Larry David is still king…not that he cares
The ninth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm opens with Larry David singing a Mary Poppins song in the shower. This is startling, because David—or at least the “Larry David” who exists on the show—is a misanthrope frequently exasperated by minutiae, the sort of man who takes society apart to try and tweak things that aren’t broken, at least in the eyes of most people. He’s a spiteful, callous, insensitive jerk whose natural state is one of absolute irascibility. And yet, six years after we last saw him, here he is singing about the way spoonfuls of sugar make the medicine go down. Then his shampoo dispenser stops working and the song tapers into a full-blown fit of rage as David smashes the dispenser open, song forgotten.
Thank you, life. Where would we be without you getting in Larry David’s way?
Co-creator of a show called Seinfeld, David breathes the rarefied air of those entertainers who have nothing left to prove and nothing left to earn. That show continues to make millions in syndication rights around the world, and David’s unprecedented open-door deal with HBO means that his own Curb Your Enthusiasm comes and goes entirely as he pleases, as he fills his time with a Broadway experiment here and a Bernie Sanders impression there. There must also be, one assumes, a lot of squinting scrutinizingly at people.
The show is a unique one, where David writes a detailed plot outline and the dialogues are improvised by the cast on the set, which is why a lot of the actors react with barely contained amusement as they hear the lines for the first time. The new season opens with David unable to suppress himself, visibly tickled by long-time collaborators and friends like Richard Lewis and Jeff Garlin. Falling somewhere in between Seinfeld and Louie (which borrowed heavily from Curb...) David’s show involves farcical and unlikely hi-jinks born out of the protagonist’s unwillingness to let something small slide. He must prick what he thinks can be popped, and thus we get a hysterically funny show with David—who based the George Costanza character in Seinfeld on himself—caught in the middle of a storm always and entirely of his own making.
The new season—with new episodes on Hotstar each week—starts off with a classic Curb... set-up as David looks to create “Fatwa, The Musical”, a splashy Broadway take on Salman Rushdie’s imperilled life after Satanic Verses. David himself, pretending to hem and haw at the thought, appears keen to play the Ayatollah. It is all par for the cringe-comedy course, but there are things to notice about David as a character.
“I never get excited,” he says emphatically, minutes after excitedly pitching a script. A scene before saying this he’s asking a friend to help keep his slang up to speed, and a scene after this he’s getting a haircut at home. These are things the old Larry (from seasons 1-6, at least) would have rolled his eyes at, hard. Now that David is 70, is the fictional David trying to appear cool and hip? Does he finally care about how he is perceived?
Not quite enough, thankfully. When a woman furiously asks David, the busybody, if he needs a hobby, the character spirals away from how obviously rhetorical the question is. “That might not be such a bad idea,” he says, going fully into Woody Allen character mode, questioning himself completely and self-aware and open to accepting something that could actually help. But only for a second, of course.
David is still catastrophically politically incorrect, and can’t bring himself to sympathize with a friend about the death of his parakeet. He assures his grieving friend that losing an exotic bird like a macaw or a toucan would be a true loss, not a parakeet. A dead parakeet, he says solemnly—in obvious tribute to the hallowed and riotously funny Monty Python sketch of that name—would be truly sad.
The first episode of season 9 is an absolute winner, while the second feels overdone, overlong and too derivatively Seinfeld-ian. The third—which features a pitch-perfect cameo by one of the greatest novelists in the world—is another stunner. David, however, might not care what we think. Just like his easily irked character, he’s out to do things his way and if he feels like playing a quick cover riff from his own hits, who are we to begrudge him? He’s the curmudgeon, remember, and the one in charge. We’re just fortunate there is a season 9.
One of the most remarkable things about David the character, I’ve always felt, is the way he doesn’t feel the need to be nice even when he’s the one who needs help. This ends up being self-sabotage, of course, as he antagonizes potential allies and steps on toes all around, but his is also a more honest approach to life than the rest of us. He is who he is, and that’s pretty, pretty, pretty good. Never change, Larry David (not that you’ll listen.)
Streaming tip of the week
The long Diwali weekend brings opportunities to binge on existing shows and get up to speed. My all-you-can-watch weekend recommendations would be American Gods (one season old, Amazon Prime), Better Things (one season old, one season ongoing, Hotstar) and, before the new season comes out later this month, the first season of Stranger Things (Netflix).
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online.