Stall,” and “The Opposite.”
“The Marine Biologist.” George’s monologue at the end of this episode about pulling a golf ball from a whale’s blowhole—and Kramer’s reaction—is hilarious every time.
Seinfeld finally became the No. 1 show on TV this season, but it wasn’t at its creative best.
“The Face Painter.” A bright spot in season 6 was David Puddy (Patrick Warburton), Elaine’s vapid but lovable boyfriend, here in all his meathead glory as a rabid New Jersey Devils fan.
“The Pledge Drive.” Pretty much no Seinfeld episodes are bad, but the funniest gag in this so-so offering is Elaine’s boss, Mr. Pitt (Ian Abercrombie), dining on a Snickers bar with a fork and knife.
The season’s arc follows George’s planned nuptials to Susan (Heidi Swedberg). The show took a giant risk by killing Susan off by way of toxic envelopes—and revealing the leads’ callous reactions. It’s Seinfeld at its darkest, but it worked.
“The Soup Nazi.” Imagine the #NoSoup4U hashtags that’d be flying if this touchstone episode aired today. The title character was based on real-life New York City soup chef Al Yeganeh.
When Larry David departed after season 7, the show dropped Jerry’s stand-up comedy openers and took a turn for the surreal.
“The Pothole.” Seinfeld has said repeatedly that this is one of his favorite eps, and indeed, it’s packed with over-the-top gags and contains one of the series’ funniest visual punchlines (that geyser!).
The final season of Seinfeld was the biggest entertainment story of 1998—even bigger than Titanic.
“The Merv Griffin Show.” The premise is moronic—Kramer finds the set of The Merv Griffin Show in the garbage and re-creates it in his apartment—but the result is so funny the stars are visibly struggling not to laugh.
“The Finale.” A whopping 76.3 million fans tuned in, and most were disappointed. The closer trotted out tons of obligatory cameos, including ones from Teri Hatcher and Geraldo Rivera, and ended with the foursome behind bars. It was a bold move and in line with the series’ cynical tone, but it just wasn’t funny. Best to get your last laugh with “The Frogger” a few episodes before.
Total Run Time: 68 HRS., 8 MINS.