"The Highlights Of 100"
As groundbreaking and inventive a sitcom as Seinfeld was, here's an episode that truly dates it. Sure, a show might have a quasi-clip show for its 100th episode (I remember 30 Rock having a few clips this year) but busting out an episode like this for such a milestone would provoke a lot of angry comments on the internet. Still, I wanted to acknowledge the episode, not so much for its content (it's a perfectly enjoyable, perfunctory trip through the show's best gags, loosely organized), but to mark off that we're about halfway through at this point (55 percent, actually) and take a look back at all we've seen and done together, with a little top 10 list of the best episodes so far. This is The A.V. Club, after all, and list-making is part of the deal.
Making this list was a hell of a lot harder than I thought it would be, and I'm sure I've made many omissions that you guys can enumerate in the comments, but it's just reflecting my favorites, not any kind of canonical inventory. There's definitely some of the obvious classics along with some of my personal loves.
A few honorable mentions: "The Airport" from season 4 is a fantastic caper, the best part of which is Elaine's horrifying ordeal in coach (and a stinky cameo from Larry Charles). "The Library" from season 3 is a good episode elevated to the highest level by Philip Baker Hall's performance as Lt. Bookman, maybe Seinfeld's best ever one-off character. "The Jacket" from season 2 is equally memorable for Lawrence Tierney's terrifying portrayal of Elaine's dad Alton Benes (and Jerry's candystriped jacket). "The Dinner Party" from season 5 is a great example of the gang trying to get somewhere and failing, packed with great individual storylines like George's gigantic winter coat or Jerry's love of the black and white cookie. "The Soup" from season 6 is the standout of that season so far, introducing the horrible Kenny Bania and featuring Elaine trying, in vain, to order a big salad at a rival coffee shop.
10. "The Raincoats" (Season 5, Episodes 18-19)
One of the best double episodes the show ever did has a lot of Seinfeld's best qualities -- a great one-off character (Judge Reinhold as the close talker), a showcase for recurring characters (Newman, the Seinfelds and the Costanzas feature heavily), a legendary topical bit (Jerry makes out during Schindler's List) and a plot that actually sustains the interest over 44 minutes. The clip I'm including above is of the close talker, but I don't think I could pick a favorite plot from this episode. From George's spirited defense of his awful parents, to Frank's leisurewear, to Newman gleefully watching Jerry make out, it's all fantastic.
Favorite quote: "He was moving on her like the stormtroopers into Poland... AND A MORE OFFENSIVE SPECTACLE I CANNOT RECALL!"
9. "The Movie" (Season 4, Episode 15)
This is a slight episode, to be sure, but it's a winner, a loosely organized load of japes around the films "Rochelle Rochelle" and "Checkmate" and the gang trying to find each other, buy tickets, get popcorn, and, in Kramer's case, a Papaya King hot dog. I love this episode for its brilliant plotting, but also for all the cool little details, especially the fake dialogue that goes along with "Checkmate" done by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld.
Favorite quote: "The king is always in jeopardy!"
8. "The Outing" (Season 4, Episode 16)
This one comes right after that one in the production order, but that's just a weird coincidence! "The Outing" is best remembered for its catchphrase "not that there's anything wrong with that" and probably could have done without some of the swishier humor about Jerry and George's alleged relationship, but it's also a deftly-constructed farce featuring Jerry's sexiest-ever girlfriend of the week played by Paula Marshall.
Favorite quote: "My father's gay!"
7. "The Pitch/The Ticket" (Season 4, Episodes 3-4)
This is the episode that kicked off Seinfeld's first, and best, quasi-serialized storyline and has the first introspective jokes about it being a "show about nothing." It's also one of my top, all-time favorite George episodes that serves as a brilliant example of how he's his own worst enemy, sticking up for artistic integrity and holding out for a better paycheck at exactly the wrong times. Plus, it introduces Crazy Joe Davola, a recurring plot it completes at the end of the season, showing just how great a grasp Seinfeld had on its plotting.
Favorite quote: Well, apart from the above clip, it'd have to be, "They're men with JOBS, Jerry, they wear suits and ties!"
6. "The Contest" (Season 4, Episode 11)
Is there much else to say on this one? Look, it's Shaq's favorite. Nuff said.
Favorite quote: "You know… I was alone…"
5. "The Pilot" (Season 4, Episodes 23-24)
The conclusion of the arc started by "The Pitch/The Ticket" takes all of the mocking lines they've had about Seinfeld itself over the course of the season and puts them onscreen in an actual filmed fake pilot that replicates whole bits of the show. And it works fantastically, from Jeremy Piven's hilarious mimicry of sad-sack George to the unnerving Larry Hankin, playing Kramer. Plus, with the demise of the wonderfully stern Russell Dalrymple, it ends maybe the best season of a U.S. sitcom on a wonderfully dark, poetic, and admirably silly note.
Favorite quote: "God will never let me be successful; he'll kill me first."
4. "The Parking Garage" (Season 3, Episode 6)
We're at the point where any one of these could easily be declared the best of the series, and they are all in the pantheon of top TV episodes in general (although one is more of a personal favorite), so the order doesn't really matter so much. "The Parking Garage" is an epic that sets itself the challenge of an almost completely featureless set and follows through magnificently, with plots directly related (trying to find the car, Elaine flagging down drivers, the plight of the goldfish) and less-so (George's ruminations on death). And then it has that great unplanned capper at the end. I could watch this episode on repeat and never tire of it.
Favorite quote: "I'm afraid I'll puncture my scrotum."
3. "The Limo" (Season 3, Episode 18)
This one's my personal favorite, an underlooked classic with a terrific unfolding plot that starts with George and Jerry stealing a limo and ends with George accused of being the biggest white supremacist in the United States. It mines comic gold from a no-plot combination of Kramer and Elaine as something to cut to, and it has probably the best "inadvertently humming a song that would irritate Nazis" gag I've ever seen.
Favorite quote: “The jig is up!” “It was a bad jig to begin with!” “It was a good jig!”
2. "The Opposite" (Season 5, Episode 22)
As brilliant as the meta-commentary of Jerry in season four is, "The Opposite" is the finest example of Seinfeld taking a look at the mechanics of its humor and making that hysterically funny. As George goes about subverting himself and becomes a success, Elaine hits a down-trend and Jerry realizes he's always the man in the middle, and always the happier for it. With George Steinbrenner's famous one-line introduction, Kramer's freakout in front of Regis and George's magnificent seduction technique, it's one of the most memorable episodes of the show, ever. Plus, it concludes the saga of George's decline in season 5, the best arc the character ever has.
1. "The Chinese Restaurant" (Season 2, Episode 6)
There's better episodes of this show, probably. But "The Chinese Restaurant" is the real goddamn birth of Seinfeld, where the writers took a risk you couldn't have imagined on a sitcom, and made three characters waiting for a reservation into a goddamn epic tale of frustration and boredom and despair. Or whatever, it's really just super-funny and remarkably gripping and, as if to prove the writers' point that you could set a whole episode around a tiny concept, it's done in real-time and you don't even notice it. Everyone who hasn't seen or doesn't like Seinfeld should watch this episode, at least this one, just to give themselves an idea of what they've been missing out on.
Anyway, hope you guys enjoyed that, and chime in yourself in the comments. We'll be back next week with our regularly scheduled programming.