Every ‘Seinfeld’ Episode Where a Main Character Was Absent, Ranked
Seinfeld wasn’t so much about nothing as it was about somebodies — in particular, Jerry, Elaine, Kramer and George. Their chemistry was strong enough to keep us watching regardless of what they were (or weren’t) doing. And for almost every episode, the show managed to seamlessly weave together the lives of these four (I’d argue unlikely) friends without any being left out. That said, there were a total of five Seinfeld episodes that didn’t feature the full quartet.
While the idea of keeping them apart — even for 22 minutes — feels like sacrilege, the end result wasn’t always a crime against the Seinfeld gods. Below is the definitive (read: my) ranking of the episodes where a major Seinfeld character has gone missing…
‘Good News, Bad News,’ Season One, Episode One
Who’s Missing: Elaine
Why She’s Missing: She didn’t exist yet. In the original pilot, the only recurring female character was meant to be a waitress named Claire. Luckily for all of us, the network intervened and asked for a more substantial female regular. Thus, Elaine was “born,” ultimately stealing our hearts with her killer dance moves and epic curls.
Does the Episode Still Work?: For a pilot? Absolutely. Jerry is stuck trying to figure out if his house guest is romantically interested in him while we get to know a bit about his life and kooky neighbor. But given where the show ends up going, it pales in comparison. Who is Jerry without Elaine? Certainly not someone I care about that much.
‘The Trip: Part 2,’ Season 4, Episode 2
Who’s Missing: Elaine
Why She’s Missing: In the world of the show, Elaine is absent because our other three main characters are off in California while she remains in New York. In real life, Elaine isn’t there because Julia Louis-Dreyfus was on maternity leave.
Does the Episode Still Work?: Look, I’d gladly watch any episode of Seinfeld over almost any other TV show, but I’ll admit that the gang’s excursion to L.A. wasn’t one of my favorites. In the second half of this two-parter, Jerry and George try to find Kramer, who has moved to Hollywood to become a famous actor but quickly finds himself to be a suspect in a series of murders. It has moments of hilarity, but it also reminds us that when it comes to plot, less in more in the world of Seinfeld.
‘The Trip: Part 1,’ Season 4, Episode 1
Who’s Missing: Elaine
Why She’s Missing: Same reason as above! Babies take a lot of work!
Does the Episode Still Work?: Definitely, so long as you don’t mind occasionally cutting away to a couple of detectives who are doing their best to carry scenes without any of the main characters. Jerry has arrived in L.A. to appear (and bomb) on The Tonight Show, with Geroge along for the ride. We also get to see what a Kramer spin-off would feel like as we follow him around Hollywood. The episode is also filled with a bunch of famous cameos, which is always a treat if you’re a sucker for that sort of thing like I am.
‘The Pen,’ Season 3, Episode 3
Who’s Missing: Kramer and George
Why They’re Missing: Jerry and Elaine have flown to Florida to visit Jerry’s parents, and the whole episode takes place down there.
Does the Episode Still Work?: Jason Alexander was so upset about being left out of this episode that he threatened to quit over it. In an interview for the Seinfeld DVDs, he admitted that his ego got the better of him. “I went to Larry, and I said, ‘If you do it again, do it permanently,’” Alexander explained. “If you don’t need me to be here for every damn episode of Seinfeld that you write then I don’t need to be here.”
He’ll really hate to learn then that “The Pen” doesn’t suffer despite him and Michael Richards not being there. Jerry’s parents serve as great replacements, and no one could ever forget the specificity of an “astronaut” pen that can write upside-down. Add in a B-story about a fold-out sofa causing Elaine back pain, and you have yourself a fully satisfying escapade. Although L.A. might have been an overwhelming backdrop, it turns out that Seinfeld works just as well in an old folks community as it does in Manhattan.
‘The Chinese Restaurant,’ Season 2, Episode 11
Who’s Missing: Kramer
Why He’s Missing: At this point in the series, Kramer doesn’t leave his apartment building.
Does the Episode Still Work?: 1,000 percent. In this feat of television history, we’re treated to a “bottle episode” that’s confined to a Chinese restaurant. But don’t be fooled! “The Chinese Restaurant” doesn’t take place over dinner — it takes place over the endless wait to be seated for dinner. Despite potentially having the least amount of plot possible to carry a show, “The Chinese Restaurant” taps into such a highly relatable frustration that it’s become a cultural touchstone — even if Kramer didn’t get a chance to barge/fall through the door.