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The Spinoff’s guide to the most essential Seinfeld episodes

With Jerry Seinfeld performing one show only in Auckland this month, The Spinoff writers celebrate their favourite Seinfeld episodes to get you hyped.

The Contest (S04E11)

‘The Contest’ is a fan favourite owing to the fact that they managed to make an entire half hour show about masturbating without ever saying the word. The titular contest is between the four friends over who can refrain from masturbating for the longest. They’re easy laughs without resorting to hack one-liners or gestures, which is harder than it looks (that’s what she said. I hate myself). I first saw this episode on New Year’s Eve when I was 12 and watching TV with my dad. It was awkward for obvious reasons and then got worse when he turned to me and said nervously, “You have no idea what they’re talking about, right?” And I said no, I didn’t, even though I did, because we’d just learned all about euphemisms at school. / Madeleine Chapman

The Chinese Restaurant (S02E11)

My favourite is ‘The Chinese Restaurant’, even though it’s one of the only episodes that doesn’t have Kramer in it. It’s a bottle episode where they wait for a table at a restaurant where they plan to grab a bite before some sci-fi blockbuster. It’s basically Jerry and Larry David going hell for leather on extremely focused observations, and the result is some kind of 1990s Waiting for Godot thing.

Very funny to offer Elaine $50 for steal someone’s egg roll. Very very funny when Elaine says they should go to Sky Burger and “skarf em down”. The funniest part though is George’s subplot of trying to call his girlfriend using the restaurant’s phone, the climax of which is James Hong delivering this absurd deus ex Cartwright. George doesn’t even seem angry at the guy. It’s like he instinctively deflects his rancor directly toward the universe itself. I like it. / Joseph Harper

The Barber (S05E08)

George goes for a job interview, but leaves not actually knowing if he got the job. So he shows up the following Monday and just pretends he’s got it, and he spends the next week just showing up and doing nothing. When the new boss hits him up about it he simply denies everything and says he’s going to work for the guy whose file he’s supposedly been working on. This actually had quite a big impact on my life – I took the learnings from this episode and applied them to my real life career working in a bank, bluffing my way through situations and absolving myself of responsibility for the better part of a decade. / Jamie Wall

The Hamptons (S05E20)

There is no greater carnival of euphemism in popular culture than the masturbation-themed episode ‘The Contest’. But greater still, I reckon, is the ‘The Hamptons’, from the peerless series five. Like all the best Seinfelds, what seems like an extemporised slice of life – in this case with Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and George-plus-girlfriend on a holiday break in the Hamptons – is deceptively tight in its plotting and theme; Aristotle would be proud. As in ‘The Contest’ there’s an abundance of bodily awkwardness here, too, including exhibition boobs and, unforgettably, penis shrinkage. Revenge is served in the form of non-kosher lobster eggs and tomatoes. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s face upon seeing the ugly baby? Possibly the greatest reaction shot in television history. / Toby Manhire

The Strike (S09E10)

It’s an anti-Christmas episode, inventing/popularising a fake non-religious holiday called ‘Festivus’. Key elements of the December 23rd holiday include ‘feats of strength’, ‘the airing of grievances’ (“gather your family and tell them all the ways they’ve disappointed you over the year”) and an aluminium pole. All that is just a sub-plot to the main event of Kramer actually having a job (!) and returning to work (!!) after 12 years (!!!) on strike at a bagel shop. A pre-Malcolm, very pre-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston makes his final appearance as dentist Tim Whatley, the anti-anti-dentite.

George invents a fake charity called ‘the Human Fund’ after being gifted a donation in his name at Christmas, predating that quite shit trend’s arrival in NZ by ~20 years. Kramer is caught reading the VCR manual on Jerry’s couch, and defends himself thus: “we can’t all be reading the classics, Professor Highbrow!” And Elaine does some excellent Elaine squirming around some superbly drawn terrible men. / Duncan Greive

The Pen (S03E03)

I met a 6 year old girl named Stella earlier this year and I tell you what, it was hard to not do this at her 100% of the time. / Joseph Harper

Bonus snackables:

Jerry dating a woman whose name he can’t remember except that it rhymes with a female body part. (The Junior Mint, S04E19)

Elaine riding the train and being the embodiment of every commuter. (The Subway, S03E13)


Got a spare 70 hours? Click below to binge all 169 episodes of Seinfeld.

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