The final episode of what many consider the greatest sitcom of all time aired 15 years ago this week. The finale caused a lot of controversy, but I enjoyed it quite a bit, and still do. But it wasn’t anywhere close to the mass of episodes I considered for this list. So here are what I considered to be the shows 10 finest half-hours.
The first classic. Despite the absence of the show’s true star, Kramer, this can likely be attributed as the episode that started it on the path from sure-to-be-canceled cult show to comedy dynasty. It’s a perfect shaggy-dog story and perhaps the greatest “bottle episode” in the history of the medium.
One of the nuttier episodes the show ever produced, featuring Kramer dropping a Junior Mint into a patient on the operating table. Even funnier was Jerry forgetting his latest girlfriend’s name, only remembering her saying she used to be teased for having one that rhymed with a “part of the female anatomy.”
Just a heads-up that there will be a lot of episodes from season eight, my personal favorite. This incredibly detailed episode featured Elaine hanging out with three other guys, the complete opposites of Jerry, Kramer and George. Even if the “Kramer Goes to Work” storyline apes a similar bit from the great season five episode “The Barber,” it adds the hilarity of Jerry acting like a put-out housewife when Kramer works late. “It’s ruined, just like this chicken, which by the way, was for two.”
Shows like Modern Family always try to give each character something to do, with lots of better stories getting shortchanged. That rarely seemed to happen on Seinfeld, perhaps because it was always about “nothing.” Here, all four cast members get involved in what Jerry calls a “day-labor fantasy camp.” Jerry becomes a maid, voraciously cleaning his apartment after his girlfriend knocks something into the toilet. Elaine becomes a janitor for the Chinese food delivery. Kramer adopts a stretch of highway, and George starts working construction to recover his lost Phil Rizzuto keychain. It’s a hilarious episode that converges by Newman screaming, “Oh, the humanity!”
In addition to introducing “shrinkage” into the national lexicon—after Jerry’s girlfriend catches a glimpse of naked George after swimming—the show also showed it was OK to acknowledge that a baby is ugly and not all infants are adorable miracles.
Seinfeld also boldly declared it was OK to hate Best Picture winner The English Patient. As high-minded as the show could be, it usually reserved its harshest jokes for sycophants and know-it-alls. Elaine’s Sigh Heard ’round the World was the show’s high point, but you can’t forget Kramer having Jerry pick up some Cubans while he’s in Florida, only to return with illegal immigrants. Now chant with me, “Mandelbaum! Mandelbaum! Mandelbaum!”
Despite being loud, doltish, rude, overweight and exceptionally lazy, sometimes I want George to succeed. And succeed he does in this episode, but only by doing exactly the opposite of his normal routine. He gets the girl and the promotion while Elaine loses her job and her apartment. That makes Jerry “Even Steven” while Kramer promotes his literal coffee table book on Regis and Kathie Lee.
The best-known of all the episodes, the show dared to ask the question, “Are you master of your domain?” The sheer boldness of it all won the show an Emmy and made the show a full-fledged comedy phenomenon, but the episode endures because it’s the show that requires the most breaks to catch your breath. Its laughs are that deep and frequent.
A real contender for the top spot, this season three highlight features what might be the greatest guest star the show ever had. As Jerry and Mets star Keith Hernandez become friends, he fears losing him to Elaine in a hilarious role-reversal. The second episode features the brilliant JFK parody where Jerry utters the classiest bodily fluid joke ever, “That is one magic loogie.”
To me, there’s simply no funnier episode of the show. There’s one joke after another, but all of them land. It all starts with Elaine’s famously terrible dancing. Then George tries to impress Elaine’s secretary by playing “the bad boy,” complete with 1967 GTO and orthopedic back pillow. Jerry becomes the greatest bootleg filmmaker in the world. Kramer just has to stay out of trouble with his undesirable friend. Spike Feresten, a former Letterman writer, wrote several episodes of the last three seasons. Here, he has his finest hour. And so does Seinfeld. Even the outtakes on this show are better than most shows can ever hope for.