52. "The Hamptons," Seinfeld (1994)
Welcome to the “100 Best Sitcom Episodes of All Time,” a countdown for 2012. Each episode will get a separate blog post, counting backward toward No. 1. A list of the programs revealed so far is here and an introduction to the project is here.
Field trip episodes, in which sitcom characters get a vacation from their usual soundstage sets, tend not to be very good, as Alan Sepinwall pointed out in his review of the "Dude Ranch" episode of Modern Family. ("You got the sense that everyone was so excited to go to such a beautiful location that not as much effort was put into making this as strong an outing as possible.") But Seinfeld has some great off-site episodes, and I think one reason is that the characters are stuck in spaces just as cramped as they are in New York.
There are the episodes set in the Florida retirement village, where Jerry's parents live — topped by "The Pen," in which Elaine is tortured by a sofa bed and Jerry gets two black eyes from going scuba diving. "The Bubble Boy" isn't any more relaxing: A trip to the great outdoors has Jerry and Elaine stuck in a crummy diner and George playing Trivial Pursuit with the title character, an obnoxious, hyper-allergic teen who can't go outside his house. Somehow, the walls seem to close in on the characters whenever they leave crowded Manhattan, even in the series finale. (By contrast, the California episodes at the beginning of season four have more exterior scenes and aren't quite as funny.)