Seinfeld is justifiably hailed as a masterpiece of the mundane and the seminal show about nothing. For nine seasons, Jerry Seinfeld and his three deplorable and amazing friends bathed in the minutiae of everyday living while we laughed and felt thinly connected to their trials and tribulations. All of a sudden, Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer’s verbal shorthand became our verbal shorthand, but despite the shows relatability, there were also some amazingly weird moments that widened the road for future comedies like Community, Louie, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. With that in mind, here are some of Seinfeld‘s most wonderfully avant-garde moments.
“The Subway” — Season 3, Episode 13
“The Subway” belongs alongside other Seinfeld “slice-of-life” classics like “The Parking Garage” and “The Chinese Restaurant” for the way that it mines humor from something joyless, but it also takes a left turn when Jerry bonds with a nudist (Ernie Sebella) over the Mets and the appropriateness of hiding one’s nude body.
All of this occurs as Kramer is fleeing from a mugger, Elaine is in the midst of a nervous breakdown while stuck on her own train, and George gets to live out half of a Penthouse Forums letter before getting handcuffed and robbed. The episode ends with Jerry and the now clothed nudist departing the train to ride The Cyclone and get a Nathan’s hot dog on Coney Island.
The genius of this episode is in the “no big deal” attitude that it applies to the peculiar thing that Jerry comes across while riding the train. It’s an “only in New York” kind of story that wouldn’t even happen in New York.
“The Limo” — Season 3, Episode 19
George Costanza is not a brave man, but he is prone to the occasional streak of boldness. In “The Limo,” that comes through, ultimately leading to calamity as George and Jerry get it into their heads that they should hijack a chauffeured limo whose fare is stuck in Chicago. In the car, George is O’Brien, Jerry is Murphy, and things get scary as they pick-up two gun-toting supporters of O’Brien’s while en-route to Madison Square Garden where George’s O’Brien, a Nazi rabble-rouser, is scheduled to give a speech that is being protested by just about everyone.
Seinfeld loved to play with situations that would spiral out of control following a mild misunderstanding or misstep. “The Marble Rye” is a great example of this and “The Limo” may be the furthest that they ever pushed that idea, in that it’s the only time that I can remember Jerry and George having a gun pointed at them.
“The Trip” — Season 4, Episodes 1 and 2
This is a very different pair of Seinfeld episodes that takes place away from the friendly confines of Jerry’s apartment and Monks. Instead, Jerry, George, and Kramer are in L.A. and the latter is on his own, trying to make it as an actor until he gets picked up on suspicion that he is a serial killer known as “The Smog Strangler.” Personally, these aren’t my favorite episodes, and it’s odd that they would actually start a season by going this dark, but that makes me respect Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David even more. I don’t remember any serial killer larks on Cheers, do you?
“The Bris” — Season 5, Episode 5
Much like “The Subway,” “The Bris” is a mostly standard episode with one key difference. In this case, that difference is the Pig Man.
While at a hospital visiting friends and their new baby, George can’t stop marveling at the amazing parking space that he found right next to the hospital and Jerry and Elaine are shocked to be named godparents to the baby in what amounts to an outright act of friendship level jumping by the new parents. Kramer is, unsurprisingly, wrapped up in his own adventure as he stumbles into the room of a creature that he believes to be half-man/half-pig. This discovery turns Kramer into a Pigman truther, but eventually it turns out that the Pigman is actually “just a fat little mental patient.”
The episode is funny enough without the lingering Pigman story thanks to George’s attempt to get the hospital to compensate him after his parking victory turns into the death spot of a rooftop jumper and Jerry’s battle with the high-strung mohel, but everything comes full circle when George’s caved in car is stolen by the Pigman. I guess Kramer was wrong, clearly the Pigman wouldn’t offer to give George a ride.
“The Package” — Season 8, Episode 5
Jerry is disappointed that he isn’t bombable and Elaine goes up against a cabal of medical professionals that have shunned her for being a difficult patient. Meanwhile, Kramer talks George into embracing the “timeless art of seduction” and erotic photography, producing one of the most iconic images in the history of the show.
“The Checks” — Season 8, Episode 7
This is a splendid cornucopia of weirdness as Jerry is crippled by laborious check signing and shunned by his former umbrella twirling compatriots while George is rejected by a cult, Elaine learns that she can’t compete with the song “Desperado,” and Kramer imprisons a group of Japanese tourists in a dresser before coming at them with an ax.
This episode is also notable for the perfectly orchestrated punch that it threw at the large group of pretenders that had emulated Seinfeld in search of its success when George sums up the state of television in the late 90s by saying, “every time you turn on a TV, all you see is four morons sitting around an apartment, whining about their dates!” Take that, The Single Guy.
“The Susie” — Season 8, Episode 15
This descent into the crime-y world of fake murder, gambling, imagined sex, and accidental thumb breaking starts off with one of Elaine’s co-workers mistaking her for someone named Susie, which leads to trouble at work and Elaine’s decision to whack her fictional doppelganger after plotting with Jerry. A crime they would have gotten away with if not for the broken bookie that Jerry had locked in his trunk.
“The Merv Griffin Show” — Season 9, Episode 6
This is about as close as we ever got to a real glimpse inside Kramer’s mythical home and about as weird as he was ever allowed to get. With only a few exceptions, sitcom spin-offs are rarely a good idea, but a Michael Richards starring Kramer show would have been a glorious train wreck.
With that said, the brilliance of Seinfeld is that it never went too far into the realm of the strange. Most everything was measured and smartly paired with more relatable notions and broader comedy that allowed the show’s more unique larks to win over fans and critics while limiting the amount of misfires. Without discipline and confidence in the intelligence of the work that they were putting out, Seinfeld could have leaned too far toward being either too irreverent or too dry. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and the “Show about nothing” kept a firm grasp on the “something” that made it go.