Curb Your Enthusiasm

4 out of 5

Created by: Larry David

A mate of mine, if I may paraphrase, summarized Curb Your Enthusiasm to me thusly: half the time the guy (series creator, Seinfeld alum, and oft-writer Larry David) complains about things and you totally get it, and half the time he’s just complaining about things to make problems.

It’s a pretty accurate summary, and one that can pretty much cover all nine (at this point) seasons of the show.  And your tolerance for either half of that equation – the Seinfeld-y everyday observational yuks and the forced-conflict-formative-cringe-humor yuks – will determine your enjoyment of the show.  The good news is that you’ll be able to figure out how that goes from the first episode you see, any season, any point.

Which makes the show sound like it’s go-nowhere, but it’s a formula that’s lent itself to surprising longevity because it doesn’t happen completely in a vacuum: David fully acknowledges his own selfish nature, and continually incorporates / updates his understanding of how that Self interacts with all the other selfish Selves out there.  And while each episode does tend to take one misunderstanding or nit and play it out to an extreme, after the first couple of seasons, a loose narrative is included per season which helps to give David a vague goal, and viewers a sense of plausibility as to why people would hang out around this guy.  To that last point, the humor works best when David has cohorts: when his (initially) wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) is revealed to be just as calculating and self-obsessed, or when his friend and manager Jeff (Jeff Greene) is up to no good, or when his subletter-turned-layabout Leon (J. B. Smoove) is willing to go in on some new scheme; when it’s Larry against the world, you can’t help but wonder how the dude has maintained any friendships or relationships.

And no apologies needed: David would openly wonder the same at any given point.

This (very loose) network of characters and plot threads makes long term viewing very rewarding, and the writers have an excellent sense of when to drop and bring back jokes or concepts.  The cringe-humor reference is what initially made me avoid this show – that this would kick off a league of followers, incorporating the fly-on-the-wall style and the HBO allowance of more risque humor combined with poking and prodding at touchy subjects for humor – but Curb has ultimately proven better than its imitators, as, going back to that friend-offered summary, it’s driven by a character mindset instead of just the writers trying to find ways to offend or make us uncomfortable for laughs.

So, like, twenty years after the fact, I’m sorry for rolling my eyes at the people who snatched this up eagerly on DVD, and I’m down for another nine seasons, whenever David feels like putting ’em out.