The Seinfeld season 2 episode “The Chinese Restaurant” was the first to not feature Kramer, and here’s why that happened. In its earliest days, one of Seinfeld’s calling cards was exploring the minutiae of everyday life. “The Chinese Restaurant” is one of the premier examples of this concept. In the episode, Jerry, George, and Elaine wait in real time for a table at a Chinese restaurant before they see the film Plan 9 from Outer Space. NBC was reluctant to air the episode, as executives found it to be too static. Seinfeld was hailed as “the show about nothing,” but for some, “The Chinese Restaurant” took that idea to the extreme.
Ironically, “The Chinese Restaurant” ended up becoming one of the more groundbreaking Seinfeld episodes. It was noteworthy for its single-location setting, but there was another reason why it generated attention. “The Chinese Restaurant” was the first episode to not feature Michael Richards as Kramer. Considering the antics Kramer got into in future Seinfeld seasons, it seems odd he’d sit out an episode as mundane as going to a Chinese restaurant, but there’s a reason why he wasn’t included.
The Seinfeld seasons 1 and 2 DVD set features a special inside look at “The Chinese Restaurant.” In an interview, Larry David states the reason why Kramer wasn’t in the episode. At the time, an aspect of his character was he never left his apartment and just stayed inside. David admitted if “The Chinese Restaurant” was written at a later time, then Kramer would have been in the episode.
In the same inside look, Richards confesses he was “hurt” when he found out he wasn’t in “The Chinese Restaurant.” His reaction seemingly wasn’t severe as Jason Alexander’s after George wasn’t in “The Pen,” but Richards expressed concern he was being written out of the show. He also said he would have loved to participate in “The Chinese Restaurant” because of how unique that episode was in execution. Though David assured Richards missing episodes wouldn’t be a recurring thing with Kramer, the eccentric next door neighbor also wasn’t in “The Pen” (which was the last episode he missed).
It would have been fun to see Kramer take part in “The Chinese Restaurant” and see what kind of typical hijinks he could have gotten into. Given the nature of the character and Richards’ penchant for physical comedy, it might have been something hilariously over-the-top to give the episode another memorable bit. Arguably, that might have clashed with the more grounded approach of the episode, but prior to “The Chinese Restaurant,” Kramer had already wanted to rebuild his apartment with levels and pitched a pizza restaurant where customers can make their own pie. Since the Seinfeld writers had found success working Kramer’s more absurdist humor into the show, it would have been interesting to see what they could have come up with for “The Chinese Restaurant.”