Here is my Top 20 greatest Seinfeld episodes in descending order. You will not find any episodes that feature George’s parents because their presence in the series was far more annoying than their presumed added value to the show. Only a few episodes on the list include appearances by Jerry’s parents. As much as humanly possible, episodes that dealt with the Jerry and George getting the job writing the pilot for NBC have also been avoided.
As much as possible, the episodes included in the list have parts by established actors such as Lloyd Bridges, Teri Hatcher, Maggie Wheeler, Philip Baker Hall, and plenty of others:
20. The Calzone
This is an episode that is both a man’s fantasy and aggravation. Jerry is dating Nikki, a very beautiful woman who manages to always get her way — and what she wants. Whether it is movie tickets to an apparently sold out movie or talking her way out of a speeding ticket for Jerry, her looks and charm always gets her what she wants. George thinks the existence of these women is completely unfair but Jerry has no problem taking advantage of the situation. The calzone comes in to play when George discovers Mr. Steinbrenner loves a particular type of calzone and tells George to make sure he gets one for lunch every day. Yes, this subplot dropped the ranking of this episode considerably.
19. The Understudy
With guest star Bette Midler, this episode gives a lot of script time to Midler, who plays in a softball game with Jerry and George on the opposing team. Kramer, a huge fan of Midler, takes care of her while she is in the hospital after George collides with her at home plate. Her understudy, the woman Jerry is currently dating, is one of those people who cries at the drop of a hat. Elaine is suspicious of the Korean manicurists she goes to, as they are speaking Korean and believes they are talking about her. She enlists the help of George’s father, who used to do business in Korea, to help solve the mystery.
18. The Burning
The burning refers to Puddy, Elaine’s regular boyfriend, being a believer in God and telling Elaine she is going to Hell. She finds a Jesus fish on the back of his car and his radio presets set to Christian rock music. Meanwhile, George has learned to leave business meetings on a high note before he can be undercut by his boss. Kramer and Mickey get jobs at a hospital acting out diseases for medical students. Kramer has to come up with something for gonorrhea. Jerry tries to decipher his girlfriend’s tractor story accident. This makes the list as it is one of the lighter treatments of religion without being insulting.
17. The Implant
This is one of the most famous Seinfeld episodes for the ending, when Sidra (Teri Hatcher) breaks up with Jerry and her parting words are “they’re real and they’re spectacular.” Sidra will return in the final episode of the show, and Jerry will once again hear those same words while he awaits sentencing. Jerry meets Sidra at the gym, and Elaine says her breasts are fake. Jerry doesn’t know if he should believe Elaine, so puts off dating Sidra. Later, he finds out they are real and finally gets around to dating her. This episode took a serious hit in the rankings because of the setup of the ending. Larry David could have done better. Like the higher ranked Soup Nazi, we would have liked to seen at least one more episode with Sidra.
16. The Fix Up
George has given up on dating and Elaine has a friend (Maggie Wheeler) who also has little hope of finding a good man to marry. Jerry and Elaine banter the idea of fixing the two of them up and finally decide to see what might happen. What is seen is the laundry list of qualifications George has before agreeing to date someone. But given the many types of women he has dated in the past, why would he be particular now? But this is George, and the fix up works out incredibly well. The subplot is about friends, keeping secrets, and the problems associated with trying to be a matchmaker.
15. The Deal
Some people say Seinfeld invented “friends with benefits” in this episode. Others say people were hoping that Jerry and Elaine would get back together, and this episode opens that possibility to the show. It is a lot of both, and the goal is to create a set of rules that allows them to have their cake and eat it too. George is stunned by the rules, which are basic to many real dating situations, but in the end the rules collapse because what women want is different than what men want. Kramer is seen long enough to say he liked it better when they were just friends.
14. The Pez Dispenser
Seinfeld showed many different types of comedy, but this episode earns a ranking because it is what I call silent humor. Who would have thought that a silly Pez dispenser of Tweety Bird (yes, that was the head of the dispenser) could be the entire basis for a show? Jerry puts the dispenser on Elaine’s purse during a piano recital with George’s new girlfriend. She leaves because she can’t stop laughing, and George’s girlfriend is traumatized by the incident. He thinks she is going to break up with him, so Kramer suggests a pre-emptive breakup. In the end George’s girlfriend finds out the whole story and ends up breaking up with him anyway. The closing scene has George doing a crossword puzzle looking for a 3 letter word for candy.
13. The Puffy Shirt
This is an episode people believe should be rated higher, but it has not stood the test of time as well as the episodes ahead of it. Kramer’s girlfriend, the low talker, sets the stage for Jerry appearing on national TV to promote the needs of the homeless in a puffy shirt. The shirt became so famous it was given to the Smithsonian Institute as a historical record — in real life. And yes, you can find the puffy shirt as a real shirt. Just search for Puffy Shirt” and you can have your own for about $60. (This is an episode where George’s parents get more screen time than necessary.)
12. The Stand In
There are two huge reasons this episode stands out. The first is that it is more commonly referred to as the episode where “He took it out.” Second, only two words need to be said about the episode: watch Elaine. It is hard to find an episode that tops the acting of Julia Louis-Dreyfus when describing her date with someone Jerry set her up with. The writing for the scene is just as amazing, and parents can be creative when their children ask them what the “it” is that is being talked about. It is one of three episodes where Kramer and his midget friend Mickey pursue their respective acting careers.
11. The Mango
In an interview after the end of the series, Julia Louis-Dreyfus said that she couldn’t believe this episode that talked about female orgasms actually made it on the air. Actually, the opening scene has Jerry and George talking about oral sex, but when Elaine appears on the scene the subject switches to, “Fake, fake, fake, fake.” Both George and Jerry are unsettled for different reasons, but leave it to Kramer to offer his help to Jerry. The anti-climactic ending has both of them unsatisfied, but hopeful with a change in their diets.
10. The Yada Yada
The actual meaning of the word Yada in Hebrew is similar to the English “I know.” In this episode, it translates into “you know, you know” leaving you to fill in the blanks of the story. George’s new girlfriend uses “yada” as much as most people use the word “so” to leave out parts of a conversation and get to the good stuff. But she uses it to hide the details of what really is going on in her life, including the fact that she steals jewelry from a store. Everyone has a “yada” experience to share, which works to relate its viewers with this episode.
9. The Lip Reader
Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin is the guest star as a deaf woman who is dating Jerry and can read lips. You put yourself in Jerry’s position and wonder what it would be like to know what everyone is saying (about you) without them knowing about it. Naturally, Kramer claims to know sign language and tells Jerry she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. The possibilities are endless, and George takes advantage of the opportunity to spy on a girlfriend. There is a loss in translation between Jerry’s girlfriend and George, resulting in another lost girlfriend.
8. The English Patient
This is the greatest one-two punch storylines in the history of Seinfeld. Jerry goes down to visit his parents when he meets up with Izzy Mendelbaum, while Elaine has to deal with everyone’s enthusiasm over the movie The English Patient. Jerry agrees to receive some Cubans Kramer has arranged to be delivered to his parent’s Florida retirement home, and Elaine is more interested in seeing Sack Lunch with her new boyfriend. Jerry ends up putting three generations of Mendelbaum’s in the hospital, and Elaine avoids getting fired because she told J. Peterman that she despises the English Patient movie.
7. The Pick
Either the episode title missed the mark or it is a pun for what is the funniest part of the episode. Jerry dates a supermodel who unexpectedly sees him picking his nose in his car. But the “pic” is the memorable part of this episode. When Kramer takes a Christmas card picture of Elaine, it is discovered one of her nipples is showing after she sends the cards out. It has you wondering, just what is the big deal about a woman’s nipple that is different than a man’s. She is mercilessly picked on by her co-workers, giving her the nickname “Nip.” George is not forgotten, as he takes the recommendation of Elaine to go to a highly regarded relationship therapist to resolve some of his problems with Susan.
6. The Soup Nazi
While many fans rate this at the top of their favorites, the problem with the episode is the entire build up gets destroyed because Elaine is bent on revenge. Be honest. Who would not have wanted several more episodes of the Soup Nazi? Even Newman gets involved, and the entire show centers around the small soup kitchen. The character of the Soup Nazi will likely be remembered as long as Seinfeld reruns can be seen. The reason for Elaine’s revenge motive is she opted not to follow the strict rules, so he told her “No soup for you! One year!” Unknowingly, the Soup Nazi gives an old armoire he has to her via Kramer, and she finds all his soup recipes in a drawer.
5. The Merv Griffin Show
Michael Richard’s strength in Seinfeld was his physical comedy. Whether entering Jerry’s apartment or falling to the floor, it was a show in itself. In this episode, Kramer’s reset of old Merv Griffin show stage props in his apartment allows Richards to explore another side of his comedic talent as a bumbling talk show host. Larry David adds a couple of other retro themes – childhood toy memories and a box of Tic Tacs — to round out the episode. Jerry’s girlfriend has been left a super collection of 1970’s toys that he was deprived of as a child. He manages to get her to sleep using less than polite methods, and soon George and Elaine join him at the apartment to play with an Easy Bake Oven and the original G.I. Joe. Kramer sets a trap using the Merv Griffin set, inviting Jerry’s girlfriend and zoologist Jim Fowler as surprise guests.
4. The Library
More commonly known as The Library Cop episode, Jerry is accused of having an overdue library book that goes back 20 years. He encounters Mr. Bookman, who is assigned to investigate the book case. In a flashback to the stereotypes of the 1960’s, Larry David manages to create a dialogue perfectly fit for Philip Baker Hall, also known to Curb Your Enthusiasm watchers. The Jack Webb approach to interrogation in Jerry’s apartment is one of the best in the history of Seinfeld. George cannot escape his high school past, as the person he sees homeless by the library is his high school gym teacher. Giving George the nickname of “can’t-stanz-ya” coupled with atomic wedgies, George is surprised how far he has fallen.
3. The Old Man
While Jerry’s old man is commendable and is the glue of the episode, it’s George’s assignment that brings the best comedy to this episode. Who gets fired from a volunteer job? George. Who can take a simple conversation and ratchet it up to a hysterical crisis? George. When someone gets up and walks away saying, “Life’s too short to waste on you” you know you have given a new meaning to “over the top.” Kramer thinks the whole helping-other-people idea is a cover for a scam. Elaine’s draw to help an elderly person is a woman who has a goiter on the side of her neck the size of a football.
2. The Cigar Store Indian
In an age of political correctness, this episode connects with all of us. Who hasn’t been put in a position where we unconsciously get put in an awkward position after saying the wrong thing? Jerry, after offending one of Elaine’s Native American friends, now has to watch his choice of words, most of which are completely innocent and common English idioms. Larry David gets credit for tackling the issue of racism without offending anybody. George takes a stained coffee table to a furniture store to be refinished and meets a woman, who he takes back to his parent’s house while they are away on vacation. When his parents return they find a condom on their bed and hit the ceiling. (This eked into the number two spot as the appearance of George’s parents was scant.)
1. The Opposite
This earns the number one spot because about half way through the life of the series, George’s life take a turn for the better and opens up a whole new side of his character. Kramer will always be Kramer, Jerry is the stabilizing force of the group, and Elaine will never get married because, as Kramer said, she is a man’s woman. By the end of this episode George gets a dream job and over the next few seasons will work himself into writing the NBC show with Jerry. Though not one of the episodes based on the pilot writing theme made the list, the lead in kept the Seinfeld engine chugging along.
Honorable mention to “The Contest” and the “Threesome”