In a couple of weeks, TV (The Book) will be in stores (though you can pre-order it now), featuring my and Matt Zoller Seitz's top 100 list of American TV shows and essays extolling their greatness. Most of the book was assembled with a Talmudic level of thoroughness. But scattered throughout are some shorter, sillier lists, which we assembled more on instinct and/or what made us laugh in the moment, on subjects like TV's best spies, best mustaches, and most important articles of clothing.
Two of those lists involve TV's best and worst bosses, and a friend who has an advance copy asked me yesterday to go even more granular and rank the various Seinfeld bosses (considering only people who stuck around a while, as opposed to poor Mr. Tomasulo, who gave George a handicap-accessible bathroom). I didn't overthink it, but just went with my gut, and this is what resulted.
1. Mr. Kruger
No, he wasn't around as long as some of the more famous bosses listed below, and was part of a final season that was sketchier and more cartoonish than the show had been at its peak. But the way the late Daniel von Bargen played Kruger's blithe incompetence never fails to make me laugh, and it felt like great karmic, and comic, justice for George at the end to be saddled with a boss even dumber and lazier than himself.
2. George Steinbrenner
Though the real Steinbrenner filmed a cameo at one point that didn't air, the Doonesbury-esque version the show used – the Boss only seen from behind, and voiced by Larry David – was an absurd delight, somehow even more ridiculous (and far more benign) than the genuine article, and another great foil for George.
3. Mr. Pitt
So many great, insane moments, whether he was obsessing over the 3D painting, or accidentally turning into Hitler as part of his plan to annex Poland Spring. And Elaine's exasperation with him was never not funny.
4. J. Peterman
My friend thinks I'll be pilloried for placing him so low (especially putting the less-beloved Kruger on top). The show certainly got more mileage out of Peterman, and did more kinds of things with him, than any of the other bosses, and John O'Hurley's commitment to the role was wonderful. The others just make me laugh a little more, especially when I revisit the show all these years later.
5. Russell Dalrymple
Russell, the head of NBC for most of the time the Jerry pilot was in development, was Jerry and George's defacto boss for the greatest Seinfeld season, and Bob Balaban did marvelous work playing Russell's increasingly withering disdain for George. But he was, like the final choice on the list, largely a straight man for the regulars.
6. Mr. Lippman
The definition of a replacement-level boss. He had his moments, like stealing Elaine's muffin top bakery idea, but was primarily there to allow Elaine to make a fool of herself.