Twenty-one years ago today, the Seinfeld finale aired on NBC. The show ostensibly about nothing left as something very important. Its legacy has endured through two decades even as the source material ages and the pace feels slow compared to this era’s machine-gun-fire joke making. Countless words by better writers have already been spilled explaining why this is one of the greatest comedies of all time.
But one thing that’s been striking in re-runs, which always hit the spot, is the incredibly deep cast of role players the series was able to trot out there.
Screen time, entertainment value, cultural currency, and good ol’ gut feeling helped form this list of 64 memorable characters. Surely there will be no disagreement.
#64 Matthew: Learns to swear, destroys a cassette tape, just a complete hell-raiser.
#63 Marcy: Inventor of the yada-yada, revolutionary and efficient storyteller.
#62 Ping: Hard-working yet somewhat litigious delivery driver.
#61 Stan the Caddie: A wise fount of guidance, on the course or off it.
#60 Ruthie Cohen: Made Monk’s feel like home, always behind the register.
#59 Mr. Morgan: Ate his Snickers with a knife and fork, all class.
#58 Katie: Agent from hell who hit her breaking point.
#57 Laura: A classic B.L., though not the best lip-reader.
#56 Rebecca DeMornay: Believed the homeless deserved better than topless muffins.
#55 Sid Fields: An old man who told it like it was and hated stealing.
#54 The Drake: We loved him and we hated him. Polarizing force.
#53 Marla Penny: Made the right choice in preserving her virginity for JFK Jr.
#52 Jeannie Steinman: Came the closest to ending Jerry’s bachelor lifestyle but was just too similar.
#51 Naked Man on the Subway: A forerunner of the body-positive movement.
#50 Jean-Paul Jean-Paul: A world-class athlete done in by technology and others’ incompetence.
#49 Kevin: The Bizarro Jerry, loved a good book, a bit boring.
#48 Tony: If you don’t think he was pure electricity, you need to step off.
#47 Bette Midler: Would have benefitted greatly from Major League Baseball’s safety-conscious home plate rule change.
#46 The Chinese Restaurant Maitre’d: Wanted Seinfeld himself fourth on this list.
#45 Izzy Mandelbaum: One tough son of a bitch, always willing to prove it.
#44 Alton Benes: A challenging and important author, terrible dinner companion.
#43 The Jimmy: Sneaky athleticism, but had a problem staying healthy.
#42 Cousin Jeffrey: Deep and textured character even without appearing on screen.
#41 Poppie: Culinary expert who should probably sit on the wicker chair from now on.
#40 The Rabbi: Loose-lipped man of God, aspiring matchmaker.
#39 The Mohel: Not the man you want for that particular job.
#38 The Bubble Boy: Tom Rinaldi interview target and ultra competitive game-player.
#37 Jack Klompus: Take the pen.
#36 Russell Dalrymple: NBC bigwig and father of a daughter.
#35 Mable Choate: Crime victim and marble rye connoisseur.
#34 Justin Pitt: A man who appreciated jazz music, nice socks, other fine things.
#33 Jake Jarmel: Punctuation knower who would hate this sentence!
#32 Lloyd Braun: My dude could accomplish anything he set his mind to. Vintage hot dog consumer.
#31 Delores: You probably forgot her real name.
#30 Bob Cobb: Renaissance man capable of conducting an orchestra, hustling a pool hall, and finding you places to rent in Tuscany.
#29. Mr. Lipman: Wasn’t above stealing a muffin-based business idea but drew the line at having sex with the cleaning staff in the office.
#28 Mrs. Ross: This may be out of line but it seems like she liked to drink.
#27 Sidra Holland: Again, another classic case of upgrading, ditching superficial Jerry for Salman Rushdie.
#26 Mr. Kruger: Absolute clown of a boss, should probably get that mole checked out.
#25 Matt Wilhelm: Gave his employees a sense of purpose by trusting them with big projects. Ultimately succumbed to the allure of a cult.
#24 Lt. Joe Bookman: The man was passionate about books and the ability for youth to read them without their minds being warped.
#23 Joe Davola: A violent Pagliacci who had no business roaming the streets, let alone dating Elaine.
#22 Susan Ross: Jokes aside, this is one of the most stunning casting mistakes in television history. If you haven’t read up on how poorly things went, please do. Shocking stuff.
#21 Mickey Abbott: Pound-for-pound the greatest actor of his generation.
#20 Jackie Chiles: Damn impressive that Stephen A. Smith has basically ridden this playbook to the top of the media summit.
#19 Kenny Bania: Whenever he was on, he killed. Killed. Visionary for free-food grifters everywhere.
#18 Helen Seinfeld: In retrospect, kind of sad she never saw her boy settle down with a nice girl. Was it too much to ask?
#17 Babu Bhatt: Guess one would have to call what happened to him The American Nightmare. But hey, he got his vengeance.
#16 Keith Hernandez: Name one other person on this list who was in Game 6. Wouldn’t mind helping this guy move some furniture or cart him out to LaGuardia. Whatever he needs.
#15 Sue Ellen Mischke: Fashion icon who made the bra a standalone garment. Elaine’s best female friend and, whoooo boy, is that sad.
#14 Bob Sacamano/Lomez: Any friend of Kramer’s is a friend of ours.
#13 The Soup Nazi: Very particular about the things he loves. All geniuses are.
#12 Morty Seinfeld: Knew how to move raincoats. Attacked the day by waking up way before dawn. Never, ever let anyone get over on him. Alleged #1 Dad.
#11 Uncle Leo: Did some time in his youth for a crime of passion and sadly reverted back to his bad-boy ways later in life. Immensely proud father of a Parks Department employees. Hello!
#10 J. Peterman: Sartorial tycoon and citizen of the world. Immensely wealthy but not above clipping coupons. Devoted son. Rare birthday cake collector. Quite possibly the most interesting man in the world before that became a thing.
#9 David Puddy: Burly, athletic type willing to do whatever it takes to support his beloved New Jersey Devils. Christian rock listener. Rebound Guy. Hell of a used car salesman, yeah that’s right.
#8 Estelle Costanza: Glamour Magazine subscriber who can recognize a stop-short when she sees one. Has a heck of a paella recipe. Would prefer you don’t have friends over when she’s out of town.
#7 Tim Whatley: Definitely Bryan Cranston’s most memorable role.
#6 Frank Costanza: TV Guide zealot with a keen sense of vintage fashion. Festivus creator. Passed down his rage-oholic gene to his son. Serenity Now cautionary tale.
#5 Newman: Perhaps the smartest person on the show. Limited by his own laziness and corner-cutting. Architect of the Bottle Deposit scheme. Jerry’s capable and worthy foil.
And now a brief word about the ranking of the show’s four primaries. This is like choosing between one’s own children. The honest and real answer here is that they don’t function without each other.
So, with great trepidation …
#4 Jerry: Seinfeld the writer gave his best material to the other actors. This was one of the most brilliant things he could do.
#3 Kramer: Far and away the funniest, but lacking in the depth of the other three.
#2 Elaine: America as a whole didn’t realize that Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the funniest actor in the foursome in real time. History has cleared that up quite nicely.
#1 George: He was a neurotic loser. Had no moral compass. Was a chronic liar. The antihero. And yet … you loved watching him operate. To see the levers and layers of his awfulness was to see a master at work.