Seinfeld is the greatest sitcom ever. Since COVID started, I have gone back and watched it again beginning to end all the way through twice. Thus, this is my definitive ranking of the seasons of the show.
9. Season 1 – The Seinfeld Chronicles
Re-watching the first season is always so fascinating. They clearly have a very distinct POV that would be present for the full run of the show. But they are still working out the kinks of how to express it. Only the Jerry characterization feels fully formed (mostly because there never ended up being much to it). Kramer is still a recluse. George feels more competent in just about every facet of his life. Elaine is a bit less self-involved. They are clearly working out the kinks but had immediate potential to go from good to great. Under communism, all network sitcoms will get a mandatory six-episode test run to work out the kinks.
8. Season 8 – Seinfeld without Larry
The first season without Larry David had a lower batting average and slugging percentage than seasons 2-7, but the on base percentage essentially remained the same. If you don’t know about baseball, basically I am saying the highs were not as high and there were more misses but enough of the Larry David DNA remained to keep the show consistently entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny throughout. The major change was that the humor was a bit more skewed to Seinfeld’s tastes that usually lead to more high concept stuff and more bits. A little bit more zaniness.
7. Season 9 – The End
Season 9 saw Seinfeld get a bit more comfortable with running Seinfeld without David, and the batting average of the show went up. It was still missing David’s sense of humor obviously. Beyond that, the big thing to talk about here is the finale which has received a pretty consistent amount of credible derision in the moment and ever since. My stance has long been that the finale was funny so like I don’t really care much beyond that? I think the episode would have made for a fun penultimate episode, as a more “normal” episode would feel more appropriate for a show about nothing.
6. Season 2 – Getting there!
The show rapidly begins to develop its voice in near rapid time. The exciting thing as a fan who enjoys rewatching the show is to see how they were already producing classic episodes in this season while also leaving some room for growth. A show that is already producing greatness in this still developmental stage is incredibly fascinating and adds all new aspects of pleasure when you rewatch. The comfort of knowing that a peak is coming makes it easy to forgive any minor missteps in the early stages.
5. Season 3 – Seinfeld
While the show had yet to hit its peak at this point, this is when it pretty much fully found its voice and began to understand what they wanted to do week in and week out. While there a bunch of small things that they start to get right, the most important idea developed this season is how they manage to convey that these people are menaces to society. There were still some weaker episodes here and there would be more memorable stuff in the years to come, but you can comfortable point to this season to say when the show “took the leap” and became unequivocally great and completely itself. It was also when the show realized the value in creating zany side characters that only appeared a handful of times (if that) throughout the entire run of the show.
4. Season 6 – Mr. Pitt & George Steinbrenner
During the peak four-year run of the show, this season certainly stands out the least of the four but that is an impossible standard to meet. The show was fully in its stride at this point though, and they were hitting homeruns almost every single week. The two big changes that helped to keep the show vibrant in surprising ways were the decisions to get George a job with the Yankees front office leading to the great show version of George Steinbrenner (played by Larry David) and to have Elaine hit rock bottom and landing a job as a personal assistant to a useless rich person (Mr. Pitt). Much hijinks ensued.
3. Season 5 – The Constanzas
If Season 3 is when the show truly feels what we think of as Seinfeld and season 4 is when the show takes the leap to greatness, season 5 is when the show knows itself and knows how good it is. Everything is firing on all cyllanders. There’s really not much to break down about what happens beyond the ingenius move to have George move back in with his parents so The Costanzas could become semi-regular fixtures on the show. Beyond that, there is not much that needs to be said. An all-time program in the middle of their peak.
2. Season 7 – The Engagement
Larry David went out with a bang with one of the best seasons of television ever. This stretch of episodes contained some of the very elements of the show. George was in a relationship with Susan again (despite what Jason Alexander may have felt at the time, he very much knew how to be funny with her). There was the yearlong engagement story. George was still with the Yankees. Elaine was now with Mr. Peterman. The usual array of supporting pit characters were all expertly used. It was just delightful end to end. And while there was still a lot of great stuff to come in the final two seasons, there is no doubt that on some level, Susan dying and then the gang just lamely all deciding to go get coffee was the spiritual conclusion endpoint for the show.
1. Season 4 – Jerry
This season improved on the greatness of season 3 in two connected and key areas. George’s relationship with Susan (always a strong point no matter what Jason Alexander thought at the time) brought out new sides of George’s personality and craziness. Then they also came up with the story of George convincing Jerry that they should write a television pilot about Jerry’s life in a case of art imitating life imitating art imitating life. The show did not always need to have connecting tissue to make individual episodes great, but it helped to make good episodes even better and more satisfying to have these recurring issues present throughout the whole season.