Every now and then, an innovator comes along and takes some sort of traditional method or form and completely transforms it before our eyes. In the early days of English literature, Geoffrey Chaucer almost invented literature as we know it. His series of comedic verses “The Canterbury Tales” details the lives and stories of random travelers in an English bar. Their tales involve sex, deceit, and sometimes questions of morality. But, what Chaucer was so incredibly skilled at was creating giant webs of stories that, in the end, completely dismantle and reassemble again what a story arc even entails.
This style of storytelling, whether intentional or not, is exactly that which Larry David carefully crafted in his legendary 1990s sitcom ‘‘Seinfeld.’’ While Geoffrey Chaucer may be the father of English literature, Larry David may well be the father of modern comedy. Everyone and their mother knows what “Seinfeld” is, but it has a horridly under-appreciated cousin: “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The show could be classified as no more than the human experience from the eyes of a bitter, racist, sarcastic, Jewish Hollywood writer named Larry David, who is played by Larry David, and pretty much is Larry David. ‘‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’’ is, in essence, a show about nothing, but takes the nothingness of ‘‘Seinfeld’’ to levels that “Seinfeld” was never able to. The show’s broad scope in subject matter and its lack of boundaries due to its HBO base allows it the status of a “Seinfeld” sequel that no one asked for, but everyone wanted.
Earlier this year, Larry David announced that there would be a ninth season of “Curb.” The last season premiered a little more than five years ago, but due to Larry David’s open contract with HBO, he can pretty much make (or not make) a new season whenever he wants. When asked by Variety magazine why David wanted to come back, he said, “In the immortal words of Julius Caesar, ‘I left, I did nothing, I returned.’”
But why is “Curb Your Enthusiasm” so good? And should you marathon the entire series before the ninth season is released in 2017? The answer is obvious: Yes, of course you should. But why? Well, one of the simplest reasons is that the entire concept of the show is incredible. Every single episode has an outline, but there is no written dialogue. Meaning, every single line in the show is improvisation. But, such a concept would have no merit if the show were not good. Luckily, it’s not just good; it’s a genre of its own.
There is really not enough time to talk about the depth and relevance of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” In some sense, it’s a show about a horrible man who does incredibly awkward things for little to no reason beyond his stubborn tendencies. But, when looked at more reflectively, it’s a show about humans, their relationships, their desires, their faults, and their rationalities.The show is the answer to the question of what would happen if an unstoppable force met an immovable object. It’s about Larry David’s moral compass and society’s expectations of him. And, in the end, Larry David always wins.
This is to say that Larry David, the character, is awful. Just awful. The character of George Costanza, the insufferable oaf from “Seinfeld,” is actually based on Larry David. Imagine what would happen if the show was called “Costanza” instead of “Seinfeld” and George lived in Los Angeles instead of New York City and also was incredibly wealthy. That’s pretty much the premise of “Curb.”
The plot of each episode surrounds David’s daily life and the circumstances he gets himself into. Sometimes the circumstances seem, to most viewers, to be incredibly easy to fix. Being late to a baseball game during rush hour is one example. Any normal person would just wait it out and arrive to the game a little late. Instead, David picks up a prostitute and uses the carpool lane to arrive at the game earlier. What the show does so amazingly is allow the audience to believe that they know David well enough to be able to predict what happens. But, in reality, no one knows him except himself. No one could possibly understand why he does anything he does, so the show is never predictable. Some episodes are definitely better than others, with more outrageous circumstances, but the comedy is consistent and alive.
Some may criticize the show for going too far in its humor. The most obvious example is how unbelievably racist David is. He’s also homophobic, and sexist, and bigoted, and overall incredibly judgmental. David acts as a sort of anti-American in the way that he interacts with others. A common label put on America is its epidemic of “racism without racists.” Essentially, there is clear racism that still appears in America, but no one wants to own up to it. David is the opposite. He is so outwardly racist, but he judges just about every person with the same scrutiny. He never does it to be hurtful. More often than not, it’s actually out of a kind of curiosity, which can sometimes be endearing. He would never be any more hurtful to one kind of person than to another (because he’s equally hurtful to everyone). It’s one of the main charms of the show. David legitimately never means harm because he is living on his own wavelength. He just wishes to experience the most of life without letting societal norms affect his actions.
It is clear, however, that sometimes the show actually does go too far for no reason, like when an old Japanese man commits “kamikaze” on David. The show should take full responsibility for such jokes in poor taste. But, for the majority of the show’s comedy, it’s plainly just David living as we all wish we could: without worry, without harm, without rest.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” is a wonderful show about a terrible man. Hopefully Larry David will never get better and keep entertaining an audience who will never understand him. The show is without a doubt worth watching before the ninth season premieres, and it is currently available on HBO.
This review is part of a developing weekly column called “Revival Reviews.” The column is primarily focused on shows that have aired over the past 10 years and intends to explore shows that may have been too mature at the time of their premiere for current Wes students.