When Seinfeld debuted in July 1989, who could have known that the unassuming little sitcom about a standup comedian (the show's creator, Jerry Seinfeld) and his neurotic New Yorker pals would have become the television phenomenon of the '90s? After all, the pilot episode lacks Elaine; Kramer exhibits none of the hipster doofus persona he would later inhabit, and the whole gang is, well, a little too nice. Fortunately, all that changed. By the third season, the "show about nothing" was a gleeful spectacle of petty behavior, a repository of sardonic quips, a driver's ed film of social interactions gone awry and a regular dinner theater of hilariously well-scripted characters. Here, we take a nostalgic look back at each season and pick out a few of our favorite moments.
Season One (1989-90) -- Best Episode: None of the five episodes from the first year became an instant Seinfeld classic. Still, there are occasional glimmers of what was to come, for example "The Male Unbonding," where we watch as Jerry tries to "break up" with childhood friend Joel, who he only befriended in the first place because of Joel's ping-pong table. Jerry: "I was 10. I would have been friends with Stalin if he had a ping-pong table."
Season Two (1991) -- Best Episode: "The Chinese Restaurant"
On their way to a one-night showing of Plan 9 from Outer Space, Jerry, George and Elaine pop into a Chinese restaurant for what they think will be a quick bite. The initial 10-minute wait for a table stretches into sitcom eternity as Jerry obsesses over whether they can make it to the show, George becomes outraged when he can't use the restaurant's only pay phone and Elaine is at her crankiest, hungriest and whiniest. Other highlights from Season Two are Jerry and Elaine toying with their mostly platonic relationship and the introduction of the Seinfeldian term "buffer zone."
Season Three (1991-92) -- Best Episode: "The Note" -- This season marks the year Seinfeld hit its stride, and we find ourselves confounded at picking a favorite. Would it be the episode where Elaine gets George a job at the publishing house, only to have him seduce the cleaning woman and re-gift a sweater, or the episode where George and Jerry take an airport limo for a joyride and find themselves in the company of neo-Nazis? After much deliberation, we have to honor "The Note," a massage-themed episode in which George is "stirred" by a male masseuse's touch and Jerry's conversation-making tactics weird out his female massage therapist. This is also the season that we say Helllllooooo to Newman and discover the thrills of "gaining hand" in a relationship.
Season Four (1992-93) -- Best Episode: It's unanimous. "The Contest" became the topic around water coolers for months when George's mother catches him in the act of self-gratification (and this with a copy of Glamour) and falls, hurting herself badly enough to require hospitalization. The gang consequently bets who can abstain from masturbation the longest, in spite of naked neighbors, virgin girlfriends and hunky millionaire publishers. No temptation equals that of George, however, who visits his mother in the hospital and witnesses a woman-to-woman sponge bath through the curtain, especially when he is able to resist said temptation to become "master of his domain."
Season Five (1993-94) -- Best Episode: "The Bris" is wickedly funny, as is "The Marine Biologist," but we were most amused by "The Puffy Shirt," which has George moving back in with his parents but being discovered as a hand-model (Kramer declares his hands "smooth, creamy, delicate yet masculine"). In the meantime, Kramer's inaudible clothing designer girlfriend gets Jerry to wear her puffy buccaneer shirt on The Today Show, causing no end of embarrassment to the finicky, already-worried-that-people-think-he's-gay comedian.
Season Six (1994-95) -- Best Episode: It's a tie: "The Doorman" and "The Fusilli Jerry." Ever-vigilant for that one breakthrough invention, Kramer designs a support garment for George's top-heavy father and christens it "The Mansierre" or "The Bro." In the same episode, Jerry becomes doorman-for-a-day with disastrous results. "The Fusilli Jerry" is as quirky and mildly kinky as its namesake pasta, with plenty of discussion around Jerry's trademark bedroom move (requiring a headboard and finishing with either "a swirl" or "a pinch") and Kramer's new license plates, which read "Assman."
Season Seven (1995-96) -- Best Episode: Again a tie. "The Soup Nazi," and "The Sponge." "The Soup Nazi" has become such an inevitable hit that we almost dismissed it based on its oft-repeated line "No soup for you!" Still, this episode stands the test of time as the gang tries to ingratiate themselves to a mercurial soup-slinger, with only Kramer being deemed worthy of soup. And speaking of worthy, Episode 113 entered the term "sponge-worthy" into the pop cultural lexicon. Elaine's favorite birth control method, the Today sponge, is discontinued and she has to decide whether her current boyfriend is worth squandering precious sponges.
Season Eight (1996-97) -- Best Episode: "The Bizarro Jerry" -- Ooooh, this season has some of the best-ever Seinfeld moments, many of them having to do with Elaine. There's her bizarre "dry heave" dancing at a J. Peterman party, her ill-fated scheme to market "muffin tops" and her becoming a social pariah when she publicly disses The English Patient. But we finally decided on "The Bizarro Jerry" as one of the best episodes of the season, in which Elaine starts hanging out with three guys who are exactly the opposite of Kramer, George and Jerry. For example, Bizarro Kramer knocks and waits to be let in, while Bizarro Jerry and Bizarro George read, talk about their feelings and treat each other with friendly respect. We also like the appropriately comic book subtext of the whole thing, given Jerry's man-boy ways and fascination with Superman.
Season Nine (1997-98) -- Best Episode: "The Voice" -- The final year shows surprisingly few signs of a series winding down, which shows that Seinfeld's decision to end on a high note was probably a very sound one. The season finale wasn't as strong as it could have been, but the episodes leading up to it were quite good, including one in which Jerry meets a woman who looks just like him, George is forced to buy the coffee table book he takes into a bookstore bathroom and Frank Costanza invents the bellowy mantra "Serenity Now!" Here at The Inlander, however, one of our all-time favorites is "The Voice," where Jerry mimics the sound his girlfriend's stomach makes and teaches it to the gang while Kramer hires a NYU student to intern at his new business, Kramerica.