“The Soup Nazi”
First Script Read: Tuesday, September 27, 1995
Filmed: Tuesday, October 3, 1995
Aired: November 2, 1995
Nielsen rating: 22.0
Audience share: 33
Directed: Andy Ackerman
Writer: Spike Feresten
Is this the greatest Seinfeld episode of all time? It's not my personal favorite, to be sure, but it is probably, by my own reckoning, the most talked about episode. It brought the phrase "He's a real _____ Nazi!" into broader circulation (again, by my own sense). And it features one of the best catchphrases of the show in "No soup for you!" What about the episode itself?
It's got one of the most memorable one-off characters in the history of the show. It also makes good use of the bench characters, with appearances by Bania (who Jerry won't let cut the line for fear of the Soup Nazi's wrath) and Newman (who runs home to get a big pot to get the last of the Soup Nazi's soup when he hears the soup place is closing).
It's got big scenes with huge laughs. The scene when Kramer is accosted by the gay street toughs for Elaine's armoire. The scene when George and Jerry try to one-up each other with public displays of affection at Monk's. Every scene with the Soup Nazi yelling at someone.
It builds off of and on to the existing characterizations. Selfish Jerry chooses soup over Sheila, figuring it will be easier to patch things up with her than the Soup Nazi (it is). George's miserable engagement continues as his affection for Susan, designed to bother Jerry, just leads Susan to expect further public affection and cutesy dialogue.
It does NOT really say anything brilliant about society. There is not much social commentary at all. It doesn't explore human relations or human behavior in any depth as other Seinfeld classics do. Nor does it break any new ground in the way television sitcoms tell stories. It's just a funny tale about a unique character, an individual only to be found in New York. Ultimately, it's that character that makes the episode. Surely he is the greatest one-off character in sitcom history, which is a good enough case for this being one of the greatest television episodes of all time, though perhaps not THE greatest.