12 Most Hilarious Seinfeld Episodes
With a series as brilliant as Seinfeld, it’s hard to isolate the 12 funniest episodes, but I’m giving it a shot. My list is based on overall episode quality — the main plot and subplots all have to be solid.
Episodes I like that didn’t make the list include The Dinner Party, The Soup Nazi, The Gum and The Calzone. Oh well; you have to draw the line somewhere — and around here it’s at twelve.
Here is my list of the 12 funniest Seinfeld episodes, in chronological order. If you are new to Seinfeld, proceed with caution — this write-up contains spoilers.
1. The Chinese Restaurant
The first entry violates my own standard because here there are no subplots. But it’s this kind of novelty that makes The Chinese Restaurant stand out. The real-time structure, nebulous plot, and moments of agonizing realism (e.g., Elaine’s feeble attempt to tip the maître d’) make it the quintessential show about nothing.
2. The Pilot, Part 1
God’s refusal to let George be successful takes the shape of a white discoloration. A knockout Mariska Hargitay reads for “Elaine.” Jeremy Piven does a “George” to rival Jason Alexander’s. A mysterious disappearance of raisins. Kramer with constipation. This episode has it all, baby — and creative show-within-a-show plotting, to boot.
3. The Puffy Shirt
Conceptually, we have the low talker and possibly the most ridiculous costuming in the history of television. Memorable lines? There are tons, starting with, “But, I don’t want to be a pirate!” George’s hand modeling subplot is just as funny as the main story, which is really saying something: only a puffy shirt can top George making an exit wearing oven mitts. Plus, there’s an elegant wrap with the homeless decked out in the shirts. A perfect “10” — or should I say, “12?”
4. The Sniffing Accountant
From shirts to sweaters, and if you don’t mind the pun, masterful weaving of the sweater into the storyline. Kramer’s scene in the bar features some of Seinfeld’s best physical comedy, the punctuation mark subplot is one of Elaine’s finest hours, and George’s blown job interview takes “touching the material” to its most comically painful conclusion. And how do you top a closing line like, “Half silk, half cotton, half linen?”
5. The Marine Biologist
Both plots, the marine biologist and Yuri Testikov, are solid, but the standout features of this episode? George’s line, “You know I always wanted to pretend I was an architect,” and the ending, which has two or three brilliant comic twists. I don’t know how Jason Alexander got through his closing narrative of the beached whale without cracking himself up.
6. The Opposite
Conceptually, The Opposite is philosophical as well as comical — call it philocomical. George’s rise, Elaine’s fall and Jerry’s breaking even combine for a deep commentary on free will. Plus, we learn never to stop for Jujyfruits, how to get a job with the New York Yankees and how not to behave on the Regis and Kathie Lee show. The Opposite is riddled with great lines but my favorite moment might simply be Jerry’s reaction when Elaine throws his $20 out the window.
7. The Wink
“Pulp can move, baby!” Who would imagine a few inadvertent winks causing so much insanity? The subplot with Jerry trying to dodge mutton includes some prime lines — all you’ll want to do after watching The Wink is chow down on a full bird stuffed with ham, topped with gorgonzola. Kramer’s poster cat-and-mouse game with little Bobby wraps up beautifully with, “By the way, tomorrow night Paul O’Neill has to catch a fly ball in his hat.” This episode literally hits home runs.
8. The Soul Mate
Any episode featuring Newman as Cyrano de Bergerac belongs on your best-of list. If you like Newman, you love “Jerry wouldn’t know delicate beauty if it bludgeoned him over the head,” and one of my all-time favorites, “You really think you can manipulate that beautiful young women like the half-soused rabble that lap up your inane ‘observations’?” And George’s shoebox mockup of the briefcase mystery absolutely rocks, especially when Jerry tells him he’s the M&M man. Visual humor at its best.
9. The Bizarro Jerry
Arguably the best Seinfeld episode of all. Conceptually, how do you top a world of anti-Seinfelds? And on top of the Bizarro story, we have Kramer experiencing an entire business career in three days at Brand Leland, along with “Man Hands,” a woman Jerry describes as “a creature out of Greek mythology.” Virtually every detail of Bizarro is inspired, from the Dennis Franz poster in George’s bathroom to Kramer’s “I don’t even work here” exchange with Leland; from Elaine saying, “We already have a George,” to Jerry asking if the DJ booth is behind the bone saw. Top of the line comedy.
10. The Chicken Roaster
Kramer and Jerry exchange apartments and personalities, making for great comedy, to say nothing of some of the series’ best acting. It’s hard to top Kramer mistaking tomato juice for milk, George waltzing into Monk’s with a gargantuan Russian hat (why didn’t you get the big one?), Newman trying to force down broccoli, and Elaine reenacting Apocalypse Now with Peterman. It’s all humor and no horror in this episode!
11. The Abstinence
George becomes a genius by abstaining from sex; when Elaine does the same, she turns into an idiot — incredible conceptual humor, solid scripting and standout acting. Simple lines like, “What is Borax,” and “Of course. Absolute zero!” kill, as does Elaine imbecilic clapping in front of the spinning tire display. Kramer’s lifetime of smoking subplot — “Look away, I’m hideous” — stands out as one of his best. The Abstinence is also noteworthy for Jerry’s relatively minor involvement.
12. The Merv Griffin Show
With Kramer setting up the actual Merv Griffin set in his apartment and taking on the personality of a talk show host, you have the perfect recipe for comedy and the writers cook up a script that lives up to the potential. The subplots with the Celia’s toy collection, Elaine’s sidler and George’s squirrel are especially strong, and skillfully interwoven. All in all, this episode is a showcase example of how Seinfeld turns an absurd concept into something believable… well, almost believable.
So there you have it — the 12 most hilarious Seinfeld episodes, start to finish. What do you think? With 180 total episodes, there is a lot to choose from. What episodes would be on your list? Which of mine would you knock off?
Featured image courtesy of vladeb via Creative Commons.