Seinfeld was easily my favorite show as a kid. Since television series on DVD or streaming weren’t a thing at the time, we used to tape episodes of Seinfeld on VHS and rewatch them repeatedly, and they never got old. However, thanks to its presence on streaming services, it is now possible to binge the entire series…without commercials.
Binging television shows has become a mainstay of the era of streaming. Back in the dark ages, we had to wait every week for a new episode and then a whole summer before a new season. In some ways, it’s hard to know how we survived, but in other ways, that was the best way to enjoy a show.
Even the best shows that last for many seasons lose something over time. It’s natural for a show to evolve as it needs to stay fresh to maintain ratings. Binging shows has made it much easier to watch a show ascend to greatness and decline rather quickly. Seinfeld may have been a ratings juggernaut for NBC—even through its final seasons—but it nevertheless had such a decline—though many refuse to admit it.
A classic sign that a sitcom was growing stale was introducing a new main character or the reliance on a gimmick to rekindle interest in the show. The most famous example of the latter is the episode of Happy Days when Fonzie infamously performs a jump over a shark on water skis. That gimmick even resulted in the phrase “jumping the shark.”
Many argue that Seinfeld never “jumped the shark,” but I disagree. In my opinion, there were several “jump-the-shark” moments in Seinfeld. That’s not to say the show was terrible after these episodes. On the contrary, the show was undoubtedly funny throughout the series. Still, as Seinfeld was once considered groundbreaking for taking the mundanities of life and making them funny (earning it the nickname the “show about nothing”), it indeed devolved into a typical sitcom.
5. “The Pitch” (Season 4, Episode 3)
Seasons four and five are the strongest seasons of Seinfeld; however, it wasn’t until watching Seinfeld on Netflix over the past few months that it occurred to me that season four also had a “jump-the-shark” moment. In the episode “The Pitch,” Jerry is approached by NBC executives about developing a pilot for their network. This felt like a clever arc for the season for a long time, but now, it feels somewhat gimmicky. The arc mirrors what happened to Jerry in real life and is humorously self-deprecating in a way. George comes up with the idea that the show will be a show “about nothing” because “everyone else is doing something; we’ll do nothing.” The arc ends in the season finale, during which we see the sitcom called Jerry, filmed and premiered before being quickly canceled. In hindsight, this was a cheesy gimmick.
4. “The Understudy” (Season 6, Episode 24)
There are multiple reasons for this episode being a “jump-the-shark” moment. First, it’s a parody of the infamous Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Winter Olympics scandal from 1994. Seinfeld has used parody and satire as a device in its episodes plenty of times, but not as the entire plot. In the episode, Jerry dates an understudy for the main character of the musical version of Rochelle, Rochelle—a fictional movie first introduced in the show’s fourth season. Who is she an understudy for? Bette Midler, who plays herself in the episode.
Midler’s appearance in the episode makes little sense. She is playing Rochelle in the musical, but, as we learned from our first introduction to Rochelle, Rochelle two seasons earlier, the story is about “a young girl’s strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk.” Midler was 50 years old at the time of the episode, so it made no sense that she’d be playing the character of Rochelle. This plot hole always bothered me.
This episode clearly marked a turning point in the series. Not only did it rely heavily on parody and use a celebrity guest that made no sense for the story, but it also began the arc of Elaine working for J. Peterman and his real-life catalog, another cheesy gimmick.
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3. “The Bizarro Jerry” (Season 8, Episode 3)
Like “The Understudy,” this episode relies heavily on parody, taking it a bit too far in what was supposed to be a “show about nothing.” The show sees Elaine break up with a boyfriend named Kevin, but she remains friends with him, only to realize that he’s a better friend than her other ex-boyfriend, Jerry. After Jerry points out that Kevin is “Bizarro Jerry” (just as Bizarro Superman was the exact opposite of Superman), Elaine discovers that Kevin has a circle of friends just like the show’s main characters, only they’re more sociable, better people. Even Kevin’s apartment is like Jerry’s, only mirrored. Way too kitschy for Seinfeld.
2. “The Betrayal” (Season 9, Episode 8)
This episode sees the Seinfeld crew off to India for a wedding, as George deals with the revelation that his girlfriend once slept with Jerry. What makes this episode a “jump-the-shark” moment for the series is that it is presented backward. We see the episode in brief vignettes from the final scene to the first scene. It is, without a doubt, a cleverly executed episode that can be appreciated for how the reverse narrative is critical for making it work. But how did a show about nothing become a show that needed to rely on such a gimmick?
1. “The Switch” (Season 6, Episode 11)
This is hardly the show’s strongest episode, even though it has its moments. But this episode would change the course of the entire show, and not in a good way. This was the episode that revealed Kramer’s first name. Up until this episode, Kramer was simply known as “Kramer.” It helped create an air of mystery over the character—which this episode ruined for no good reason.
Virtually no attention was given to the fact that we never knew his first name before this episode, yet this episode established that the mystery of Kramer’s first name was actually significant to the characters despite never having shown any interest before. Jerry revealed that he’d been trying to get it out of Kramer for years. Unfortunately, the fans didn’t benefit from learning Kramer’s name, and neither did the show.