Friday, August 1, 2014

A Very Meaningful and Correct List of Seinfeld Characters

A few of weeks ago, Rolling Stone came out with a list of the 100 greatest characters in Seinfeld history. Seinfeld is probably my favorite show ever (either that or Chappelle's Show basically), and I have to say, the list was downright turrible. Characters left off, the order was all effed up, and very weak reasons for placing characters where they were. Also, in going through a straight list of 100 characters, it's tough to figure out if someone is really 94th or 86th. I'm here to make things right.

Here is my list of the greatest Seinfeld characters ever. It will be broken up, however, in a meaningful way: by number of appearances. Comparing the Soup Nazi to Newman to Elaine is a very difficult task. Is this like WAR, where just the sheer number of games played counts? Or is it like OPS+, where the effectiveness per game is the real determining factor? Is it somewhere in between? I'm going to avoid those issues by grouping characters by number of appearances. Within their groups, they're going to be based essentially on how funny they are, and how classic they are. Here we go. The real list.

Ruthie Cohen

1. Ruthie Cohen: The cashier at Monk's gets her own category. She has lines in, I believe, 1 episode, but is seen in 101 total episodes. She doesn't fit into the category of characters with tons of appearances, but is worth noting just sort of for appearing in so many. Way to go, Ruthie.

Unseen and/or Imaginary Characters (including pseudonyms)

14. Pachyderm: Juggling those two pieces of pizza was the funniest thing anyone ever saw.

13. Eduardo Corrochio: Elaine's made-up boyfriend is notable for just how made-up it sounds.

12. Burt Harbinson: This is the first made-up name in Seinfeld history, coming in the second episode of the show when Jerry and George are staking out Vanessa's office. SIMON BENNETT ROBBINS OPPENHEIM AND TAFT

11. Cousin Jeffrey: So! That's your cousin!

10. Susie: Peggy calls Elaine this name. Not Suze. For God's sake, not Suze.

9. Steven Snell: Kramer's character when he appears on Murphy Brown. She knows people, Steven Snell.

8. Kel Varnsen: Jerry's go-to pseudonym. Though strong, it pales in comparison to the others'.

7. Snoopy and Prickly Pete: George's pretend horses at his pretend house in the Hamptons.

6. Aunt Baby: "Frank, if Aunt Baby were alive today, how old would she be?"
"She'd never make it."

4. Lomez: Kramer's Orthodox Jewish friend from later seasons.

2. Bob Sacamano: Poor Bob and his botched hernia operation.

1. Art Vandelay: Obvious #1 for this category. Importer-exporter, architect, and latex manufacturer.

Characters Appearing in 1 Episode

17. Tony: Tony's presence gave us all the term "mimbo." You don't hear people using the word bimbo a lot anymore. Maybe it should make a comeback.

16. Evie: Big cashmere fan.

15. Darryl: His appearance on the show let us all know that in Elaine's mind, Spanish is between black and white.

14. Hal Kitzmiller: Or is it Langerhans?

13. Tony the Mechanic: Robert Barone. THE WASHER FLUID IS NOT FINE

12. Jimmy: Brown Bear thinks Jimmy is pretty funny.

11. Marcy: Marcy was George's girlfriend, she needed some shoes, and yada yada yada, she'll be out in 6-8 months.

10. Aaron: The Close Talker.

9. Donna Chang: Her acupuncture class and Confucius quoting give people a ridicurous misunderstanding about her. As Jerry points out, however, she is a woman.

8. Manya: Left a pony country to come to a non-pony country.

7. Darin: Doesn't care about the internship. Cares about Kramerica.

6. Jean-Paul: His two biggest problems were oversleeping and an unintentional potty mouth.

5. Gary Fogel: Played by the totally underrated Jon Lovitz. WELL SHE'S TALKIN' TO BLUE STREAK NOW, JACK!

4. The Mohel: His rant about putting a glass on the very edge of a table is so underrated. The shaky-handed rabbinical surgeon being left off Rolling Stone's list was a true travesty.

3. The Polar Bear Guy: Who doesn't love an old guy making jokes about male kangaroos having pouch envy?

2. Milos: The guy who played Milos has been on so many things. He was Topanga's dad on Boy Meets World, for starters. THAT'S ONE MORE GAME FOR MILOS!!!!!!!

1. Lieutenant Bookman: Against pictures of peepees and weewees in The Cat in the Hat. You buy a jar of Folgers crystals, you put it in the cupboard, you forget about it. And then when you need it it's there, it lasts forever, it's freeze-dried, freeze-dried crystals. WELL LEMME TELL YA SOMETHIN' FUNNY BOY, this was the absolute best one-time appearance on Seinfeld.

Characters Appearing in 2-5 Episodes

31. Dolores (Mulva): Facilitated one of Seinfeld's best jokes. That's enough to land here.

30. Peggy: Thinks Elaine (aka Susie) is gross. Pretty fine.

29. Mr. Morgan: George's manager for some of his time with the Yankees who looks like Sugar Ray Leonard (actually), didn't get to sign Steinbrenner's card, and picks up on George's habit of eating dessert with a fork and knife. Fine.

28. Father Curtis: Laughs at Catholic jokes but draws the line at anti-Dentite cracks.

27. Earl Haffler: Boisterous Southern guy who gambles with Kramer on flight arrivals. Nothing overly great, but memorable nonetheless.

26. Jake Jarmel: Basically on here for the name. Elaine breaks up with him over punctuation. Great.

25. Babs Kramer: Nails Newman. Also reveals Kramer's first name to the world in Season 6. Looking back, it's hard to believe that we didn't know the name Cosmo until the show was 6 years old.

24. Mr. Tomasulo: The least memorable of all the bosses (probably because he was only in a couple of episodes as George's boss at Play Now), Mr. Tomasulo is pretty regular. He's not bad, not great. Good.

23. Mabel Choate: She plays a big part in one of the oddest twists in Seinfeld history. After Jerry steals a rye from her ("SHUT UP, YOU OLD BAG!"), she casts the deciding vote in Morty Seinfeld's impeachment years later.

22. Noreen: Another glaring omission from Rolling Stone's list. Elaine's friend who wasn't flirting with Jerry, but on second thought, Jerry is a baritone...

21. FDR: Franklin Delano Romanowski wishes Kramer to drop dead, which is something that Seinfeld fans will notice is something that Kramer cannot stand. Again, the name is just too much.

20. Katie: Jerry's agent who would become the mother on That 70's Show. She's just way too much, sort of treats Jerry like a child, and seems like the worst agent in history. Good stuff.

19. Rebecca DeMornay: Angry homeless shelter worker/thrift store clerk. The entire joke is that she looks absolutely nothing like the actress Rebecca DeMornay. And it's such a good joke.

18. Nana: Criminally left off Rolling Stone's list. Though she's not unbelievable, she's definitely in the top 100. Doesn't seem older than Jerry's parents.

17. Sidra: "They're real and they're spectacular" is more than enough to get Sidra on the list. Probably Jerry's most memorable love interest.

16. The Doctor: This is the guy who tells George, most memorably, that Susan has expired. He's all gravitas, which is perfect for his short appearances.

15. Bob Cobb (The Maestro): A very well played character, and the fact that he's named Bob Cobb makes him even better. Seinfeld is and will always be the best at coming up with names. Elaine's boyfriends alone are priceless: Bob Cobb, Hal Kitzmiller, Jake Jarmel, Todd Gak. All gold.

14. Beth Luchner: Debra Messing is a Brandeis alum and a Rhode Islander. That's all I need.

13. Mr. and Mrs. Ross: Susan's parents who blame George for her death (rightfully). They're pretty good, especially when setting Frank straight about chickens, hens and roosters, and calling George's bluff about his house in the Hamptons.

12. Lloyd Braun: Later Lloyd Braun, after he went insane, is definitely the better of his two iterations. Most of his value comes from the Costanzas being hilarious, but he's still a great character.

11. Sue Ellen Mischke: Heir to the Oh Henry! candy bar fortune. It's got chocolate, peanuts, nougat; it's delicious, scrumptious, outstanding! Yeah I can't wait to get to Jackie Chiles on this list.

10. Poppie: Overwrought Italian character that Seinfeld really needed. Not a hand washer.

9. Tim Whatley: Dentist to the Stars, Tim Whatley was Bryan Cranston's first role that I know of. I think of him as being a part of a lot of good episodes and plot lines, but not necessarily standing out as super hilarious. Great actor, but I think Dr. Whatley can be overrated because of Mr. Cranston's post-Seinfeld success.

8. Sid: The guy who moves cars from one side of the street to the other. I KNOW WHO I AM! DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE? Classic.

7. Mike Moffit: Perhaps the worst omission from Rolling Stone's list. Mike calls Jerry a phony, fights George for a parking spot, becomes the worst bookie in history, and accuses Jerry of murder. He's very over-the-top and hilarious.

6. Bob and Cedric: WHO?! WHO DOESN'T WANT TO WEAR THE RIBBON?! These guys have approximately, I don't know, under 60 seconds on screen during the entire series, but they're soooooooooo goooooooood.

5. Izzy Mandelbaum: Super memorable character that spawned the phenomenon of me saying "SO YOU THINK YOU'RE BETTER THAN ME?!" all the time. MANDELBAUM, MANDELBAUM, MANDELBAUM!

4. The Rabbi: "Elaine, shiksappeal is a myth like the Yeti, or his North American cousin, the Sasquatch."

3. Yev Kassem: AKA the Soup Nazi. This is arguably the best episode and joke in Seinfeld history. Mad props to NO SOUP FOR YOU.

2. Babu Bhatt: Such a classic character. His disapproving wagging finger alone would be enough to get him pretty far up on this list.

1. Mr. Kruger: The most underrated of the Seinfeld bosses. He comes on right at the end as the head of Kruger Industrial Smoothing, and he's George's match in terms of incompetence and laziness. Between botching the Statue of Liberty job, partaking in Festivus, the Human Fund, and Coco, Mr. Kruger has a very disproportionate impact on the show given his small and short role. I have a soft spot for the very end of Seinfeld. Most people look down on the last two seasons (especially the last season), but I love all those episodes. They get really into goofy non sequiturs and over-the-top dumbness. Mr. Kruger is a perfect symbol of that.

Characters Appearing in 6-25 Episodes

This is a big range, but I think it all sort of makes sense when you look at this group. We're getting to the really good stuff.

16. Larry: Angry manager of Monk's. Relatively funny.

15. Crazy Joe Davola: Definitely the darkest character that ever appeared on Seinfeld. Violent and psychotic, Davola shifts a few episodes (especially "The Opera") from regular Seinfeld funny to suspenseful and disturbing. I sort of never thought Davola fit into Seinfeld, but he creates enough funny situations to make his appearance worthwhile (for instance, "Y'know, a muffin can be very filling" and "How could anyone not like you?").

14. Russell Dalrymple: NBC executive who somehow agrees to produce Jerry and George's "show about nothing" and becomes obsessed with Elaine. He is not the most dynamic character, but because he is at the center of one of Seinfeld's classic story arcs, he deserves a spot on the list.

13. Mr. Wilhelm: George's immediate boss during most of his stint at the Yankees (along with the mostly forgettable, though terribly unfortunate, Mr. Morgan), Mr. Wilhelm is notable because he is so cheerfully satisfied with, and indeed proud of, George as an employee. George's incompetence never seems to affect Mr. Wilhelm, whose jovial management, confusion, and naivete make him pretty likable and hilarious.

12. Mr. Lippman: Elaine's boss at Pendant Publishing (and George's boss for one episode) is sort of the forgotten great boss. He falls for Elaine's shiksappeal, invests in muffin tops, and publishes Kramer's coffee table book about coffee tables (AND IT TURNS INTO A COFFEE TABLE!). He's too much of a "straight man" to be the greatest boss, but he's perfect for Elaine's specific brand of incompetence, encouraging her at some points and bringing her down at others. I liked Mr. Lippman.

11. Justin Pitt: Mr. Pitt, Elaine's second-best boss, has his moments. The name Justin is such an interesting choice for Ian Abercrombie's elderly Englishman character who eats Snickers with a fork and knife. I've never met a Justin born before 1980, and yet the name suits him perfectly. Seinfeld will always be the best show at coming up with names (and anyone who thinks Bob Loblaw is a funnier name than Bob Cobb is missing the point).

10. Helen Seinfeld: Jerry's doting and overly concerned mother is quite funny. Though she has surprisingly few memorable funny appearances (figuring out which glass to pee in for Elaine's urine sample, "How could anyone not like you?"), she's a really solid character. I think her funniest moment is the "Hello, Newman" that she uncorks in Jerry's absence. Perfectly played.

9. Mickey Abbott: Kramer's friend who often gets him jobs that Kramer totally blows. Kramer becomes a mall Santa because Mickey has a job as an elf. They're fired because Kramer espouses Communist beliefs to a child. Kramer gets a job as a stand in on a soap opera because Mickey stands in for a kid on the show. Mickey loses all respect from his coworkers when Kramer insists that Mickey put lifts in his shoes to keep up with the kid's rapid growth. And Mickey is central to my all-time favorite episode -- season 8's The Yada Yada -- when he and Kramer date two women, and they're unsure who dates who (Mickey marries one of the women by the end of the episode). Overall, an underrated character: a great short-tempered, proactive, productive foil to Kramer's laid-back "hipster doofus" persona.

8. Kenny Bania: THAT'S GOLD, JERRY! GOLD! This terrible comedian is played delightfully over-the-top, as many of these supporting characters are, and spawns one of the best of Seinfeld social situations. An Armani suit for a nice dinner at Mendy's turns into a -- shall we say soupcon -- of annoyance for Jerry. Bania's order of soup, and assumption that he would have his dinner at another time, is a really funny and creative "awkward social situation," even by Seinfeld's standards. One has to think, however, that if Jerry liked Bania, the whole thing would have been fine. No one ever examines that angle of the story.

7. Jack Klompus: Jack's 6 episodes are all very memorable and hilarious. MUST BE NICE! He's sort of the quintessential dirty old man, a natural sidekick with leadership aspirations. Played so hilariously by Sandy Baron, Jack Klompus is so much more than a guy with an astronaut pen.

6. Morty Seinfeld: Certainly the funnier of Jerry's parents, Morty sold raincoats for thirty-five years and is a very influential political figure at Del Boca Vista. He plays the part of hilarious, finnicky, confused, proud old man perfectly.  MY WALLET'S GONE, MY WALLET'S GONE!

5. J. Peterman: Elaine's most memorable and funniest boss, John O'Hurley's over-the-top portrayal of fashion executive J. Peterman is really just great. From drug problems to Burmese excursions to eye-rollingly elaborate descriptions of clothing, Peterman was a total classic.

4. David Puddy: Yeah that's right. By far the best significant other that the big four ever had. Lasting 11 episodes, David Puddy -- played by the hilarious Patrick Warburton, who I think is somehow underrated -- is a totally unique character to Seinfeld. He's dumb-looking, dumb-sounding, curt, innocent, brutally honest, squinty, vacant, and hilarious. My favorite Puddy moment is his enthusiastic support of the New Jersey Devils that drives a Latin American priest to madness. Gotta support the team.

3. George Steinbrenner: George Steinbrenner's portrayal in Seinfeld is absolutely ingenious. It's one of the many things about the show that makes you sit back and think, wow, maybe these guys are actually geniuses. Steinbrenner is only shown from behind, played by some random head-bobbing guys, and voiced by Larry David. Steinbrenner's listing of managers he's firedhis discussion of the pronunciation of Februaryhis insistence that he hasn't had a pimple since he was 18, and literally everything he says is total gold. Best boss in Seinfeld history. That's right.

2. Jackie Chiles: Too many great lines to recount.

"Would you say she was an attractive woman? We got an attractive woman wearing a bra, no top, walking around in broad daylight. She's flouting society's conventions."

"Rugged? The man is a goblin."

"WHO TOLD YOU TO TAKE IT?! Did I tell you to take it? I know the maestro didn't tell you to take it! HE WASN'T THERE."

To call him simply a parody of Johnnie Cochran is not doing him justice at all. Every line that comes out of his mouth is absolute gold. Too good. Too good.

Jackie Chiles Kramer animated GIF

1. Uncle LeoHELLOOOOO!!!!!!! Cousin Jeffrey's overly proud father, he has too many hilarious lines and scenes to recount. He's one of the handful of Seinfeld minor characters -- along with Jackie Chiles, George Steinbrenner, J. Peterman, Frank Costanza, and arguably David Puddy and Jack Klompus -- who say a lot of lines, and every single one of them is funny. Even when Leo is on the phone with Jerry and he's about to open a package, the way he says OPENINNNGGGGG!!!! is just too much. One particular scene, in which Jerry tries to convince Leo to break up with his girlfriend (it's complicated), is notable. After Uncle Leo insists that he and Jerry have to have lunch "once a week," he accuses the cook at Monk's of being an anti-Semite because his hamburger is overcooked. Jerry's response puts the scene over the top, but the overly demonstrative Uncle Leo really makes this scene a gut buster. LOL UNCLE LEO

Comedy Hello animated GIF

Characters Appearing in 26-48 Episodes

4. Susan Ross: Former NBC executive, George's on-again off-again girlfriend before suddenly becoming his fiancee, met a tragic end at the hands of toxic envelopes. The character herself was not as great as the role she played in George's life, and the jokes, situations, characters, themes she made possible. From George converting her to lesbianism, to introducing her very funny parents, to worlds colliding, to naming a child Seven, to the entirety of Season 7 of the show constituting Costanza's greatest struggle (obviously he doesn't want to marry her), Susan facilitated so much classic Seinfeld. She deserves a lot of credit.

3. Estelle Costanza: The second-funniest parent on Seinfeld, Estelle is too good. From getting an eye job to catching George treating his body like an amusement park to making the fellas unwanted bologna sandwiches, Estelle Costanza is pure gold. She has never laughed, and detests jokes. One of my favorite Estelle scenes is when she and George are at the coffee shop, and George makes a joke about how Monk's offers lobster on the menu. She is incapable of meeting George halfway on this joke. "So what if they have a lobster? Suddenly you're a shellfish connoisseur?" She says it so straight, and with such disdain. Too good.

2. Frank Costanza: Like with Uncle Leo, I don't even really know where to begin. One could make an argument that Frank belongs in the top 4 in front of one or more of the big 4 of the show (I would not make that argument). He's really that good. Jerry Stiller's mastery of physical comedy in the Frank Costanza role is only rivaled by Kramer, and everything he says is gold. His outbursts at Steinbrenner about Jay Buhner and Hideki Irabu are unforgettable, and stopping short is classic, but my favorite Frank moment is when he's talking to George about bras. "You know about the cup sizes and all? They have different cups. You got the A, the B, the C, and the D. That's the biggest." Funniest scene in TV history? Possibly.

Fashion Frank Costanza animated GIF

1. Newman: In my opinion, if anyone could make a run at the big four, it's Newman. Appearing in 48 episodes, Newman is Jerry's foil and nemesis. He's sloppy and rotund to Jerry's neat and slim. He's deep to Jerry's shallow. He's all untapped potential whereas Jerry essentially maximizes his potential without having to try. He's poetic to Jerry's pithy. Again, there are too many Newman moments to recount, but my favorite is his questioning of Jerry for mail fraud. His delivery of that one word -- "Frequently" -- is about all I can take. Too funny. Wayne Knight: a genius of sitcom acting.

The Big Four

4. Elaine Benes: Elaine tops Rolling Stone's list of Seinfeld characters, and it's just wrong. They say that Elaine is the most complex and quirky character. I would argue that Elaine is the least quirky of the big four, and nowhere near Costanza in terms of complexity. Rolling Stone cheats and says that the others can be "boiled down" but that Elaine cannot. I would argue that none of them can be boiled down at all. (And they REALLY cheat by saying that George can be boiled down to "(somewhat) lovable loser." If you think that's all George is, you've never seen the show) That being said, Elaine is such an important and awesome character.

For all of the big four, there's too much to mention. She is subtle at times in her comedy, though should be best understood as "too much" in her speech and mannerisms. She shines brightest when she has the ability to take a simple line and make the most out of it -- as with her rage over George's toupee ("I DON'T LIKE THIS THING! AND HERE'S WHAT I'M DOING WITH IT!"). One of my favorite Elaine mannerisms is her nervous tick when lying or saying something uncomfortable. She sort of does this half-cough/stutter/swallow and rushes the lie out of her mouth with the least convincing look on her face (she does it a ton in this scene). Many scenes are overrated in their overacting ("The dingo ate your baby" and "He took it out" come to mind), but Elaine is mostly really spot-on and hilarious. GET OUT!

3. Jerry Seinfeld: In many ways, Jerry is the whole show. I mean, it is named after him. He's certainly the least talented "actor" in the show. But Jerry doesn't get enough credit for just how funny he is. He has the timing of a masterful stand-up comedian, and is actually maybe the most subtly funny character on the show. Seinfeld thrives on over-the-top: the others of the big four are all over-the-top, all the best minor characters, and indeed many of the plot points in the "show about nothing" are over-the-top. Jerry plays the perfect straight man, the one who keeps everything from blowing up. The other characters need him as much as he needs the other characters.

Seinfeld GIFs 8

Jerry also reveals what is, essentially, at the heart of the show. Jerry is proudly shallow and lacks deep emotion. He's brazenly uncaring: the amount of money Jerry spends without batting an eye is staggering, especially compared to the tight-fisted Costanza. He's just incapable of caring about things that actually, you know, matter. This is summed up in what is, in my opinion, Jerry's best catch phrase: That's a shame. Instead of actually dealing with a problem or feeling empathy, he dismisses it with that little sentence. Jerry is the soulless soul of the show, all while being unbeatably likable and hilarious.

2. Cosmo Kramer: Kramer is the funniest character on Seinfeld. He's remembered for his physical humor -- wacky entrances into Jerry's apartment more than anything. But Kramer was so much more than that. He was a master of facial expressions, anti-establishment, celebrity-sighting, "oh he's a dunker", goofy dude. He actually has the best comedic timing of anyone on the show -- which is why his physical comedy is so successful. He's also the only character on the show with any sort of empathy or moral compass, which he displays to hilarious effect on many occasions.

Comedy Cosmo Kramer animated GIF

Reducing Kramer to a lanky goofball, a hipster doofus, is not giving him nearly enough credit. He thinks he's got it all figured out, and maybe he does. Ultimately, a sitcom is about laughs, and Seinfeld was more about laughs than just about any other sitcom ever (no hugging, no lessons). Kramer is the guy who makes the most laughs happen.

1. George Costanza: In many ways, Jerry is the whole show. In reality, George is the whole show. George, the self-absorbed expert liar, thinks the whole world is against him when he makes absolutely no effort to make any part of the world for him. He's incompetent at every job he's ever had (except hand modeling), he's completely insecure and devious in relationships, he throws his friends under the bus, and he holds a grudge like Khomeini. Seinfeld is all about exploiting the narcissistic yet insecure person inside all of us to comedic effect. Even when George wants to tell his girlfriend that he loves her, it's really because he just wants to be able to say it for the experience. He wants her to say it back. He wants to be loved, not to actually love. He would rather a woman think he's good-looking than like his personality, unless, of course, she's okay with him draping himself in velvet.

Gentleman George Costanza animated GIF

I think the most quintessential George Costanza episode is "The Apology," in which Jason Hanky, a friend of the group, is a recovering alcoholic participating in a 12-step program. In step 9, Jason must apologize to everyone he has ever wronged. Jason once refused to give George a sweater to wear at a party because he thought George would stretch out the neck. Hanky moves on to step 10 without apologizing, and George feels slighted. Instead of being happy for his friend for dealing with his alcoholism in a healthy and effective way, George fixates on not getting the apology. He confronts Jason many times, demanding an apology. He seeks out Jason's sponsor, labeling Hanky as a "step-skipper." Jason was BEBOPPING AND SCATTING, RIFFING about George's "pain." He becomes so obsessed and angry that he's tricked into going to a "rage-a-holics" meeting, where he loses it. In a very easy opportunity to be selfless, or even passive, or even indifferent, George chooses to be confrontational, angry, and completely self-absorbed.

That's what Seinfeld is all about. Any effort exerted must be for personal gain, however minor. George embodies the spirit of Seinfeld, and it ain't pretty, but it sure is funny. Costanza is the whole show. He's the best character in sitcom history. He's the best.

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT. THE CORRECT LIST. If you don't agree with it, well then, that's a shame.