It’s finally happening. Netflix spent a whopping, even sponge-worthy $500 million for the rights to stream Seinfeld, and all 180 featuring Jerry and the gang (Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards) will debut on October 1, 2021. But what are the episodes you should actually watch? What are the best Seinfeld episodes? Which are the most essential, and series-defining moments?
Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld’s show about nothing debuted inauspiciously in July 1989 with a single episode that hardly anyone watched; actually, 15 million people tuned in, a massive number by today’s standards, but paltry at the time. NBC didn’t elect to go to series with the show. An NBC exec supported a pickup, and NBC ordered a four-episode first season.
Though we’re used to limited-run seasons now (Loki) It’s hard to imagine such a short TV season back in the day, but by 1991, Seinfeld became must-see TV, with fans dissecting every episode, every joke. And that continued for years, with Seinfeld ultimately running for nine seasons before calling it quits in 1998. To mark Seinfeld’s imminent arrival on Netflix, Fatherly is here with our thoughts on the 13 essential episodes of Seinfeld. Please note, we’re including both some of the best episodes, but also a few essential ones, too. That’s why the pilot and the finale, the former of which is fine and the latter of which is meh, are on the list. They’re not all the best, but those ones you must see. Giddy-up!
For our money, this is the single funniest of all Seinfeld episodes. It starts simply with Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer at the diner. Jerry asks George, “What’s wrong?” George, as only George can, explains, “My mother caught me.” Yes, caught him doing THAT. No one was supposed to be home. She had a Glamour magazine sitting around and, well, you know the rest. The rest of the episode follows our favorite quartet as they bet on themselves not doing THAT.
Yada, Yada: Estelle Harris makes her first appearance as George’s mom, Estelle. The iconic line, “Master of my domain” originated in this episode. Series creator Larry David won an Emmy for writing “The Contest.” Also in the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode “Shaq,” Shaquille O’Neal plays a fictionalized version of himself who is obsessed with this episode.
“The Soup Nazi”
The proprietor of the hot new soup kitchen is so prickly that customers refer to him as The Soup Nazi. Anyone who doesn’t simply order their soup and properly pay is admonished, refused soup or banished. Elaine refuses to play by the rules, infuriating the Soup Nazi, and George almost makes it through, at least until a lack of bread proves to be his undoing. Amusing B-stories include Elaine’s pursuit of an armoire and Jerry and George’s interactions with their respective girlfriends, all of which eventually intersects with the Soup Nazi storyline.
Yada, Yada: Jerry and Newman actually get along for a few seconds, which is the Seinfeld equivalent of the Eagles reuniting or the brothers from Oasis not yelling at each other. “No soup for you!” is the episode’s classic line.
“The Chinese Restaurant”
Jerry, George, and Elaine head out to a Chinese restaurant without a reservation. There, they wait and wait and wait. After all, it’ll just be 5 or 10 minutes, right? That’s the whole premise.
Yada, Yada: The episode is a rarity in that it unfolds on a single set and in real-time. Kramer doesn’t appear because, at the time, he supposedly never left his apartment. Hear a familiar voice? That’s Larry David sputtering, “Someone tell me what she said! What did she say?”
George decides to do everything he wouldn’t normally do, and his luck changes for the better. He gets the girl, lands a job (with the Yankees), and moves away from his mother and father. Meanwhile, everything seems to go wrong for Elaine. There’s almost a Twilight Zone vibe to this one that’s very funny.
Yada, Yada: The voice of George Steinbrenner is provided by… Larry David!
“The Seinfeld Chronicles”
This is the pilot for Seinfeld, and it’s… OK. Jerry hangs out with his best friend, George, and tries to make sense of the signals he’s being sent by a woman he’s just met. There are teases of things to come, including a meal at a diner (though it’s a different one), the great comedic chemistry between Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander, and the way Seinfeld plays Jerry; which is to say that Seinfeld doesn’t seem to be acting, but rather riffing as a slightly fictional version of himself. And there’s no Elaine yet.
Yadda, Yada: Kramer is called Kessler. Jerry’s apartment will undergo an overhaul when the show goes to series. This episode debuted in July 1989… the only episode of the show to air in the 1980s. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was subsequently added to the cast as Elaine Benes, and the rest is history.
“The Junior Mint”
Elaine’s ex-boyfriend Roy has lost a lot of weight… because he’s sad she dumped him. That news makes her take him back. He then needs surgery, which, through circumstances, Jerry and Kramer get to watch. Kramer is chowing down on Junior Mints, and Jerry repeatedly turns down Kramer’s efforts to share them… resulting in one flying into the air and landing in Roy on the operating table. Later, Jerry can’t remember his very attractive girlfriend’s name, and she storms off after hinting that it rhymes with a female body part.
Yada, Yada: The girlfriend’s name is Delores, which rhymes with… well, you can figure that out. The Junior Mint flying into the air – in slow motion — remains one of Seinfeld’s best visual jokes. Horror movie fans will remember that Sherman Howard, who played Roy, co-starred as Bub in Day of the Dead.
“The Boyfriend, Part 1”
It doesn’t really matter what this episode is about, and not just because Seinfeld is a show about nothing. It’s because this episode (which is an hour-long show broken into two parts) boils down to the legendary scene in which Jerry, golf club in hand, refutes Kramer and Newman’s inane story involving Keith Hernandez of the New York Mets supposedly spitting at Kramer, with the spit striking Kramer’s right temple, then hitting Newman on the right rib and wrist before pausing in mid-air and landing on his left thigh. “That,” Seinfeld declares, “is one magic loogie.”
Yada, Yada: Keith Hernandez kills it as himself. But it all comes back to that spitting reenactment, which is a spoof of both the grainy Zapruder film that captured President Kennedy’s assassination and a key courtroom scene in Oliver Stone’s movie, JFK, in which Kevin Costner dissects the magic bullet theory. And who is part of the demonstration? Wayne Knight, who played Newman on Seinfeld.
“The Bizarro Jerry”
Seinfeld’s real-life affection comes into play here, with this episode following the Bizarro saga as seen in DC Comics’ Superman stories devoted to a character who was the exact opposite of Superman. Here, Elaine breaks up with her boyfriend, Kevin (Tim DeKay), only to realize that he’s now a better friend to her than Jerry and is, in fact, the opposite of Jerry. Jerry wastes no time in dubbing Kevin… “Bizarro Jerry.” Oh, and Kevin even has a Jerry-esque posse of friends that resemble alternate universe versions of George, Kramer, and Newman, which is to say they’re likable. In an amusing B-story, Jerry can’t handle the fact that his girlfriend has “man hands.”
Yada, Yada: Kristin Bauer (now Kristin Bauer van Straten) had perfectly nice hands, so a male member of the Seinfeld crew served as a hand double. And we’ll likely never know if this had anything to do with Bauer’s casting, but she appeared in a 1994 episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Later, in the 2000s, she provided the voice of the superhero Mera in a few episodes of the animated series, Justice League.
“The Fusilli Jerry”
Elaine begins her relationship with Puddy, who happens to be Jerry’s mechanic and might borrowing Jerry’s sex moves. This is one of those classic looping episodes of Seinfeld, in which every story thread ping-pongs off each other to hilarious effect. George tries Jerry’s moves; they don’t work. Kramer drives George’s mom Estelle and touches her after stopping short, and Frank becomes livid because… that’s his move. And so on. Let’s also not forget the ASSMAN license plate or the pasta statue Kramer has made of Jerry… thus “The Fusilli Jerry.”
Yada, Yada: Patrick Warburton makes his debut as Puddy and emerged as one of Seinfeld’s most popular recurring guest stars. More recently, Warburton played fictional author Lemony Snicket in the excellent Netflix take on A Series of Unfortunate Events. And, take note Star Trek and Star Wars fans: Jeff Coopwood, who plays the security guard in “The Fusilli Jerry,” provided Borg voices in Star Trek: First Contact (including the ominous line, “Resistance is futile”), and did the speaking for Captain Panaka in several Star Wars video games.
“The Puffy Shirt”
Kramer is dating Leslie (Wendel Meldrum), a fashion designer and “low-talker” who speaks in a barely audible whisper. Jerry, set to appear on The Today Show to promote a charity event, mistakenly agrees to wear one of Leslie’s creations during his segment. And it’s a very loud, very puffy shirt. Bryant Gumbel mocks Jerry for it, and the fallout affects Kramer’s romance, George’s burgeoning career as a hand model, and Jerry’s latest stint at a comedy club.
Yada, Yada: The late, great Jerry Stiller makes his debut as George’s father, Frank. The actual puffy shirt spent years on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. And yes, I’m going here: Deborah May, who played Elsa, the hand model agent, guest-starred in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, “Sanctuary,” an episode in which I appeared as an extra and even took a photo with her on set.
“The Yada Yada”
Although the phrase “yadda yadda yadda,” had been out there in the culture for a long time, Seinfeld immortalized it with this episode. While Kramer and Mickey’s double-date is pretty hilarious, the true takeaway of this episode is the fact that thanks to all the “yada yada yada” important details are left out, leaving everyone befuddled. Some of the best Seinfeld episodes rely on the classic comedy convention of miscommunication, but this one took it to a whole new level.
Yada, Yada: We had to put this one on the list, for reasons that should be obvious by now.
The season-eight premiere finds George dealing with the aftermath of his fianceé Susan’s death. It turns out he would have been a rich man, but now everything’s being auctioned off to benefit a foundation in her honor. Meanwhile, Kramer teaches at a karate academy, Jerry reconnects with “Mulva” and Elaine disastrously takes over for J. Peterman (John O’Hurley). The best bit occurs when a portrait of a smiling Susan is seen again at the episode’s conclusion, and suddenly she’s smirking at George.
Yada, Yada: Someone at Seinfeld was clearly a Star Trek fan. There are several Trek references, including a riff on the Wrath of Khan line, “He’s really not dead… as long as we remember him,” which becomes, “She’s not really dead if we find a way to remember her.” At another point, Kramer mentions Susan’s Katra; which refers to the concept of a Vulcan’s soul. And then there’s George screaming, “Khaaaaaaaan!” upon learning about the foundation, with the camera capturing the moment from above, also a la Wrath of Khan.
Ah, yes, the finale. People either love or hate this supersized episode that brought Seinfeld to a close after 9 seasons and 180 episodes. We hated it. Basically, Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer are put on trial for their crimes against humanity just after Jerry and George get word that NBC is picking up their pilot for a show about nothing. Practically every major guest character returns to deliver testimony for or against them. It’s not very funny, though to be fair, there’s irony in the final frames.
Yada, Yada: Larry David had left after season 7, but returned to help Seinfeld close out the show. Sadly, the episode is mostly laugh-free and endless, running 75 minutes. For repeats, it was whittled down to two half-hour episodes, meaning numerous scenes got cut out. It was an odd way for a fantastic, game-changing show to go out. And yet, you must watch it. Otherwise, you won’t really get why the showing about nothing…really was about nothing.
Seinfeld premieres on October 1 on Netflix.