Time has been kind to Seinfeld (which debuted 30 years ago as The Seinfeld Chronicles). It’s still relatable, it’s still clever, the quirks of the cast can still make you smile, and, unbelievably, the comedy still catches you off guard while you look for hidden moments that you may have forgotten about or missed. That’s what makes picking the top episodes so hard: there really aren’t that many that feel hollow or which don’t deserve some kind of lengthy tribute. Still, we wanted to break down those that still stand out for their contribution to the show’s legend and television as well as the ones that still generate the most laughs and we had to put the cutoff somewhere.
To be sure, this is a highly subjective endeavor. You’ll see episodes on this list that you probably haven’t seen on other lists like this and there will be choices and rankings that you may not agree with. In the end, however, this is mostly an effort to celebrate Seinfeld and riff on its goodness. So take it in and then dish it out in the comments. But then rewatch, because Seinfeld is still one of the best things you can put on your screen.
12. The Library (Season 3, Episode 5)
The Story: Jerry tries to work through his memories and his high school little black book to recall a lost library book that has come around to get him in trouble with a strange library inspector.
Why It’s On The List: Kramer’s forbidden love affair with a poetic librarian and George’s guilt about ruining the life of an abusive gym teacher (and the ultimate payoff) serve as great B stories, but Jerry’s amusement at the ripped-from-a-noir-novel existence of Bookman (the deliciously named inspector) and the performance by Phillip Baker Hall stands out. Seinfeld had a wonderful cast of recurring characters and often allowed them the chance to shine, but Bookman’s brand of weirdness conflicted with the norms of the Seinfeld world in such delightful ways that the character easily ranks as one of the show’s most memorable one-offs (not counting his brief return in the series finale).
12. The Limo (Season 3, Episode 19)
The Story: Jerry and George get bold and jump into a limo meant for someone else.
Why It’s On The List: Jerry and George were not men of adventure, but they sure stumbled into one in this episode that takes a sharp turn when it’s revealed that George is unwittingly impersonating a prominent Nazi who is set to deliver a speech at a rally. Though it doesn’t end well, with George in a panic in front of a crowd of protestors, he’s remarkably calm in front of his armed Nazi guards, especially Eva, who clearly has an attraction to the power that she thinks George wields. Alexander’s ability to convey an unearned confidence in certain moments really stands out here as he bosses around the other guard (a pre-Six Feet Under, Parenthood, and 9-1-1 Peter Krause) while doubtlessly expressing a slight bit of piss and internally screaming in fear. It’s one of the least “slice-of-life” episodes of the show, but the feeling of getting in way over one’s head keeps everything grounded.
10. The Chinese Restaurant (Season 2, Episode 11)
The Story: Jerry, Elaine, and George wait to be seated at a Chinese restaurant. That’s about it. #TrustTheProcess
Why It’s On This List: Part of it is that this is a legendary early episode that demonstrated the show’s ability to mine the minutiae of life and come up with gold thanks to the comedic power of relatability. But George’s background battle for a pay phone (ask your mom) is also notable. Jason Alexander’s theater training and ability to command a stage show as he stands in the middle of the restaurant’s waiting area and briefly launches into a “Mad As Hell” type hissy fit before the guy he was ready to rumble with snaps him out of it with a tap on the shoulder. It’s a perfect reminder that for all his many outbursts, George was often all bark and no bite.
9. The Cheever Letters (Season 4, Episode 8)
Story: Jerry and George embody writerly procrastination before Jerry calls Elaine, gets her chatty assistant instead, and inadvertently leads to the assistant quitting. Elaine asks Jerry to help get her back but he winds up getting too involved and later bungles a makeout session with some epically bad dirty talk. Meanwhile, George goes to an incredibly awkward dinner with Susan’s (Heidi Swedberg) parents where he does a poor job of bonding with her father and telling him about the destruction of his cabin.
Why It’s On This List: Warren Frost and Grace Zabriskie made five appearances as Susan’s parents, but they were never as interesting or hilariously horrific to each other as they are in this episode.
Writers Larry David, Elaine Pope, and Tom Leopold really lingered on the domestic battlefield with these two as they sniped at each other over dinner and then seemingly fell apart when it was revealed that Susan’s father had carried on a secret love affair with author John Cheever (now there’s a guy who knew how to communicate with passion). I say seemingly because George and Jerry got the hell out of Dodge just after the delivery of a strong box from the cabin and Susan’s discovery that her father had the ability to give someone a near-crippling orgasm. Shame, I could have spent an entire episode listening to Frost and Zabriskie bicker.
8. The Hamptons (Season 5, Episode 20)
The Story: Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer go out to The Hamptons to see a friend’s new baby and enjoy the fruits of a weekend at the beach.
Why It’s On This List: It’s hard to not be put off by the hideousness of George’s musings about sexual boundaries pre and post-sex, but this is also an episode that takes a big swipe at male insecurity and bravado. And if there’s a message derived from George’s ultimate failure to have sex with his girlfriend (due to some negative word of mouth about the size of his penis) and Kramer’s punishment for raiding a commercial lobster trap, it’s that sometimes you don’t get what you want. Even Elaine’s efforts to snag Dr. Ben Pfeffer (Richard Burgi) point to this as an intended theme. Jerry? Like usual, he’s fine and doesn’t get pulled too deeply into the situation.
I also like that Seinfeld made it OK to acknowledge that some babies are objectively ugly.
7. The Busboy (Season 2, Episode 12)
The Story: Jerry, Elaine, and George go out to dinner and George accidentally gets a busboy (David Labiosa) fired. Elaine has a week-long shack up that goes way wrong, leading to her trying to unload the guy in a frenzy.
Why It’s On This List: Two specific things stand out. First, Jerry’s remark to George about the busboy probably killing his whole family over George’s actions perfectly stoked the bonfire of guilt building within him. It’s a perfect demonstration of Jerry’s gleeful indifference to the suffering of others, including those that are close to him. And it’s tied up so nicely and so subtly at the end of the episode when the busboy thanks everyone for his new and improved life and Jerry proudly gives a little “No problem” half wave after having done nothing to help the situation at all.
Second, nothing lingers in the mind from this episode like the work Julia Louis Dreyfus does while trying to get her houseguest off to the airport. She’s so filled with nervous energy and disgust for this guy that at one point she actually runs in place for a second before screaming and throwing a sweater (any sweater) at him as he slowly (so slowly) looks for his things. And then Dreyfus brings everything back the other way in the next scene when she arrives at Jerry’s apartment (and how about that hero shot by director Tom Cherones and DP Jerry Good?) to deliver an epic, yet haunted tale about an airport run through the streets of New York. The range and talent are off the charts. It’s one of the best moments of physical comedy in the show’s history.
6. The Airport (Season 4, Episode 12)
The Story: Jerry exploits George’s delusions of athletic grandeur to score an airport pickup for he and Elaine on a trip back from St. Louis, but a canceled flight throws everything into chaos.
Why It’s On This List: Seinfeld often deployed a seesaw approach wherein one character had to fall for another to rise, but few contrasts were as crisp, closely linked, and perfectly executed as Jerry and Elaine’s differing in-flight experiences after he snagged the only first-class ticket on their replacement flight, banishing her to coach. Jerry’s opulent snuggle-fest with a supermodel (Jennifer Campbell) is fine, but the comedy mostly came from Elaine’s mounting frustration and her sad expulsion from first class after sneaking in. All she wanted was a cookie and a nap. Elaine is all of us in this episode.
5. The Parking Garage (Season 3, Episode 6)
The Story: Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer get lost in a mall parking garage in New Jersey, passing the time with light musings on death, parental disappointment, trucker pee, and Scientology.
Why It’s On This List: Like “The Chinese Restaurant,” the comedy comes from the relatability of the situation/setting, but in this case, it’s greatly enhanced by the chemistry of the actors and their ability to sell patter that wouldn’t be particularly memorable on paper. Like Kramer talking about how a documentary caused him to stop stressing about death or Jerry making an off-the-cuff reference to Buddy Hackett, which he then feels compelled to explain after it falls flat.
In real life, sometimes your shared glossary of terms fails you with your friends and you have to own a crappy quip. This incredibly small (and probably forgettable) moment is recognition of that reality and that commitment to the nuance of these dynamics is a really impressive thing.
4. The Marine Biologist (Season 5, Episode 14)
The Story: Jerry bumps into a former college classmate who asks about George. This prompts Jerry to tell her that George is a marine biologist, a lie that George carries through the most extreme of circumstances.
Why It’s On This List: George’s dedication to maintaining a lie is always impressive, especially when you consider the lack of smartphones, Google, and Wikipedia. This episode showcases a true bullshit artist at the height of his powers. But the payoff at the end after his encounter with a sick whale is the stuff of legend.
At times eloquent and brilliantly paced throughout, George sounds like an old fisherman as he regales the gang with the details surrounding his heroic interaction with the mammoth fish (mammal… whatever). It’s absurd, but not so over-the-top that the scene loses you before the big payoff.
Like Miles Davis said, “it’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.” Seinfeld doesn’t get enough praise for its ability to ease up off the gas and let a big moment slowly reveal itself without forcing it.
3. The Invitations (Season 7, Episode 22)
The Story: Susan puts a wedge in between George and his friends before the wedding and both Jerry and Elaine wonder about the state of their lives and what will happen once George gets married.
Why It’s On This List: The main plot points — a looming wedding, an engagement (for Jerry to his doppelganger), characters pondering the future of their group dynamic and where they are in their own lives — feel like the kinds of developments you’d expect in the twilight years of any sitcom, but the show turns them all on their ear. Especially the wedding.
Producers could have had George and Susan break up following an arc that saw George clawing at the walls trying to escape couplehood. Normality would have been restored and no one would have been shocked. But where would the fun be in that? Instead, Jerry Seinfeld and departing co-creator Larry David opted to test the audience’s willingness to stick with them and George by killing off Susan, making George’s cheapness an accessory, and then having him basically shrug upon hearing the news.
Think about how any other show would handle that situation. You can replicate the “pals in a city riffing on life and nonsense” aspect of Seinfeld (and so so many have tried), but the willingness to challenge and trust an audience through twists and turns and moments that are impossible to redeem? That spirit is a lot harder to replicate.
2. The Contest (Season 4, Episode 11)
The Story: George’s mom walks in on him whilst he’s lost in a haze of self-pleasure and a copy of Glamour magazine. She falls and hurts herself because of the shock, causing George to swear off “that” while recounting the story to his friends. They doubt his staying power, which sparks a contest. But with Elaine’s John F. Kennedy Jr. flirtation, Jerry’s relationship with a virgin, Kramer’s view of a nudist neighbor, and George’s proximity to a sponge bath session, all seem doomed to indulge themselves.
Why It’s On This List: Imagine a TV landscape absent a whole dimension of adult relationships cut off from audiences that demand (to borrow a line from another Seinfeld episode) “this, that, and the other” when it comes to how intimacy is portrayed and discussed.
Seinfeld wasn’t the first show to use sex on television as a main theme, but it doubtlessly helped usher in a sea change (along with other early ‘90s entries like NYPD Blue and HBO’s oft-forgotten Dream On) that we’re still reaping the benefits of. “The Contest” is a big part of that, but that wasn’t the motivation or why the episode often sits atop lists like this. It’s a genuinely funny episode made great by Larry David and the cast’s wizardly ability to draw laughs from awkward moments, human weakness, failure, and the dumb stuff we talk about and do within the safe space of our awful and splendid social circles.
1. The Subway (Season 3, Episode 13)
The Story: Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer go off on four distinct side adventures through the New York subway system.
Why It’s On This List: The group dynamic is what drives most great comedies. You’ve got a set of well-established characters and they play off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Seinfeld, obviously, mastered this as well as any classic, but these characters were also strong enough on their own to carry a side quest without causing the audience to long for when everyone was safely nestled in their usual box. “The Subway” is the best example of that. The whole thing plays out like a series of short films. There’s no real purpose save for the laughs generated by relatable moments and the slow march toward disaster (George getting robbed and left chained to a hotel bed), frustration (Elaine getting stuck in a subway train), salvation (Kramer getting saved from a mugging), and absurdity (Jerry bonding with a subway nudist over the Mets and Coney Island).
You could legitimately pick any one of these episodes (any one of the show’s 25 or 30 best, really) to sit atop this list and I wouldn’t insult your intelligence or call you names. The show was that good and so clearly able to break comedic barriers and transcend the kinds of stories that everyone else on the block was trying to do. Absent sentimentality with a dedicated focus to being funny: that was the blueprint and so that’s what’s behind this choice. I like “The Subway” the most because it makes me laugh the hardest. Still.