“It’s a show about nothing,” is how George Costanza pitches a series to network TV executives in the season four episode The Pitch. And just like that, an episode that was supposed to mock Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld’s first meeting with NBC gave Seinfeld its identity. What was intended as a joke became a moniker and the creators could not have been more surprised.
Of course, “nothing” here doesn’t really reference the show’s content. On the contrary, Seinfeld’s writers have probably written about every awkward social encounter and relationship problem out there. “Nothing” here refers to what we can take away from the show. There are no lessons to be learnt about family values, relationships or self-growth from this sitcom. To quote Larry David, “There’s no hugging, no learning.” I mean, what can you expect from four selfish characters—Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), George Costanza (Jason Alexander) and Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards)—whose every action is rooted in self-interest?
Seinfeld paved the way for dark, edgy humour on television as opposed to the feel-good sitcoms that dominated the 1980s, and marked its place in television history. Over the course of nine seasons, Seinfeld received critical acclaim and commercial success, including 10 Primetime Emmy awards out of a whopping 68 nominations!
And starting 1 October, this iconic show will be available on Netflix. So we took upon the gargantuan task of narrowing down eight episodes (from 180!), for a quick refresher course for Seinfeld newbies, and for those fans who haven’t watched the series in a decade or two. Get ready for some non-stop laughs and some of the most absurd writing in television history!
1. The Chinese Restaurant (Season 2, Episode 11)
We might have got the “show about nothing” moniker in season four but this episode from the show’s second season is nothing short of groundbreaking. Other sitcoms might want to include multiple plotlines and a final resolution event for the ideal 22-minute episode but not Seinfeld.
This episode, inspired by David and Seinfeld’s own experience waiting for a table at Los Angeles restaurant Genghis Cohen, centres around the gang waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant in real-time. That’s it. No cuts, no change of venue, no other plotline. In the 22-minute episode, George is desperately trying to get in touch with his girlfriend via a payphone (remember when mobile phones weren’t as common as the cold) and Elaine is just… hungry. She’s so hungry in fact that she takes on a challenge to eat off of other people’s plates. To add to the drama, staff writer Larry Charles (director of Borat and The Dictator) added a ticking clock situation with Jerry fretting over whether or not they’ll make it out in time to catch a screening of Plan 9 from Outer Space.
Fun Fact: Larry David threatened to walk off the show when NBC executives weren’t convinced with the script for the episode, thinking that audiences would be uninterested.
2. The Limo (Season 3, Episode 19)
As we mentioned earlier, Seinfeld’s cast of New York misfits couldn’t care less about the problems others face because of their own selfish actions. But what is also characteristic in Seinfeld’s writing is the inevitable sequence of unintended consequences. And they don’t always (read never) work in favour of our protagonists.
A classic example of this comes in season three, when George pretends to be a certain Mr O’Brien so he and Jerry can steal a limo ride from the airport to make it to a Knicks game. As if that isn’t enough, they swing by to pick up Elaine and Kramer as well. Well, as it turns out, O’Brien is a notorious neo-Nazi and things go south for the gang when O’Brien’s comrades find out about their true identity. They double down on their bad luck by the end of the episode. Watch the episode to find out if they get out of the sticky situation!
3. The Bubble Boy (Season 4, Episode 7)
Every episode of Seinfeld is an experiment to see how low the characters can fall. And this episode from season four captures that journey like no other.
In this legendary episode, Jerry, Elaine, George, and his fiancé Susan are driving up to her parents cabin. But they need to make a quick stop to meet one of Jerry’s fans who lives in a plastic bubble for medical reasons. In a classic mixup, Jerry and Elaine are left behind and George arrives at Bubble Boy’s place with Susan. What follows is an intense game of trivial pursuit which showcases George’s absolutely apathetic personality, and a physical struggle which is proof that the show is willing to get really weird.
Stick around till the end of the episode for Kramer’s unforgettable goof-up which becomes a long-running gag for Susan’s storyline.
4. The Soup Nazi (Season 7, Episode 6)
A key part of being a Seinfeld fan is how the show’s vocabulary slowly creeps into our daily lives. The fans can talk for hours in references and one-liners from the show, creating their own Sein-language if you will. And one phrase that will grab any Seinfeld veteran’s attention is, “No soup for you!”
In this episode from season seven, we get to see the show’s most memorable and bizarre side character who runs a soup kitchen, inspired by the New York food company Soupman that the writers used to frequent. Jerry, Elaine and George try to stick by his extremely strict ordering rules—which is where he gets his name from—to get a taste of his comforting soup. Kramer as usual does things differently. Watch the entire episode to find out how he gets his fix!
5. The Marine Biologist (Season 5, Episode 14)
Over the course of the series, George Costanza has told a lot of lies to his friends, family and prospective girlfriends just to keep his massive ego intact. He also loves to come up with make-believe jobs for himself. Who can forget Art Vandelay, the architect of Vandelay Industries? But one lie trumps them all and that is him pretending to be a marine biologist to impress a former classmate-turned-love-interest.
His lie comes back to haunt him at the end of the episode in the most Seinfeld way imaginable. Let’s just say the writers of the show know exactly how to tie plotlines together to make it all come full circle.
6. The Contest (Season 4, Episode 11)
Easily the most memorable episode from the show’s entire run, this Emmy Award-winning script penned by co-creator Larry David—or the real-life George Costanza—revolves around, believe it or not, masturbation. And surprisingly the word is not uttered even once in the entire episode.
It all begins when George is caught “treating his body like it were an amusement park” by his mother. Jerry, Elaine, Kramer and George end up making a bet to see who can “control their urges” the longest to be declared a “master of their domain.” But things aren’t as easy with Elaine dating a Kennedy, George coming across a beautiful nurse bathing a beautiful patient next to his mother’s hospital bed, Jerry dating a virgin and Kramer… well, Kramer just checking out a woman in the next building.
Check out the entire episode to find out who wins!
7. The Bottle Deposit (Season 7, Episode 20)
Television has a tradition of comedy duos that up the laugh quotient on any show. Friends had Joey and Chandler, It’s Always Sunny has Charlie and Frank and Brooklyn Nine-Nine had Jake and Boyle. They are all great in their own right but the best television duo in my humble opinion is that of Kramer and Newman. Portrayed effortlessly by Wayne Knight, Newman—Jerry’s mailman and arch-nemesis—has a love-hate relationship with Kramer which makes a great subplot for so many episodes.
In this two-part episode from season seven, we see some prime Kramer-Newman scheming when they find out Michigan offers 10 cents for a recycled bottle as opposed to NYC’s five cents. And thus begins an elaborate plan to turn a profit. Meanwhile, Jerry is frantically looking for his stolen car which has JFK’s golf clubs that Elaine bought at an auction for her boss. George on the other hand has taken upon a task without actually knowing what it is.
Watch the entire episode to find out how they get out of this one.
8. The Invitations (Season 7, Episode 22)
George’s on-again, off-again fiancé Susan deals with her fair share of trauma thanks to him and his inconsiderate friends. The finale to the seventh season ends on a rather dark note—although thoroughly funny—when she goes through one last tragedy. This episode also happens to be the last one Larry David wrote, barring the show’s final episode.
For the better part of the season, George is having cold feet about getting married. But he’s let off the hook—in the most Larry David way, I might add—all thanks to one of his cheap decisions. We don’t want to give you any spoilers. You need to watch it and bask in all of its glory.
At the same time, Jerry finds out what it’s like to date someone like him, Elaine is up in arms about not being included in the wedding and Kramer makes multiple visits to the bank. Watch the entire episode to find out why.