‘Seinfeld’ Seasons Ranked from Worst to Best
Whether or not you’ve seen all 180 episodes of the TV sitcom classic Seinfeld, there’s a good chance you’re living through one of their plots right now. In the nine seasons of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld‘s brainchild, just about every conceivable situation, relationship, and awkward occurrence was covered. Parking space disputes, frustrating customer service experiences, even sexual dysfunction; these were the everyday topics that made the show so relatable to television audiences.
Not every episode was created equal, however, and by extension, some seasons of Seinfeld are simply better than others. To be clear, you won’t find a bad season – unless you are part of the minority of people who don’t like the show at all – but Seinfeld certainly had its high and low points throughout the 90s. For this ranking of the seasons, I took a statistical approach, rounding up similar lists from around the web and assigning points depending on their ranks. Then I tweaked the final list ever so slightly according to my tastes, but it’s pretty much in line with the general consensus; your mileage may vary.
9. Season 1
It’s hard to argue that the inaugural batch of episodes is the weakest of Seinfeld’s nine seasons. It’s only five episodes long, and that’s only if you include the pilot episode, also known as “Good News, Bad News” and “The Seinfeld Chronicles.” Though this is where the central characters (Seinfeld’s heightened version of himself, Jason Alexander’s George Costanza, Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Elaine Benes, and Michael Richard’s Cosmo Kramer) first come together, it takes them much longer than five episodes to really dig into each of their quirky personalities.
It’s clear from the outset that the Seinfeld team has a rapport and a formula that works given enough time, but these episodes are rough. The timing is a little off, the banter is stilted, and the characters are all much more toned down from their eventual versions of themselves; even the music is jarring at this point. Season 1 is one of the few seasons that’s incredibly easy to pick out of a line-up on a late-night TBS syndication run.
Notable Episodes: “Pilot”, “The Stakeout”, “The Stock Tip”
8. Season 2
Season 2 improved on the freshman year of Seinfeld in all manner of ways. First up was an episode order of 13 rather than the previous five. That gave the cast and crew plenty of room to work in some more character development and expand on the foursome’s adventures. This is where the gang really starts to insult the everyday people around them: Jerry’s pony-loving relative, an intimidating busboy, and a number of co-workers.
We also get the first appearance of Uncle Leo, one of many beloved recurring characters that add flavor to the show over the years. The writers’ willingness to expand the storytelling to include supporting characters, sometimes at the expense of the main cast, is a testament to the show’s longevity. Season 2 also has plenty of relationship drama among the foursome as they navigate the pitfalls of dating in the big city, including Jerry and Elaine’s will they/won’t they flirtations.
Notable Episodes: “The Chinese Restaurant”, “The Phone Message”, “The Jacket”
7. Season 9
Just as Season 1 and 2 were examples of Seinfeld on the rise, Season 9 is the ultimate nadir of the show’s decline. The final season of the series still finished better than where it started, but by this point the showrunners and Seinfeld himself were struggling to come up with story ideas. It’s also sort of a Road Trip season since the gang travels to India for a wedding, Jerry makes yet another trip down to Florida, and the four of them infamously meet their characters’ ends in a Massachusetts pit-stop, though they were initially bound for Paris.
It’s this last crazy bit of plot that factors into Seinfeld’s finale, a two-part episode that puts Jerry & Company in true mortal peril for the first time in the series. The gang doesn’t learn much from their brush with death, however, as they quickly revert back to their normal sociopathic behavior. Though their less-than-admirable personalities have been thrown in their faces over the years, “The Finale” is the only time they’re actually held accountable for their terrible deeds. The episode might not rank very high despite the cavalcade of returning guest stars, but with all things considered, I’d call it one of the better and more poignant finales in television history.
Notable Episodes: “The Betrayal”, “The Merv Griffin Show”, “The Serenity Now”
6. Season 3
Now we’re back to the upswing of Seinfeld, but things are getting better by year three. This is where episodes start to dig more into socially taboo issues while also referencing popular culture in clever ways. Season 3 is when Seinfeld started to push the boundaries of sexual identities and promiscuity while not shying away from things like suicide, the JFK assassination, and even Neo-Nazis.
Another quirky bit of Season 3 is how often they branch out to unusual areas of the city. Two episodes come to mind: “The Parking Garage”, in which the foursome wander around a parking structure for the entire episode, and “The Subway”, in which each of them encounters their own particular public transportation adventure. This is also the first time we see the characters beginning to embark on storylines that continue beyond the end of the half-hour episode, starting with Kramer taking off for California in the Season 3 finale.
Notable Episodes: “The Boyfriend: Part 1 and 2″, “The Limo”, “The Subway”
5. Season 6
Season 6 is about as middle-of-the-road as you can get for Seinfeld. It comes off of the great success of the show’s fourth and fifth seasons, but the quality takes a dip. Jerry’s sense of self blows up a bit in this year since his character dates a Miss America contestant, an Olympic gymnast, and Bette Midler’s understudy. The gang also takes trips to both the NHL Playoffs and the SuperBowl, taking them further away from the Everyman and more towards the celebrity status they’re enjoying in their own lives (and doing fancy things like eating a Snickers with a knife and fork).
So while Season 6 features such memorable moments as the Big Salad, Assman, and the reveal of Kramer’s first name, it’s more of an assembly of funny moments rather than a coherent comedic thruline from beginning to end. There’s plenty more family drama with not only Jerry’s relatives but George’s parents as well; their separation makes for some good comedy throughout the next few seasons. It’s the season in which George buys Jo(h)n Voight’s car and which celebrates the series’ 100th episode … with a clip show. It’s good, just not Seinfeld at its best.
Notable Episodes: “The Jimmy”, “The Race”, “The Switch”
4. Season 8
Season 8 might be better known for its drama outside of the show than for its storylines. As far as the major plots go, the gang – specifically George – deals with the aftermath of Susan’s death at the end of the previous season. In the real world, series co-creator Larry David had actually departed the production and writing team prior to the season’s start, leaving creative control largely to Seinfeld himself. This season has a noticeable uptick in absurd and surreal subject matter, but the different tone didn’t prevent Seinfeld from staying atop the ratings all season long.
During its run, Seinfeld was apparently so busy writing material for the show that he didn’t have time to come up with the in-show stand-up routines, which explains why they’re absent from this season. Louis-Dreyfus was also pregnant in the second half of the season so, if you pay attention, Elaine noticeably hides her belly behind set dressings. Some great moments from Season 8 include Jerry’s continuing attempts to reference Superman, Elaine’s terrible dancing skills, cockfights, adventures with J. Peterman, and, of course, the Summer of George. You can’t really find a bad episode in the bunch.
Notable Episodes: “The Bizarro Jerry”, “The Chicken Roaster”, “The Yada Yada”
3. Season 5
Now we get into the Top 3 Seasons. It’s really difficult to choose just one here so a case can be made for any of them to be in the top spot. As for Season 5, the only thing that keeps it from being a silver or gold medal winner is its lack of a cohesive narrative that runs from the season’s beginning to its end. The individual episodes are fantastic, enough to move this season high up on the list, but as an overall season it falls just short of being the best.
When I mention things like the Puffy Shirt, the restorative property of mangoes, or the non-fat yogurt conspiracy, if I ask you to spare a square or if you trust Eric the Clown (Jon Favreau) to keep his cool during a fire, you’ll likely get a strong sense of nostalgia for this season of Seinfeld. The beauty of Season 5 – which can also be said for Seinfeld overall – is that you can drop in on any episode and enjoy it without having seen the one preceding it. But this list’s top spots will go to the seasons with strong individual episodes as well as cohesive season-long narratives.
Notable Episodes: “The Opposite”, “The Marine Biologist”, “The Hamptons”
2. Season 7
Season 7 might have the strongest season-long storyline, one that starts with George’s engagement in the premiere and ends with Susan’s death in the finale. While the latter wasn’t exactly the plan when scripting started, David’s departure from the team necessitated a change to how they handled Susan’s character, leading to one of the show’s best and most talked-about episodes.
Season 7 also saw what could be the most memorable supporting character of the whole series, the Soup Nazi. It’s also chock full of other zany supporting characters like The Maestro, Jean Paul Jean Paul, George Steinbrenner, Lloyd Braun, and Rusty the Horse. Whether you’re in the mood for a calzone from Paisano’s, or you want to take in a showing of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (just don’t leave your car at Jiffy Park), or you have a plan to make money recycling bottles on Mother’s Day, you just can’t go wrong watching Season 7 from start to finish.
Notable Episodes: “The Soup Nazi”, “The Rye”, “The Invitations”
1. Season 4
It’s hard to pick a season that doesn’t have the Soup Nazi for the top spot, but Season 4 has a couple of things that give it the edge. Its season-long story may not be as shocking as the one in Season 7, but its self-referential nature represents what makes the show so great on a larger scale. George and Jerry visit Los Angeles – where Kramer may or may not be a serial killer – and embark on a season-long journey to make a TV pilot. Though that pilot is ultimate squashed – with a brief resurgence on Japanese TV – the episodes along the way are fantastic.
Each hour in Season 4 pokes fun at the nature of television in general and, specifically, getting a TV show made, so it’s got plenty of in-jokes for people in the biz. But there’s also a lot to like outside of the main storyline: the Bubble Boy and Crazy Joe Davola antagonize the gang, sexual tension abounds thanks to a Virgin and the Contest, while medically themed episodes are popular in this season whether you’re talking Junior Mints or breast implants. It’s also the season in which we first meet Jerry Stiller as Frank Costanza, one of the show’s most memorable and hilarious characters. Season 4 is Seinfeld at its best, and so it claims the top spot on our ranking. If you agree or disagree, be sure to let us know in the comments!
Notable Episodes: “The Contest”, “The Outing”, “The Airport”