Ranking Every Season of 'Seinfeld'

'Seinfeld' is one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. A couple of Seinfeld stans ranked the seasons, and now the verdict is in! The best season is...

best sitcom one liners jerry seinfeld

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best sitcom one liners jerry seinfeld

This feature was originally published on November 17, 2014.

There's no series that's subject to "The One Where" descriptors as much as Seinfeld, besides Friends for obvious and intentional reasons. In the 25 years since Complex's Dec/Jan 2014 cover star Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David hit us with "The Seinfeld Chronicles," the show's pop cultural impact has become so vast and penetrating, its legacy ironclad. Seinfeld's immortal relevancy is, in part because the show's About Nothing nature lent itself to Larry and Jerry tackling with evergreen social observations and building side-splitting plots around them, never mind the fact that technology would render most episodes moot (cell phones make situations like "The Movie" a lot less relatable).

On any given evening you can find a programming block of Seinfeld episodes on at least five different channels. There is, thankfully, no danger of a generation growing up unexposed to its brilliance. But the syndication has become so ubiquitous that at this point, even people who were adults when the seasons first ran would be hard-pressed to accurately place the episodes. George gets engaged in season seven, he and Jerry try to produce a pilot (is this the original meta-plot?) in season four, aaaand that's about as far as the casual fan gets. You know "yada yada" and "not that there's anything wrong with that," but can you place them?

A quick cruise through episode lists, and suddenly the picture for each season comes into focus—Seinfeld may also be the only show with plots that can be easily identified and remembered off of an episode's title alone. Now that we know what's where, Seinfeld stans Frazier Tharpe and Nathan Reese sat down to definitively rank the seasons. Read on and yada yada yada...

Season 9

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Aired: 1997-98

Standout episodes: "The Junk Mail," "The Chronicle," "The Finale" 

Season 9 of Seinfeld is rightfully regarded as the worst season of the show, but let's put that into perspective. This is, after all, arguably the best sitcom of all time we're talking about—and I don't mean that in the "best burger of all time" way your aunt does when she goes to Islands. So what does a "bad" season of Seinfeld even look like? Well, for one, it involves a lot of Kramer. No hate against Kramer (everyone loves Kramer!) but too much Kramer can easily kill an episode. Take "The Junk Mail," a particularly misguided Kramer adventure involving a stolen mail truck. That is not what a show about nothing is supposed to be about. Seinfeld is supposed to be about the narcissism of small differences, not  high-speed chase. 

Which isn't to be said that Season 9 is all bad. After a break for Season 8 and 9, Larry David returned to write the finale. While controversial at the time, I'd argue it's one of the great finales of all time. Parading all the people that your favorite sociopaths (let's be real here) have wronged over the years was smart; leaving them all in jail with nothing left to talk about was straight genius. Oh, and I almost forgot "The Strike," which popularized both "the two face" and Festivus. Maybe Season 9 isn't so bad after all. Nathan Reese

Season 1

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Aired: 1989-1990

Standout episodes: "The Seinfeld Chronicles," "The Stake Out," "The Stock Tip"

If there was ever a case for allowing a series—especially a sitcom—space to grow and find itself, season one of The Seinfeld Chronicles would be the leading example. These aren't "bad" episodes of TV in any way, but the tone (quasi-normal Kramer is always a startling sight) and execution are so, so far away from what the show would become, and become famous for. If, by chance, there existed some poor soul who had never seen the show and was interested in watching chronologically, it'd be hard to even argue this season as essential viewing. The only real standout, is "The Stake Out," the episode that presented Jerry, with help from George, trying to solve a very real and relatable problem with a very wacky solution. The whole season has potential, but "Stake Out" bears the most resemblance to the Seinfeld we know and love. How coincidental then, that it's also the first time we "meet" the very crucial Art Vandelay? —Frazier Tharpe

Season 2

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Aired: 1991

Standout episodes: "The Chinese Restaurant," "The Revenge," "The Phone Message"

Even classics can take a season or two to hit their stride (see: CheersMASH, Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Seinfeld is a good example. But while Season 1 seems especially dated, Season 2 sees Larry and Jerry closer to perfecting their formula. Even so, the writers stick to the "show about nothing" conceit very closely, sometimes to a fault. Case in point: "The Chinese Restaurant"—an episode that takes place entirely waiting in the lobby of, obviously, a Chinese restaurant. Or "The Phone Message," which centers on George frantically trying to erase an incriminating recording form his girlfriends' answering machine. But though they had the meta comedy of manners shtick down, the memorable guest stars were yet to come. For instance, "The Revenge" features a character named Newman whose face you never seen voiced by Larry David but it wouldn't be until the next season that Wayne Knight made his first appearance. —Nathan Reese

Season 3

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Aired: 1991-1992

Standout episodes: "The Pen," "The Parking Garage," "The Red Dot"

We're just one season away from Larry and Jerry finally perfecting the formula to make the quintessential Show About Nothing. But unlike one and two, three isn't plagued with growing pains that make the episodes hard to watch. In fact, "The Good Samaritan" aside, season three is pretty damn funny, with the duo blowing mundane nothing scenarios into nightmares that were both relatable ("The Parking Garage") and attractively New York-centric ("The Subway").

The kinks were still being worked out, though. "The Pen," the first of many visits to the Seinfelds down in Geriatricville, Florida is the only episode of the entire series that doesn't feature George, which prompted Jason Alexander to threaten to walk if David and co. ever scripted another ep sans his character again. He has a point, though—there's no Seinfeld without George Costanza. —Frazier Tharpe

Season 6

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Aired: 1994-95

Standout episodes: "The Chinese Woman," "The Race," "The Jimmy"

As the middle year in the show's storied golden run, Season 6 is simply the cast, Larry David, and the writer's room at the height of their powers, effortlessly maintaining the show's reign with banger after banger. The episodes themselves are less of the crossover pop-culture affecting nature compared to the other seasons—exceptions made for Superman-themed "The Race," the eponymous Jimmy, and The Assman—but that in no way dulls their success and replay value.

The series switched gears and proved that a fully-employed George Costanza was still capable of catching unprecedented bricks, Larry David broke out his infamous George Steinbrenner impression, and by season's end, an icon by the name of J[acopo] Peterman is introduced. Just another solid year in the imperial phase. —Frazier Tharpe

Season 8

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Aired: 1996-97

Standout episodes: "The Bizarro Jerry," "The English Patient," "The Yada Yada," "The Muffin Tops"

So, Larry David left. And he confirmed that the four narcissist-weirdos we've been laughing at and with for six years are actually lightweight sociopaths when the gang barely registers a shrug at Susan's death and it's all George can do to hide his relief (he calls Marisa Tomei to rekindle their sparks in the episode's tag). But in his absence, the series didn't fall off just quite yet—don't trust anyone who readily dismisses the "Larry-less" seasons.

For the first year without a co-captain, Jerry Seinfeld does just fine. Out with the stand-up cold opens and in with an even more absurdist (from the jump, cheers to "Bizarro Jerry"), straight up wacky tone and the result is a collection of episodes that can easily be delineated and placed (but not as glaringly as nine) when watching a random repeat, but what a collection though. Elaine's spastic dancing. Kramer in corporate America. The Andrea Doria. The yada yada! The Summer of George! Did we just make a case for Seinfeld's golden run to be amended as seasons four through eight? Stay woke. —Frazier Tharpe

Season 4

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Aired: 1992-93

Standout episodes: "The Smelly Car," "The Wallet," "The Junior Mint," "The Pilot," 

I have a weird soft spot for "The Smelly Car." Sometimes I think it's my favorite episode of the series, maybe because I once had a car with a mysterious smell whose source couldn't be uncovered. But Season 4's biggest triumph is the ongoing meta-narrative of George and Jerry wanting to make their own TV pilot for NBC, called Jerry. Essentially a fictionalized retelling of Seinfeld and Larry David's own pitch to the network, it points to how bizarre a "show about nothing" must have sounded to execs at the time. (Bob Balaban's portrayal of the Elaine-obsessed NBC President Russell Dalrymple is one of the great guest roles in the series).

And the one-offs in Season 4 are just as great as the longer arcs. George's gigantic wallet and the wayward junior mints are stone cold classics, and even the lesser-remembered episodes ("The Bubble Boy" comes to mind) are some of the show's best. In fact, it's hard to point to an episode this season that's less than fantastic. —Nathan Reese

Season 7

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Aired: 1995-96

Standout episodes: "The Soup Nazi," "The Sponge," "The Invitations"  

I know what you're thinking right now: how the heck is Season 7 not at the top of this list? For the answer to that, I'll let @The_SummerMan make his case on the next slide. But for now, let's just marvel at the level of quality the writers were putting into the series at this point.

Just looking at the above standout episode titles makes me chuckle. When someone mentions "The Sponge" or "The Wink" you know exactly what they're talking about more than 15 years later; and then there's "The Soup Nazi," an episode so fantastic it manages to outlive its over-exposure all these years later. The best Seinfeld episodes play like mini Greek tragedies, none is more perfectly arranged than the gang's fateful encounter with Larry Thomas's perfectionist chef.

But the best part of Season 7 doesn't have to do with contraception or facial ticks, but the demise of George's shrewish, long-suffering fiancé Susan. Before "The Invitations" the gang were just a group of bumbling narcissists, but Susan's toxic-envelope-related death transformed them into full-on sociopaths. It was dark, dastardly, and perfect note for Larry David to bow out on. Years later, Larry David may have said "I can't believe I killed that poor girl!" but you can almost see him twirling a Snidely Whiplash mustache. —Nathan Reese

Season 5

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Aired: 1993-94

Standout episodes: "The Puffy Shirt," "The Marine Biologist," "The Pie"

Season 4 was the year the show's innovative tone and arresting banality finally gelled into a series of must-watch TV. Season 7 boasts the show's most notorious story arc. But, Season 5? Season 5 is just plain stacked, fam.

After perfecting their formula in the fourth season, the fifth finds the dynamic duo of David and Seinfeld firmly in the pocket, firing on all cylinders, and getting progressively weirder, word to the Elaine-nnequin. There's no narrative through-line like Season 4's pilot or the ballad of George and Susan, but simply put, it's chock full of your favorite episodes to catch on a random late-night channel surf—and boy, do they still hold up marvelously. ("Shrinkage" is a top three Seinfeld-ism, while "The Dinner Party" is one of the series best Mundane Social Outing Turns Nightmarish). And how fitting that the season concludes with "The Opposite," which basically presents the series' essence in a nutshell: George is up, Elaine is down, Elaine is down, George is up. And all throughout, Jerry just remains even, calmly commentating on his friends' messy lives as they play out before him. A show about nothing, indeed. —Frazier Tharpe

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