Neil Armstrong. Amelia Earhart. Sirs Francis Drake and Edmund Hillary. These are some of the bravest people in the history of the world. Trailblazers that have dared to be the first. The first to step on the moon, the first to fly or to sail around the world. The first to climb the highest peak this precious planet Earth has to offer.
Today, I offer you the name of another brave soul. Zach Gulick. That’s right, myself. Today, I’m going to join the pantheon of names that will live on in history. For what, you might ask? I’m going to rank the seasons of Seinfeld in order, from worst to best.
Now, you might be saying, “But Zach, surely you aren’t the first person to rank the seasons of Seinfeld. And you surely aren’t the first person to rank the seasons of a TV show.” (The most common ranking of a TV show’s seasons is The Wire, and the correct answer for those rankings is 1, 4, 2, 3, 5. Don’t @ me). While both of those points are technically true, these rankings are going to be so thorough, so accurate, you’ll think Jerry Seinfeld himself wrote this as part of his stand-up bit (“Did you ever notice that The Marine Biologist is a better episode than The Contest?”).
This is not a compilation of rankings. This is not reviewing what the critics have said, or compiling Nielsen rankings or IMDB scores. No. You won’t see the critically acclaimed episodes talked about as the best – sure, we all loved The Soup Nazi, but only someone who cheers for laundry would say its a better episode than The Opposite, or The Abstinence.
These are rankings compiled by me. Someone who has seen every episode multiple times. Who grew up watching the show live in the 90s, and continued watching through the re-runs on TBS. Irish Hulu doesn’t allow you to watch Seinfeld, so I got a VPN so I could watch American Hulu in Ireland, and stream episodes. 10 years after the final episode aired, there is not enough Seinfeld content on the internet. Today, as my gift to you, I correct that error.
Let the rankings begin.
9. Season 1 (Episode List)
This is an obvious choice, if only because there were only 5 episodes. Watching the first season of Seinfeld, you have to ignore the rough patches and flaws and see the potential – what the show could be. It’s like when basketball scouts first laid eyes on Giannis Antetokoumpo. Sure the footage is grainy, and the game plan might not make much sense, and the competition appears to have not hit puberty yet, but look at the length and athleticism! If he ever learns how to shoot…
There were a few episodes that provided proof that the jumper could round into form. The Stock Tip, the last episode in the season, provided the in-season development and flash of greatness expected of a future hall of famer. The clincher is the scene at the end, after George has cleaned up from holding on (I’m going down with the ship!) and cashing out only after the stock had rebounded. Taking that last dollar out of the waitresses hand is gold, Jerry.
8. Season 6 (Episode List)
The layman, the laundry cheerer, would probably put Season 2 in this spot. We’ll discuss Season 2 when we get there, but anyone who says Season 2 is the 8th best season of Seinfeld probably takes cold showers like a psychotic.
Season 6 has some incredible highs – The Fusili Jerry (because you’re silly) and The Race (because I choose not to run). Unfortunately, Season 6 also has too many episodes that, if you were channel surfing and every channel was playing a different episode of Seinfeld all at the same time, you’d definitely keep searching for something better. They’re good, but they’re not great. They’re the ‘its not you, its me’ of Seinfeld episodes. The Label Maker, The Chinese Woman, The Doorman; its not you, its me.
7. Season 4 (Episode List)
This might be the most controversial of these rankings. Widely considered the season that launched Seinfeld into ‘Hall of Fame’ contender, this season is defined by The Contest. It is the episode that won the show its only Emmy award for Outstanding Comedy Series (the fact that Seinfeld only won one of these awards is a scandal on par with the JFK assassination (that is one magic loogie)).
If we go back to the basketball analogy, this is like Giannis Antetokoumpo’s 2017-2018 season. We watched on him on the grainy highlight videos playing against what appeared to be 13 year olds in Greece. We watched him find his footing his first couple of years in the league. And then BAM! he breaks out. All of a sudden he’s throwing up 27/10/5 with a 27.8 PER. MVP type numbers. But, almost assuredly, there will be a better season to come from Giannis – once he finally learns to get that jumper to fall.
So yes, while season 4 is the one that will always be remembered, its most definitely not the best season of Seinfeld ever.
6. Season 2 (Episode List)
Like Season 1, Season 2 is a bit hampered by the shortened number of episodes. However, there are some all-timers in this small bunch. The Pony Remark (I mean seriously, who would ever guess that an immigrant would have a pony?!?), The Phone Message, The Statue (he uncoagulated the top of the dishwashing liquid), The Revenge (I’m gonna slip him a mickey), and of course, The Deal and The Chinese Restaurant.
The Deal produces the scene in Monk’s coffee shop that, if you weren’t hooked already on the show, sucked you in permanently. George’s performance in this scene alone should have won him all the awards.
The Chinese Restaurant is one of those iconic Seinfeld episodes that always comes up when discussing the genius of the show. If you haven’t bet one of your friends to go grab food off of someone else’s plate while you are waiting for a table than are you really even a person?
Season 2 was like when Jason Kidd put Giannis at point guard in the second half of the 2015-2016 season. Since the switch happened after the all star break, we didn’t get a full season of Point Giannis (much like there were only 17 episodes in season 2), but there were flashes of greatness within that condensed timeframe; the back to back games of 27/9/12 and 26/12/10, and his 18/7/7 averages for the entire month of March parallel to some of those peak Seinfeld episodes in season 2. The 8/3/1 Giannis put up against Charlotte is not unlike The Busboy episode. But still – we all knew what was coming after this stretch.
5. Season 7 (Episode List)
It’s hard to put a season with episodes like The Calzone, The Seven, The Sponge, The Wink, The Maestro and, of course, The Soup Nazi, this low on the list. But doing these rankings is like asking me to pick my favorite niece or nephew and, while difficult, there is a right answer there.
Season 7 is one of the few seasons that has a season-long theme running through it, with George and Susan’s pending nuptials carrying through the entire 24 episodes. We are splitting the absolute thinnest of hairs at this point (and still four more seasons to go!), but season 7 goes here for the lack of iconic episodes (outside of The Soup Nazi), and, not unlike season 6, too many good but not great episodes.
4. Season 3 (Episode List)
I agonized over this. Season 3 has a first-ballot hall of fame episode (The Alternate Side – these pretzels are making me thirsty!), a number of cultural zeitgeist episodes – The Pez Dispenser, The Parking Garage, The Red Dot, and, of course, The Boyfriend (not only Keith Hernandez (I was MVP in ’79, I can do whatever I want!) but also the JFK reenactment scene).
Unfortunately, unlike Giannis’ 2016-2017 season, there were still a few too many ‘finding its legs’ episodes to vault it any higher. You can’t really find anything wrong, necessarily, with any of these episodes, but when the next seasons on the list brought us Festivus, ‘Is that a Titleist?’, The Yada Yada, The Summer or George, Shrinkage, The Abstinence, and Top of the Muffin To You!, season 3 just can’t go any higher.
3. Season 9(Episode List)
I can’t believe I put the season that brought Festivus into our lives third. When I started this, I thought I had the first, second, and ninth best seasons locked up. But as I got into this more, and started rewatching episodes, I have to put a bit of weight on the clip show and the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Before we go further, let me address The Finale. ’m not one who thinks The Finale was bad. How do you end a show about nothing? Bringing back old characters, reliving the past and fully discovering how awful of human beings these four friends were – I’m not sure it could have been done any other way. Season 9 is not getting docked for The Finale.
Season 9 is getting docked for The Puerto Rican Day Parade. Is there a more forgettable episode in the entire series? While the parade itself my hold some special, deep meaning to New Yorkers, the episode itself could not have been more forgettable.
So while this season gave us a Festivus for the Rest of Us, the Feats of Strength, The Airing of Grievances, Frogger, Serenity Now (insanity later), reading material in the bathroom, HELLLLOOOOOOO, Pimple Popper, M.D., and George flying too close to the sun on the wings of pastrami, it has to settle in at number three for also bringing us an episode that may as well not exist.
2. Season 8 (Episode List)
Where to even begin. I don’t think any other season has the top to bottom quality of season 8. The Abstinence is the first ballot hall of fame episode in this season, and of course the aforementioned Summer of George, and Yada Yada. I dare you find me a bad or even ‘good but not great’ episode in this entire line-up.
The only thing holding this season back from number 1 is the lack of all-timers. The depth of the lineup here is unmatched, and it just keeps coming after you week, after week, after week. The Urban Sombrero, Gaga for Pam, we already have a George, The Jerk Store, Kenny Rogers Roasters, and of course Little Jerry (it’s 3:30 in the morning, I’m at a cockfight. What am I clinging to?). Non-stop quality just top to bottom.
1. Season 5 (Episode List)
If season 8 is known for its top to bottom quality, season 5 is known for its sheer volume of first ballot half of fame episodes. The Opposite, Shrinkage, I don’t want to be a pirate, The Wife, The Fire, The Lip Reader, B-O Z-O, The Kavorka. Sure, you might not like The Barber, or The Masseuse, but the quality of the other episodes is so high they more than outweigh whatever ‘low’ might be given by a few off episodes.
Giannis hasn’t had a season like this – yet. This season is like Michael Jordan’s 1987-88 where he put up a 35/5.5/5.9 with a 31.7 PER, or 1988-89 where he averaged 32.5/8/8 with a 31.1 PER. Sure he didn’t win the title those years, but this was Jordan at his peak powers. He missed one game in those two years and averaged 40.3 minutes per game. He could not be stopped.
As a player, he never put up better numbers, and as a season, Seinfeld never had a better collection of episodes.