On July 5, 1989, “The Seinfeld Chronicles” premiered with a whimper on NBC. Created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, it centered on the mundane life of a standup comedian and his eccentric friends. The self-proclaimed “show about nothing,” rebranded as “Seinfeld” when its remaining four first season episodes finally aired almost a year later in 1990, was championed by critics and ignored by audiences. Yet momentum continued to gain, and soon the series was dominating the ratings, collecting Emmys and entering the cultural lexicon with its popular catchphrases. In honor of its 30th anniversary, let’s take a look back at 30 of its greatest episodes, ranked worst to best.
Though Jerry was front-and-center, “Seinfeld” succeeded thanks to its supporting cast: best friend and ne’er do well George Costanza (Jason Alexander), former girlfriend Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and wacky neighbor Kramer (Michael Richards). Self-centered, back-biting and inconsiderate, these merry misfits were made for each other. The wide variety of oddball side players, including numerous girlfriends, boyfriends, relatives, bosses and enemies, are often entangled in their schemes and machinations.
“Seinfeld” broke the mold in focusing on the mundanity of life as opposed to plot contrivances. It eschewed sentimentality, with the mantra of “no hugging, no learning” applied to each episode. Characters didn’t grow, and showed no real moral compass in situations. Rather than trying to improve themselves, they chose instead to bicker about everyday annoyances, be it “low-talkers,” “close-talkers,” “sponge-worthiness,” “re-gifting,” “double-dipping,” “man-hands” or “shrinkage.”
Throughout its nine season run, the show amassed 68 Emmy nominations and 10 victories, including Best Comedy Series for its fourth season in 1993. Richards won three prizes in supporting (1993, 1994 and 1997), with Louis-Dreyfus triumphing in 1996. It twice took home awards for writing (Elaine Pope and Larry Charles for “The Fix Up” in 1992 and David for “The Contest” in 1993) and also earned three trophies for editing (1992, 1994 and 1995).
In addition to its Emmy glory, the show also won three Golden Globes (Best Comedy Series, Best Comedy Actor for Seinfeld and Best Supporting Actress for Louis-Dreyfus in 1994) and six SAG awards (Best Ensemble in 1995, 1997 and 1998; Best Comedy Actress for Louis-Dreyfus in 1997 and 1998; Best Comedy Actor for Alexander in 1995).
Perhaps most significantly of all, “Seinfeld” topped TV Guide’s list of the 50 greatest television shows of all time in 2002, dropping to second place in 2013 behind “The Sopranos.” For a series that nearly faced cancellation when it first premiered, it certainly did well for itself in the long run.
Take a tour through our photo gallery of “Seinfeld’s” 30 greatest episodes, including “The Chinese Restaurant,” “The Rye,” “The Puffy Shirt,” “The Soup Nazi,” “The Contest,” “The Subway” and more. Full disclosure: narrowing this list down to just 30 titles was more difficult than deciding what to order at Monk’s, so please, be gentle.