Today, Saturday, July 5, marks the 25th anniversary of the Seinfeld pilot. Seinfeld is the greatest comedy ever made, and as I went back and skimmed through all the episodes, it became clearer than ever that the show will never be surpassed.
There are people out there who don’t ‘get’ Seinfeld, which never made any sense to me. To not understand the show and why its funny, one must quite literally never leave the house. It’s been called a New York show and a Jewish show, but it’s so much more. It famously depicts the inanity and hilarity of the most basic everyday situations, transcending provinciality, class, race, religion, and gender.
If you don’t ‘get’ Seinfeld, then you haven’t been in any of the following situations:
Arguing with a stranger over a parking space; Switching barbers and fearing hurt feelings; Double dipping a chip; Jockeying for a dream apartment; Looking for your car in a garage; Eating diet food that’s too good to be true; And of course, waiting in vain for a table at a restaurant.
In celebration of the anniversary, I’ve put some lists together. Not the “greatest” or “most influential.” We’ve seen those lists before, and we know how great episodes like “The Contest” and “The Chinese Restaurant” and “The Pick” are.
To commemorate 25 years, let’s do five lists of five episodes/people/entities each, plucked from different, unique categories that I made up completely out of the blue. And a bonus list for the hell of it. What better way to celebrate the show about nothing than by making a bunch of lists about nothing? As Jerry once sang, on with the show, this is it:
FIVE MEMORABLE JERRY-GEORGE CONVERSATIONS
- The Pitch: After George refuses to sacrifice his artistic integrity and blows the NBC meeting, Jerry lectures him about seeking psychiatric help, telling George, “You need a team.” Jerry is frequently berating George for childish behavior, but this speech takes the cake. George’s defeated look says it all, and his response to Jerry—that he thought the woman at NBC was cute—just piles on and makes this one of the funniest minutes in television history.
- The Revenge: After George has Elaine “slip a mickey” to his boss and gets fired, he’s got to decide what his next job will be. Jerry’s matter-of-factness in shooting down George’s deluded occupational fantasies is a departure from his usual animated rants towards George. The highlight is Jerry calmly telling George that sports announcer jobs go to “Ex-ballplayers and people that are, you know, in broadcasting.”
- The Engagement: George has happily become engaged to Susan, until he realizes he isn’t so happy. He can’t choose which movies he sees, what he watches on TV, and when he sees his friends. We can see George’s anguish as he’s forced to see a romantic sob story rather than join Jerry for an action movie. If only he’d gotten the same speech from Kramer that Jerry did.
- The Virgin: Three parts here. One, the introductions between Jerry, George, Marla, and Stacy. Two, the part where George realized what a cool job he has and how he could use it to meet women…if it weren’t for the fact that his current girlfriend is his employer. The conversation I’m thinking of is when Jerry delightedly illustrates the conundrum for George, who doesn’t find it fair that he can’t use his writing gig to meet women. That conversation, of course, leads to this one, where Jerry determines, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that George has a girlfriend and can’t see other women.
- The Switch: One of the stranger episodes, almost as if it doesn’t fit with the show. It has the film noir vibe with the relationship between Newman and Babs, and the menage escapade. As scandalous an episode as they did. Yet, despite having a different kind of feel, it left us with a classic scene about the roommate switch, complete with analyses of “big course HA’s” in a woman’s laugh and whether or not there were roommates in the Middle Ages.
FIVE FUTURE TELEVISION ANTI-HEROES
- Bryan Cranston as Dr. Tim Whatley: The mother of all anti-heroes, Walter White himself. Cranston shined as the lewd and lascivious dentist who switched religions just for the jokes (“The Yada Yada”). Before he was Walter White, or even Hal, he was snubbing Jerry on a party invite, making Super Bowl plans with Elaine, using his office as a sex chamber, and insulting Jews, comedians, and everyone in between.
- Marcia Cross as Dr. Sara Sidarides: I didn’t watch Desperate Housewives, but from what I can gather, Cross’s character Bree was somewhat of an anti-hero. It seemed like Teri Hatcher (Seinfeld alum) and Felicity Huffman were good, Nicollette Sheridan was bad, and Cross and Eva Longoria were somewhere in the middle. So, Cross gets the call-up for her work in “The Slicer” as dermatologist Dr. Sidarides, who had a hard time convincing Jerry that she saved someone’s life and that she didn’t give Jerry hives.
- Melinda Clarke as Alex: Before she was the devious yet occasionally sympathetic Julie Cooper on The O.C., Clarke was Jerry’s flame in “The Muffin Tops.” Her love of hairless animals prompted Jerry to shave his chest, which came back to haunt Jerry when they got stuck on Kramer’s Peterman Reality Bus Tour.
- Courteney Cox as Meryl: This is a stretch because Monica Geller was obviously not an anti-hero. However, Cox played the scandal-seeking Lucy Spiller on the FX show Dirt from 2007-2008. Forgot about that one, didn’t you? Spiller was a tabloid queen whose survival depended on digging up—what else—dirt on celebrities. In “The Wife,” Cox’s Meryl and Jerry, who are dating, pretend to be married in order to score a dry cleaning discount. It all goes to hell when Jerry uses the discount for another woman that he meets in the store.
- Michael Chiklis as Steve Pocatello: Look at all that hair! In return for letting Jerry and Elaine stay at his house late when George strands them at a party (“The Stranded”), Steve is looking to have some fun with Jerry when he’s in the city. When Jerry leaves and strangely allows Steve to stay, the guest has a little too much fun. Chiklis’s Vic Mackey on The Shield is credited with being the bridge from Tony Soprano to Walter White and Don Draper in the world of cable anti-heroes.
FIVE EPISODES WE LOVE SEEING IN SYNDICATION
- The Gum: An episode from the middle of Season 7 that feels like it’s from Season 5-6. Think about all the times you’ve rehashed a scene with a friend and someone asks, “What else happened in that episode?” and you go through the story lines of each character. So many episodes have intertwining story arcs, which made the show what it was. “The Gum,” while historically overlooked compared to other great episodes, is a quintessential “confluence of events” episode. Every scene has an impact later on, with everything snowballing from Kramer simply trying to protect Lloyd Braun’s feelings. From there, Elaine’s compromised blouse and Jerry’s pretend glasses lead to chaos for George, who’s made to look crazy on several different occasions. It’s a carefully constructed puzzle that’s as perfect a 30-minute episode of television as you’ll ever see.
- The Good Samaritan: One of those episodes that seems ordinary at first, but then you watch it with friends and it gets funnier each time. There’s the “God bless you” incident. There’s Jerry’s fabrication of the hit-and-run. Elaine’s fabrication of an affair she had. The angry husband’s threat. To me, there are two moments that stand out. First, George exclaiming “What!?” when told of the husband’s rage. It’s a fleeting moment, but the pitch of George’s voice and his facial expression are priceless. And of course, Jerry calling out Elaine. Elaine scolded Jerry for lying to her about the accident, and he throws it back at her when learning of her fake affair with a matador. George divulging Elaine’s fib and egging Jerry on is a nifty bit of teamwork, culminating in Jerry asking where Elaine would have possibly met “Eduardo Carroccio” while waving his dish towel in the manner of a matador. At first glance it might not be the funniest thing in the world, but watch it in a group, multiple times, and your perception is sure to change.
- The Junior Mint: Individual episode plots got undeniably more absurd as the seasons went on, but this is one from Season 4 with a pretty outrageous premise. Jerry not knowing the name of the woman he’s seeing, forever known as “Mulva,” was absolutely in line with the everyday mishap element of the show. However, dropping a minty, chocolatey piece of candy inside a man having surgery was not. But who cares? It doesn’t get much better than the looks on Jerry and Kramer’s faces when the Junior Mint plops down and lands inside Elaine’s ex-boyfriend. George, having bought the man’s artwork, is openly rooting for him to die after surgery. Of course, the simple fact that George bought the man’s artwork is what brightened the man’s spirits and saved his life. It’s not unusual to see George get screwed, but it is strange seeing Jerry come out on the losing end, which he does with Delores aka Mulva. The conversation between Jerry and George (Bovary? Aretha?) makes this episode a syndication must-see.
- The Mom and Pop Store: “Everybody’s talking at me, I can’t hear a word they’re saying…just driving ’round in Jon Voight’s car.” The Jon Voight car. The Jon Voight cameo. Jerry torturing George in the car. Jerry being kicked out, chased, and hurting his tooth culminating at Whatley’s party, which Jerry wasn’t invited to. And getting to see Mr. Pitt dance while shouting “Next Stop Pottersville!” is a treat as well. Speaking of George getting screwed, notice the shift in his demeanor first upon learning that Jon Voight did in fact on his car…only to learn that it was Jon Voight the periodontist, not the actor. It’s a shame the episode isn’t called “The Jon Voight Car,” but I think fans are well trained to have that part register when they see “The Mom and Pop Store” on the schedule.
- The Fusilli Jerry: To my knowledge, this is the first episode featuring Patrick Warburton as David Puddy. Great things come in twos here. Both Estelle and Frank see the doctor, she for an eye job, he for a proctology problem. Both George and Puddy try a new move in the bedroom—bestowed upon each by Jerry. Both Jerry and Kramer have car mishaps, including Kramer receiving the license plate “ASSMAN.” There are even two sex moves: Whatever the hell Jerry’s is, and Frank’s stopping short. This episode could safely be called “The Move,” because that’s what it’s really about. But the word ‘fusilli’ is just too damn funny to pass up. And of course, Jerry’s carbohydrate copy plays a role in the end, where we all get to meet the real Assman.
FIVE GUEST STARS I’VE MET
I gave you fair warning that I made these all up. And since I made them up, I’m going to self-indulge with a category unique to my experiences. Seinfeld was about random observations, so that’s what you’re getting here.
I met the majority of these people working at AKA Talent Agency in LA, where they’d come in for voiceover work, meetings, or just to shoot the shit. The agency I worked for represented over 500 actors commercially, many of whom had guest spots on Seinfeld. Typically, actors don’t like being bothered. But many of these people are working actors who were excited someone recognized them in Seinfeld. I don’t have any bad things to say about any of them, but even if I did, I wouldn’t. First, some honorable mentions…
–Roger Rose as Mark, who auditions for TV George in “The Pilot.” (helped rep for hosting)
–Ben Reed as the Male Nurse who gives the sponge bath in “The Outing.” (frequently visited office)
–Drake Bell as Kenny the kid playing Frogger in “The Frogger.” (repped/accompanied to convention)
–John Patrick McCormack as Kramer’s boss in “The Bizarro Jerry.” (frequently visited office)
–Kristin Bauer as Gillian aka Man Hands in “The Bizarro Jerry.” (helped rep for conventions)
–Tony Amendola as Salbass Rushdie aka fake Salman Rushdie in “The Implant.” (frequent visitor)
Alright, now on to the real list…
- Richard Fancy as Elaine’s boss Mr. Lippman. For a brief time, he also plays George’s boss. Richard’s the only person on this list I didn’t meet at the agency, but rather at my fish market job. A reserved guy in person, his portrayal of Lippman, as a more subdued, by the book boss, contrasted greatly with Elaine’s future boss, Mr. Peterman. While Peterman was outlandish in his tastes and behavior, Lippman provided more subtle humor, like in “The Letter” and “The Cigar Store Indian.” Of course, they brought him back in Season 9 for “The Serenity Now” and gave him an outlandish story line.
- Matt McCoy as Lloyd Braun in “The Gum” and “The Serenity Now.” One night, shortly after moving to LA, I watched an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip that featured Matt in a bit part. My roommates and I remarked on Matt’s career, and how he did TV like Seinfeld, Studio 60, and The Nanny, and movies ranging from L.A. Confidential to Alley Cats Strike (yes, the Disney Channel movie). The day after discussing his eclectic career, I ran into Matt on the Santa Monica Promenade. He was more than happy to chat and take a picture, a genuinely nice guy. A few months later, I was working to help represent him. He worked his ass off on auditions, always made a point to say hello, and was the most upbeat guy I’ve ever met. Lloyd Braun may be crazy, but the guy who plays him is far from it.
- Richard Herd as Mr. Wilhelm. I met Richard at some schlocky convention; I don’t even know what he was signing autographs for. Wilhelm became vital to George’s story lines in Seasons 6-8, including memorable turns in “The Checks,” “The Nap,” and “The Bottle Deposit.” The highlight from meeting Richard was that he asked my name, shook my hand, and then said, “Remember Jared, it’s all downtown,” which delighted me to no end.
- Richard Portnow as the wheelchair salesman in “The Handicap Spot.” This is one of the funniest guest spots in the show’s history, and Richard was perfectly cast. I’d see Richard every couple weeks when he’d come in for voiceover work, and we always talked, sometimes for 15-20 minutes. We’d discuss his upcoming projects, the most exciting of which was when he was cast as the studio head in the 2012 film Hitchcock. He told me that back in 1993, shortly after this episode aired, he ran into Jerry at a restaurant in Beverly Hills. Jerry excitedly yelled out to him, “Hey Richard! We got hate mail!” Richard’s line “You’re almost glad to be handicap” is hilariously offensive, and Jerry took great pleasure in the fact that activists responded angrily after it aired. That’s what made the show so great: they were equal opportunity offenders, and the more shit they could stir up through humor, the better.
- Judge Reinhold as Aaron aka The Close Talker in “The Raincoats.” Another all-time guest spot and near perfect scene (the first clip especially). The close talking is perfect, especially when it’s with Jerry, who is doing his best not to crack up. The Schindler’s List takeoff is as funny as something can be that relates to an incredibly sad movie. And Judge, well, Judge is something else. We first started working with Judge for voiceover…then theatrical…then hosting…then personal appearances. Let’s just say Judge is a unique guy and it was an experience working with him for a little while.
FIVE EPISODES WHERE THE BIG FIVE (INCLUDING NEWMAN) SHINED BRIGHTEST
- Jerry: The Cheever Letters, The Outing, The Puffy Shirt, The Rye, The Chicken Roasters.
Since The Rye aired in 1996, no fan of the show has ordered anything with the words “marble rye” involved and not laughed. The Cheever Letters is an underrated classic where Jerry is stuck in tough situations with both George and Elaine, one he fell into and one he created for himself. The Chicken Roasters offers one of his memorable scenes, where living in Kramer’s apartment engulfs his soul. The Puffy Shirt gave rise to “The Low Talker” and the “I don’t want to be a pirate” gag, used a couple more times throughout the show. And of course, The Outing gave rise to the saying, “We’re not gay…not that there’s anything wrong with that!”
- Elaine: The Stall, The Understudy, The Letter, The Revenge, The Soup Nazi.
The Soup Nazi is really a standout episode for all characters, but Elaine’s game of cat and mouse with the man himself is unforgettable. Her baseball-cap inspired defiance at a Yankee game, and attempt to hide it from Lippman, helps drive The Letter. Any woman who’s wondered what the Asian women in the nail salon are talking about felt vindicated when Elaine went in there with a spy. Faking to be a nudist helped George—but ultimately got him fired—in the Revenge. And of course, anyone who’s run out of toilet paper in a public restroom knows what it’s like to ask for a spare square.
- George: The Parking Space, The Phone Message, The Opposite, The Marine Biologist, The Smelly Car
Honestly, every episode of the show is a George episode. This could be due to Larry David’s heavy involvement and George being based on Larry. It might just be that George is the strongest character. It was tough picking just five for him. The Parking Space sees him argue over, yes, a parking space for an entire episode. The Phone Message has him leaving angry messages on a woman’s machine and scheming to erase them before she hears them (an earlier episode many forget). The Opposite marks a rare change in form, one that leads to his job with the Yankees. The Marine Biologist has the single greatest monologue in the show’s history. And The Smelly Car finds him asking nuanced questions about lesbianism while justifying “side-al nudity” in a movie (“a film is what it is, actually”). For my money, George Louis Costanza is and will forever be the greatest character in comedy history.
- Kramer: The Merv Griffin Show, The Fire, The Bris, The Pothole, The Butter Shave.
Kramer’s plots were always the most absurd, even more so once we hit Seasons 8-9. Despite being utterly ridiculous, fashioning his apartment with the set of the Merv Griffin Show was unbelievably funny. The Butter Shave is as slapstick as it gets with Kramer. The Pothole shows him acting out yet another wacky idea, this time adopting a highway. The Fire features what I’d call the second greatest monologue in show history. And The Bris is another overlooked classic that parodies the greatest film ever made all while centered around the covenant of circumcision and of course, a pigman.
- Newman: The Package, The Junk Mail, The Ticket, The Millennium, The Seven.
Trivia: Newman does not have the fifth most appearances after the Big Four. That distinction is held by Ruth Cohen, who plays the cashier at Monks, Ruthie Cohen, most well known for her battles with George in “The Gum.” Still, Newman obviously gets the call up here. There’s his interrogation of Jerry for mail fraud, “Pretty hot under these lights, eh Seinfeld?” The Junk Mail, where Kramer’s mail cancellation leads to problems. The Ticket, one of his earlier episodes, which plays out like a parody of a bad southern courtroom drama. The Millennium has him competing with Kramer over who can have the cooler Y2K bash. And The Seven sees him play arbitrator between Kramer and Elaine over Elaine’s bike.
BONUS: FIVE EPISODES NOT MENTIONED YET
Okay, some have gotten quick mentions, but haven’t been expounded upon yet.
- The Lip Reader: Kramer’s job as a ball boy/man, Jerry’s relationship with the deaf lineswoman, George’s doomed relationship, and Elaine’s car service mishap come together and as usual, George comes out on the bottom. Best scene: Marlee Matlin’s “Laura The Lineswoman” at dinner with Jerry and George.
- The Cigar Store Indian: I can’t decide what’s better about this episode, Frank yelling at George for turning his house into “Bourbon Street!” or Kramer yelling offensively out the cab. Let’s go with the cab thing, as that involved the actual Cigar Store Indian.
- The Hamptons: The episode that gave us “You gotta see the baby!” and “Shrinkage.” The shrinkage part had the longest lasting effect in pop culture, but I’ll go with the Jane being topless bit—which does lead to the shrinkage—as the best scene.
- The Doll: A Season 7 episode that feels more like a Season 5-6 given how everything aligns perfectly. The doll, the pool, the pants, and The Maestro. The scenes with Kathy Griffin and the doll are spectacular, but the pool scenes are just too good.
- The Stand-In: The names of the one-off characters in this are better than any other episode. Al Neche and Phil Totola are killer names, and Phil’s, um, encounter, with Elaine, makes for one of the best incident rehashing scenes ever.
FINALE: THE JIMMY
Any legitimate Seinfeld fan knows that there’s no one “greatest” episode. I’d venture a guess that most diehard fans of the show don’t even have a true favorite. There is one episode that stands out for me, though, and it’s “The Jimmy.” It’s not the most well known and certainly doesn’t have the cache of “The Contest” or “The Soup Nazi,” but that just doesn’t matter.
“The Jimmy” is as perfect an episode as there is. I know I said that earlier about “The Gum,” and that stands. But “The Jimmy” is my perfect episode, and the one that’s come to mean the most (apologies for the overly sentimental nature of this anecdote). In college, my roommate Murph and I bonded over Seinfeld, among other things (Caddyshack, sports, hip hop and beer, mostly). Before we’d go to bed, we’d usually pop in a Seinfeld DVD and just let it play with the TV on sleep timer. One day, we watched Season 6, Disc 4, which starts off with “The Jimmy.” We were hooked. For what had to be at least three or four nights a week spanning at least four semesters, we’d start with that. Sometimes, if we’d been drinking, we’d pass out during the cold open. If it was a random Wednesday night, we might make it all the way to “The Understudy,” which was at the end. But we always saw at least a little bit of “The Jimmy,” if not the whole thing. I’ve probably seen it over 200 times, and that’s being conservative.
I came to know every line of dialogue, every affectation, every mannerism, every movement. Like many greats, it’s one of those episodes where everything comes together perfectly in the end and makes you realize how truly inimitable this show was. It’s one of the few things I’m not linking to, because you should just go watch the entire episode.
It was refreshing to see “The Jimmy” chosen as one of the 25 episodes TBS ran as part of their “Seinfeld 25” marathon this week. It vindicated my love for the episode and of course, gave me a chance to record it on my DVR and save it permanently (pretty sure that DVD got swallowed up by our frat house by the end of senior year).
So, here’s to “The Jimmy,” and to the 25 year anniversary of the greatest television comedy ever made.