Presented with the caveat that cherry-picking any show as great as “Seinfeld” is an exercise in…fusilli-ty.
From lively meals shared at Monk’s to zany solo adventures, the four starring characters of “Seinfeld” remain some of TV’s most lovably awful to date.
Created by Larry David and star Jerry Seinfeld, the gang’s all-time excellent sitcom — that’s not just a staple of ‘90s network offerings but of history-making entertainment writ large — first aired on July 5, 1989, under the title “The Seinfeld Chronicles.” The pilot episode introduced the semi-autobiographical story of a stand-up comic living, loving, and languishing alongside his closest friends in New York City, and would re-air a year later when the first season kicked off in earnest under the simple moniker: “Seinfeld.”
Although the series was poorly received by test audiences (so poorly received, in fact, that the series nearly didn’t get made), critics and fans quickly latched onto the brilliance bubbling beneath its simple conceit. With an earworm bass line and a revolving door of hilarious running gags, “Seinfeld” boasted a distinct feel from the start. That self-assuredness would make the series one of NBC’s most successful.
Seinfeld would play a fictional version of himself across nine stellar seasons, with “Seinfeld” racking up 10 Emmys (and an additional 68 nominations) during its 180-episode run. The comedian starred opposite Jason Alexander as George Constanza, a cranky sports fan with terminally bad luck; Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes, a loud and opinionated editor who used to date Jerry; and Michael Richards as Cosmo Kramer, Jerry’s larger-than-life neighbor and an iconic renaissance man of the small screen.
The best “Seinfeld” episodes intertwine the storylines of all four characters, letting Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer’s distinct personalities drive the action to hilarious effect. Even in episodes that focus more heavily on one or two of the legendary TV friends, the group’s overarching philosophy — an extension of David and Seinfeld’s combined wisdom and wit — helps specific episodes stand out.
With the caveat that cherry-picking any series as fantastic as “Seinfeld” is an exercise in futility (or should we say, fusilli-ty?): Here are the 30 best “Seinfeld” episodes, from “The Switch” and “The Stall” to “The Merv Griffin Show” and “The Contest.”
Editor’s note: The following was original publishing on August 9, 2022 and has been updated multiple times since.
30. “The Subway” (Season 3, Episode 13)
The New York City subway system kicks off four ridiculous solo adventures in this Season 3 standout. Kramer gets a tip on a horse race and bets big. Jerry meets a nudist on his way to Coney Isalnd. George falls for an alluring mystery woman, and follow her to a hotel. And Elaine gets delayed on her way to a wedding: “a lesbian wedding.” (That’s a recurring bit that, believe it or not, has only gotten funnier since the show aired).
29. “The Pilot” (Season 4, Episodes 23 and 24)
The meta-NBC plot of “Seinfeld” can feel stale in an age when streaming services and IP multiverses are taking over every corner of entertainment. But that’s really only in conceit. As executed, “The Pilot” ranks among Seinfeld’s most hilarious two-parters. George and Jerry finally bring their vision for “Jerry” — a “show about nothing” — to life, casting a method-acted Elaine (Elena Wohl), an even more unhinged Kramer (Larry Hankin), and an excruciatingly on-the-nose George (a spectacular pre-Entourage Jeremy Piven) opposite the real Jerry. The episode’s highlight, however, comes behind the scenes, when the president of NBC (Bob Balaban) literally falls head over heels for Elaine. Plus, Mariska Hargitay!
28. “The Summer of George” (Season 8, Episode 22)
George Costanza was social distancing before social distancing existed. When George gets laid off by the Yankees, he decides to take his three months of severance and hole up at home for a much needed Summer of George. With an Elaine-centric subplot playing out at The J. Peterman Company and a full-on trip to the Tony Awards for Kramer and Jerry, it’s a jam-packed episode featuring guest appearances from Molly Shannon, Amanda Peet, and even an enraged Raquel Welch as herself.
27. “The Cafe” (Season 3, Episode 7)
Jerry inadvertently destroys a Pakistani man’s livelihood in “The Cafe”: an all-timer of a Season 3 episode featuring the unforgettable Babu Bhatt (Brian Geroge) and his one-of-a-kind, cuisine-blending Dream Cafe. The restaurant also serves as the backdrop to a disastrous George and Elaine scheme involving George’s new love interest (Dawn Arnemann), a fortuitously placed first-story window, and a seriously deserved 85 on an IQ test.
26. “The Puffy Shirt” (Season 5, Episode 2)
Elaine’s supremely ’90s bowler hats and mini-skirt suits notwithstanding, there is no piece of “Seinfeld” clothing more iconic than Jerry’s titular puffy shirt. (Seriously, it’s in The Smithsonian.) When Kramer’s low-talking new girlfriend convinces an unwitting Jerry to wear a truly ludicrous shirt she designed for his appearance on “The Today Show,” Bryant Gumbel himself points out, “You look kind of like a pirate.” Simultaneously, George enjoys a fleeting career in the cutthroat (cutthumb?) world of hand-modeling.
25. “The Race” (Season 6, Episode 10)
Jerry’s dating life leads him to cross paths with an old high school rival (Don McManus) in the supremely memorable “The Race”: an iconic Season 6 outing that culminates in a competitive sprint down a Manhattan street. Also this episode: Elaine finds herself on the outs with her favorite Chinese restaurant while George’s co-workers suspect him of being a communist.
24. “The Deal” (Season 2, Episode 9)
For the rare “Seinfeld” fan who believes Elaine and Jerry belonged together — few and far between, though they may be! — “The Deal” is a cherished treasure. In the surprisingly sweet Season 2 episode, the friends re-explore their former fling and (spoiler alert) even decide to become a couple by the episode’s end. It’s a short-lived endeavor, unfortunately. The romance would be explained away in Season 3 with Jerry saying he and Elaine broke up offscreen.
23. “The Wife” (Season 5, Episode 17)
Six months before Courteney Cox would become Monica from “Friends,” she appeared on “Seinfeld” as one of Jerry’s most memorable flings. In “The Wife,” Jerry shares his 25% discount at the local dry cleaner’s with Cox’s Meryl before the faux intimacy proves too much for their budding romance. Across town, Elaine gets mixed signal from a guy at the gym where George lands in hot water for peeing in the shower.
22. “The Raincoats” (Season 5, Episodes 18 and 19)
“The Raincoats” saw Judge Reinhold earn an Emmy nominaton for his guest spot as Elaine’s boyfriend Aaron — best remembered as “the close talker” — as well as the returns of both Jerry’s and George’s parents. With too many stupidly funny moments to list (“Schindler’s List” make-out! The Executive!), the two-parter makes brilliant use of its stars and guests to create an episode that’s not just entertaining, but makes the generational “Seinfeld” universe feel more real.
21. “The Fire” (Season 5, Episode 20)
In this tightly crafted comedy of errors, one of Elaine’s Pendant Publishing colleagues (Veanne Cox) heckles Jerry: ruining his show and setting up a revenge arc that soon collides with George’s dating B plot. At a children’s birthday party, celebrating the son of a woman he’s dating, the disagreeable George gets into an argument with a clown before a fire erupts in the kitchen.
20. “The Boyfriend” (Season 3, Episodes 17 and 18)
George grapples with unemployment, Kramer and Newman settle an old score, and Elaine goes on a date with former New York Mets baseball player Keith Hernandez in the jam-packed two-parter. It’s best remembered for introducing “Seinfeld” fans to the fake company Vandelay Industries and parodying the JFK assassination with Jerry’s unforgettable “second spitter” theory.
19. “The Fusilli Jerry” (Season 6, Episode 21)
In this Season 6 episode, Elaine’s on-again-off-again boyfriend David Puddy joins the show and immediately starts comparing notes with Jerry about what their once-mutual love interest likes in bed. That clockably terrible idea spurs a conversation about Jerry’s infamous “move,” which George soon attempts himself. As for Kramer, he gets busy making a pasta sculpture of Jerry and later picking up the wrong license plate at the DMV. (Long live, the “ASSMAN.”)
18. “The Cadillac” (Season 7, Episodes 14 and 15)
In this hysterical two-parter, Jerry buys his parents a fancy new car — unwittingly setting them up to be impeached by their condo board. Meanwhile, George meets Marisa Tomei (playing herself!) and becomes determined to get her phone number. And, in a great bit of TV humor, Kramer goes to war with the cable company after they learn he’s been getting HBO and Showtime for free.
17. “The Bizarro Jerry” (Season 8, Episode 3)
Classic “Seinfeld” subplots get a cutting new edge in this Season 8 episode, so named for the Superman anti-hero Bizarro. With Kramer working at Brandt-Leland for no pay, Jerry once again finding a reason to dump a perfectly nice woman, and George wielding a picture of a beautiful model to get ahead in life, Elaine starts hanging out with a different group she says is the polar opposite of the “Seinfeld” gang.
16. “The Mango” (Season 5, Episode 1)
Jerry and Elaine’s romantic past spirals into a vexing new problem when Elaine unceremoniously reveals she faked all of her orgasms while dating Jerry. The embarrassed comedian spends the rest of the episode hounding his platonic friend to let him try again. Also this episode: Kramer insults a local fruit salesman.
15. “The Little Kicks” (Season 8, Episode 4)
Elaine’s dance moves embarras her at a work event in “The Little Kicks.” But when the unaware editor mistakes her plus-one, George, for having caused the problem, a hilarious misunderstanding with one of the J. Peterman employees brews. Also, Jerry tries his hand at filming bootleg movies thanks to an associate of Kramer’s.
14. “The Jacket” (Season 2, Episode 3)
Jerry meets his match in the ill-fated “The Jacket.” After splurging on a suede jacket (that just so happens to have a pink-striped lining), Jerry joins George on an awkward night-out with legendary writer/Elaine’s dad Alton Benes. Plus, Kramer grapples with public parking.
13. “The Big Salad” (Season 6, Episode 2)
George gets petty with a woman he’s dating after she takes credit for giving Elaine a salad he purchased. Also, this episode: Jerry dates one of Newman’s ex-girlfriends, Kramer gets in deep with a baseball pro/murderer, and Mr. Pitt’s very specific stationary needs put Elaine in an awkward position with a flirtatious store clerk.
12. “The Merv Griffin Show” (Season 9, Episode 6)
Antics abound in the decidedly goofy “The Merv Griffin Show.” Kramer discovers set pieces for the real talk show (which aired 4,855 episodes on NBC from 1965 to 1984) in a city dumpster, and subsequently decides to set up them up in his apartment. George dates an animal lover, while Jerry conspires to play with his girlfriend’s vintage toy collection.
11. “The Tape” (Season 3, Episode 8)
The gang gets hot and bothered in this hilarious Elaine-centric episode. When the solo woman of the group leaves a sexy recording for Jerry as a prank, George develops a vexing crush on his longtime friend. At the same time, Jerry and Kramer work to uncover the mystery woman’s real identity.
10. “The Junior Mint (Season 4, Episode 20)
A lot happens in “The Junior Mint”: George invests in some art, Elaine reconnects with an old flame, and Jerry forgets the name of a woman he’s dating. But the main event comes in a surgical operating theater, where Kramer drops a minty, chocolate-coated treat inside of a patient.
9. “The Strike” (Season 9, Episode 10)
It’s a Festivus for the rest of us in this all-time “Seinfeld” holiday episode. Kramer returns to work at H&H Bagels after a 12-year strike — only to immediately go on strike again, when his time-off request to celebrate a fake holiday George’s dad invented gets denied.
8. “The Switch” (Season 6, Episode 11)
Jerry flies too close to the Sun in “The Switch,” a calamitous dating scheme that sees the stand-up comedian attempt to trade one attractive roommate for the other. Simultaneously, Elaine tries to retrieve Mr. Pitt’s tennis racket when she lends it to someone without permission. Plus, the gang finally learns Kramer’s first name.
7. “The Stall” (Season 5, Episode 12)
This grab-bag episode boasts Kramer and George climbing a mountain, plus suspicions that Jerry’s new girlfriend works for a phone sex line. But “The Stall” gets its title and centerpiece plotline from an argument between Elaine and a woman she thinks is a stranger about toilet paper in a movie theater’s restroom.
6. “The Chinese Restaurant” (Season 2, Episode 11)
On their way to see a limited showing of “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” Jerry, George, and Elaine stop by a Chinese restaurant for dinner — without reservations. As showtime ticks closer, the three friends fight hunger, a host of self-made personal pickles, and a restaurant manager who repeatedly insists they’ll only need to wait “five, ten minutes.”
5. “The Marine Biologist” (Season 5, Episode 14)
Lies run rampant in the deeply funny “The Marine Biologist.” Elaine’s naivety, and an annoying electronic organizer, land her in hot water after she repeats one of Jerry’s fibs to a Russian author working with Pendant Publishing. Meanwhile, George pretends to be a marine biologist when he starts seeing an old crush from college.
4. “The Chicken Roaster” (Season 8, Episode 8)
Jerry and Kramer switch apartments, then personalities, when a chicken restaurant’s neon red sign starts shining into their building. Also, this episode: Elaine lies about an expensive personal purchase, then travels to Burma, when she’s audited at J. Peterman.
3. “The Parking Garage” (Season 3, Episode 6)
The gang carpools to the mall and parks in a sprawling multi-level deck. With an air conditioner, live goldfish, and full bladder in tow, Kramer, Elaine, Jerry, and George rush to find Kramer’s car before George misses his parents’ anniversary dinner.
2. “The Comeback” (Season 8, Episode 13)
George’s snide coworker kicks off the hysterical revenge arc of “The Comeback” with the unforgettable line: “Hey George, the ocean called: They’re running out of shrimp!” Armed with what he thinks is the perfect retort, George endeavors to create the conflict again.
1. “The Contest” (Season 4, Episode 10)
After George’s mother catches him masturbating, the embarrassed curmudgeon pledges to never self-pleasure again. Soon, the disbelieving Elaine, George, and Kramer join their friend in a winner-take-all chastity bet for $450.