Since March, there’s been one Instagram page I’ve been following intently – a fan page for Seinfeld, @seinfeldepisodes – which has been playing out a March Madness-style tournament to determine what single scene is the best moment of the 90s’ most iconic sitcom.
The tournament is now in its Final Four round, so there are only two rounds before we have a clear answer. The four moments are very Constanza-focused, with three of them focusing on George, and the fourth focusing on his father, Frank. And all four moments highlight different strengths of the show, so I feel like it’s worth looking at all four one by one.
The “Shrinkage” scene from the episode “The Hamptons” displays a specific strength of Seinfeld in capturing something funny in everyday life. Like Double-Dipping and the phrase “Yada yada” Seinfeld put a name to a phenomena and explained it to a broad audience who, like Elaine, might not have known about it.
It’s also some great acting from Jason Alexander, who looks incredibly embarrassed and shouts “I was in the pool!” like only Jason Alexander could. This scene is great because it captures a hilarious, mortifying, and not totally unrealistic piece of situational comedy. We might feel bad for George, but we’ll certain laugh.
Also, one thing that I always forget about this scene is that George intentionally tries to walk in Rachel getting changed so he can glimpse her naked, so then Jerry gives her directions to George’s room (it’s unclear if that’s intentional or accidental). It’s quite scummy of George, but you have to remember that the characters of Seinfeld are not framed to be good people, and it makes his embarrassment later on even funnier.
“George’s Answering Machine”
This moment is very quintessentially 90s, with George screening his calls to make sure his girlfriend can’t reach him because she’s going to break up with him. The episode came out in 1997 but Caller ID wasn’t prevalent for a little while, so it feels like this would be less possible now.
It’s quite a funny moment, with George patiently sitting by as his voicemail runs on, playing a song to the tune of the theme to the TV show The Greatest American Hero – we hear it once when Jerry calls, and then George gets another call, and then we go through the whole song a second time. It’s hard to say exactly what makes this particularly funny – is it the song? Is it the facial expressions George makes? Is it going through the whole thing twice? Man, I don’t know, but it makes me every time.
“You Want a Piece of Me?”
My hot take about this one is that it doesn’t really deserve to be this far in, and that people have a higher estimation of it because the use of it in one of the clip show episodes, where a blooper reel was included. In that blooper reel, we can see how the slightest reading of Frank’s line “You sayin’ you want a piece of me?” would send Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander into absolute fits of laughter. It’s funny to see actors have difficulty keeping a straight face, but I don’t necessarily think that this makes this scene that much funnier than any of the others.
Is this moment funnier than Kramer slamming money down on the table to announce that he’s out of the Contest, or Elaine’s terrible dancing, or George traveling to Ohio to tell a former coworker “the Jerk Store called, they’re running out of you”? Once you’ve taken it out of the context the bloopers provide, I’m not certain it is.
But yeah, even if I think this moment made it further in the tournament than I would have expected it to, the idea of Elaine fighting an old man in a police station does have more than a fair share of comedic value.
“The Marine Biologist”
There are a lot of funny things in this scene, with a lot of them coming from how seriously George tells the story. Genuinely, in the entire run of Seinfeld, I don’t know that there’s a funnier line than “The sea was angry that day, my friends; like an old man, trying to send back soup in a deli.” There’s something very New York about that line; George is trying to make an epic story but ends up using oddly specific, very local metaphors. And to point to one specific line reading which really makes the scene, Kramer saying “What is that, a Titleist?” with Michael Richard’s voice nervously cracking is absolutely incredible.
By design, Seinfeld isn’t deep on character, but there’s something incredibly complex about George’s inadequacies that make him perhaps the show’s most dynamic character. “The Marine Biologist” is a huge moment for George, relative to the entire series. He frequently makes up professions – he’s a marine biologist, he’s an architect, he’s a latex salesman, he’s the author of an off-Broadway play – but this is one of a few times that his lies put him in a situation that is actually high-pressure. The truth about George is that he’s not an architect, or a latex salesman, or a marine biologist – as Jason Alexander would describe him on Curb Your Enthusiasm, he’s an idiot, a schmuck, and a yutz. In this scene, George just tries to be what he says he is. He finally breaks down and just tries to be a Marine Biologist, only to succeed, against all odds or logic – he saves the beached whale! So, after proving himself and realizing he doesn’t need to lie about being a Marine Biologist to be someone great, he decides he can finally tell the truth about being just a regular guy. But what does that truth get him? “She told me to go to hell, and I took the bus home.” What “The Marine Biologist” story shows us is that even when George has moments of shining brilliance, he’ll still always be the idiot, the schmuck, the yutz. It’s funny to go from something as transcendent Marine Biology, back to the mediocrity of George Constanza.
Out of all the moments left in the best moments tournament, I think “The Marine Biologist” is probably the most deserving. I do hope it wins – it’s one of the show’s funniest moments.
But, what do you think should win? Did your favorite moment lose in an earlier round?