No better show captured the zeitgeist of the ’90s quite like Seinfeld. After a few seasons of rocky ratings but still ever-so-perfect ideas, the show about nothing touched the heart of millions through its absurd yet mundane observations, cynical and pessimistic views of life, and downright hilarious catchphrases that perfectly encapsulate certain traits many people seem to have. During its last five seasons, it remained a viewership juggernaut, and its series finale is the third-highest most-watched series finale of all time.
Updated May 13, 2023: If you are a fan of old-but-gold sitcoms like Seinfeld, you’ll be glad to know that this article has been updated with additional content by Yosra Ben Lagha.
While Seinfeld’s risky and controversial attitude has made many suggest a show of its style wouldn’t be allowed to air on network TV in today’s climate, that doesn’t entirely seem to be true. The series remains a beloved classic after all these years and was a big deal when it finally arrived on Netflix and Hulu. Part of what has made the series endure for so long is the characters, where even small supporting characters can break out with audiences. Here are the very best characters from Seinfeld.
9 George Steinbrenner
A fictional version of the real-life owner of the New York Yankees, voiced by show co-creator Larry David, George Steinbrenner is portrayed as an over-exaggerated caricature of an I-don’t-care-about-anything-because-I’m-super-rich businessman. The comedic routines between him and George are some of the best the show has produced.
Every time George needs a favor or has to break bad news, he is greeted by Steinbrenner in his office with hilarious results. Most of the time, he flat-out ignores him, comes up with ideas that completely destroy George’s plans, or goes on long ramblings that lead to George slowly walking away. His presence is a constant reminder of Seinfeld’s hyper-reality world, where minute observations are turned into deep psychological truths of the world.
8 Jerry Seinfeld
The biggest irony of Seinfeld, and it is well duly noted by beloved fans, is that Jerry is the least funny of the foursome. It could be argued that it’s because he’s almost always the straight man, the one who has to fix everyone’s problems while his are tossed to the side. His quirks include breaking up with his partners for the pettiest reasons imaginable (eating her peas one at a time, too much coddling, etc.) and binding the core group together.
His role diminishes the amount of humor we get from him in favor of the rest of the cast. Most of the time, he is reacting to his friends’ exploits more than participating in them. It is his quick wit and retort that saved him from being relegated as a stand-in for the real comedy.
The closest Seinfeld ever came to having a genuine villain, Newman represents everything Jerry hates about people and is meant to serve as his foil whenever the occasion presents itself. After starting off as just a minor character who is close friends with Kramer, Newman quickly took on the role as the show became more and more successful.
They all share the same apartment floor and are in constant contact. Serving with distinction as a United States Postal Office worker, Newman fits right in with the main cast due to his own petty and mischievous nature. Lazy and obnoxious, he embodies the worst in people, from impulsiveness to gluttony. His only saving grace is the admiration he has for his job, but even this is giving him too much credit.
6 Jackie Chiles
Every sitcom needs an attorney, but not every attorney is as unique as Jackie Chiles. His endless detective questions about silly details are especially hilarious. He is a competent lawyer that keeps, nonetheless, getting himself into embarrassing situations because of his client, Kramer’s quirkiness and antics.
Although he does not have the funniest lines in the show, the contrast between his serious facial features combined with his playful and sarcastic attitude is enough to crack us up, like the time when he asked a witness, very seriously, “Did you or did you not see this woman wearing a bra?” as if the whole case depended on it. He went on to explain to his client, in court and in front of the jury and the judge, how the bra should fit into someone’s skin “like a glove.” Jackie’s secret ingredient that he brings to the show is that he turns every serious situation into a reason to burst out laughing.
5 Frank Costanza
George’s father, Frank Costanza, played by the legendary Jerry Stiller, is the voice of pure and unhinged madness on the show. Loud, obnoxious, emotional, and conniving, Frank is the constant reminder of why George ended up the way he did. His outbursts and schemes, from berating George as if he’s still a child to selling bad-quality raincoats, are all a source of comedy for the show. He rivals Kramer in absurd ideas, such as the time he created his own Holiday to avoid buying Christmas presents or when he joined Kramer in the creation of a brassiere for men. Frank never relented, staying true to his convictions until the very end.
4 Elaine Benes
The only female member of the quartet, Elaine Benes represents the yuppie-type culture that came to fruition during the late ’80s and early ’90s. Not much is known about her background, only that her father has a very intimidating presence, and she used to date Jerry for a brief period. Her snippy and hard-boiled attitude towards people makes her a great fit with the rest of the gang, often contributing schemes and exploits which further her plans or that of others.
She is the very embodiment of all that is spoiled or rotten about people who pretend to be of a higher status than they actually are, vengeful and spiteful to the core, and competent enough to see her rivals lose (at times). Like most of the characters, these qualities are played for laughs, as it has become quite clear that they are not good people and actually serve as examples of what not to do in a given situation.
3 George Costanza
George Costanza is Larry David’s alter ego (and a sign of things to come) and is a fascinating psychological study into the mind of a bumbling neurotic living life in the most pathetic way possible. Everything about George is funny, from his frustrating observations about the world, his reputation with women, his desire to be liked, his cowardly demeanor in the face of trouble, and his complete lack of empathy towards anybody, including his friends.
His background is thoroughly explored, and by its 5th season, you get a complete grasp of the man and his many faults. He acts before thinking, uses every relationship he has to further his own means, and has absolutely no redeeming qualities. His very existence is the butt of every joke, oftentimes well-deserved.
2 David Puddy
Seinfeld’s character who mastered the cynical, I-don’t-care-about-anything attitude the most is definitely David Puddy. It’s hard to hear him speak with that emotionless voice, devoid of any intonation, and not laugh. He is very socially awkward. He is the guy that never changes his attitude according to the situation. He is probably the one who laughs at funerals, never cries in romantic movies, and who would feel that it’s completely normal to tell his girlfriend, Elaine, that she will probably “go to hell” while he will go to heaven. His blunt honesty is his winning card. He says everything we would consider socially unacceptable or frowned upon, and he says it very casually.
His rocky relationship with Elaine is also what keeps us coming back to Seinfeld throughout the years. Their silly fights and hilarious break-ups do not happen with normal couples. And it’s exactly this unusual romantic dynamic that we cannot get enough of. Not to mention his quirky and annoying obsessions, like when he kept asking for a ‘high five’ every couple of minutes.
1 Cosmo Kramer
Jerry’s next-door neighbor and the overall thorn in his everyday life, Kramer is based on a real-life neighbor of Larry David who was known for barging into his house unannounced to discuss mundane topics to get-rich-quick schemes. All these qualities were incorporated into the fictionalized version of his character. His barrage of antics, schemes, expressions (both facial and physical), over-the-top reactions, and downright narcissistic exploits have made Kramer one of the most iconic characters in television history. He revolutionized the goofball character in sitcoms, turning him into an even bigger center of attention than previously seen. Everything him absurd and comical and played to 11.
This story originally appeared on Movieweb