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.