Farewell to ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, the show about everything

Larry David in the final episode of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
Larry David in the final episode of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'

Summary

  • ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ was built around the unique vantage point of Larry David, a massively successful entertainer with absolutely nothing left to prove

I was 19 years old when Curb Your Enthusiasm first aired.

In that opening episode — ‘The Pants Tent’, October 2000, streaming in India on JioCinema — Larry David has a fight with his friend Richard Lewis. After much yelling, Lewis asks David to call him “by sundown." David is stunned by the word, not the demand. “By sundown? What are you, Gary Cooper?" Lewis cracks up. He makes it clear that he’s still angry, but points out that, comedian to comedian, David has scored. “I’m trying not to laugh, but that’s funny." That instantly set Curb Your Enthusiasm apart from any show we had seen.

The show was built around the unique vantage point of Larry David, an entertainer so successful he had nothing left to prove. He had co-created Seinfeld, a landmark in television comedy whose influence on our lives and our language continues to grow, and on the show, David put his feet up. He’d ticked the box already. Early episodes and seasons see David unmotivated to find new projects, shelving plans for the fussiest of reasons, eager to goof off instead. Imagine Henry Ford right after having made the Model T. (No wonder there was never a Model U.)

To me that is the biggest difference between the on-screen David — legendary curmudgeon and real-world version of Seinfeld character George Costanza — and the actual Larry David, who set out to bottle lightning all over again with a series that constantly, defiantly took on social niceties and hypocrisy.

“Hell is other people," wrote Jean-Paul Sartre. Over 24 years of Curb, David embraced and exemplified that, complaining and arguing about societal convention and acceptable behaviour. Yet — and here is the show’s unpretentious brilliance — David is no messiah of the misfit, but a selfish miser, one who refuses to go out of his way for anyone and, regardless, expects the world to be nice to him. He wants courtesy without giving it. We, the viewer, oscillate between siding with Larry, our champion, and laughing at Larry, the oaf. Curb is a pretty, pretty, pretty funny series, and its loudest laughs come when the show holds up a mirror to our own double standards.

David started Curb as a modest series, featuring his famous friends mostly playing versions of themselves, improvising funny lines around David’s plot outlines. It’s loose, unbuttoned, vérité. The dialogue is spontaneous and unpredictable, flowing like a raw podcast, complete with digressions and dirty jokes — even when servicing the meticulous plots and subplots. This contrasts dramatically with Seinfeld’s metronomically precise punchlines, avoiding comparisons even when Curb borrows entire characters and plotlines.

Speaking of which… Any Seinfeld admirer has a favourite episode, but few would pick the show’s finale, one of the most viewed events in TV history. David had quit Seinfeld after season 7, but returned to script the finale — by which time the protagonists, four irredeemably selfish New Yorkers, had become beloved, cherished icons. David gave these nasty people comeuppance: a fictitious Good Samaritan law saw them in court attacked by many a classic adversary, finally held accountable.

Sitcoms traditionally leave viewers on a high, with characters finding romance or closure. Instead David and Jerry Seinfeld, who ended their show at its peak, left their characters inside a prison cell, bickering over the same shirt-button as they did at the very start of the series. (I personally love that ending. They really committed to the bit.)

As the final Curb season implied that David may end up in court — and with several characters referencing Seinfeld’s infamous finale all season — it was obvious the ending would be a reprisal, featuring a parade of people David has wronged over the years. David leans into the conceit beautifully alongside old comrade Jerry Seinfeld, doubling down to make sure that ends with a flourish — even as it gleefully skewers those who didn’t like the Seinfeld finish.

“The good thing about an opinion is that you can keep it to yourself," David is told during the final season. “But then everybody would walk around not saying anything," he retorts. That is the Curb philosophy in a nutshell — Kant-ian and self-serving, thoughtless and particularist — the philosophy of one who always puts themselves first. No wonder Curb, which connected with me so hard as a teenager, continues to entrance young people all these years later — it demonstrates how anybody can have what the kids now call ‘Main Character Energy.’

Curb has always been fearlessly provocative and politically incorrect. The last few seasons have included plot-lines about David having a fatwa on his head, David wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat to get away from social engagements, and David being polite to a Klansman. The twelfth and final season sees David becoming, improbably enough, a liberal darling. He — accidentally — breaks a real-life law and is heralded as an equal-rights activist and humanist. As his buddy Leon (JB Smoove) puts it, he has become “the most popular white man in America right now."

With David all too readily embraced (and rejected) by the liberal left, the final season shows us just how arbitrary — and meaningless — a trial by media can be. This is David rallying against groupthink and cancel culture, knowing full well that his critique will not change anything. “I’m 76 years old," David tells a child during the final episode, “And I have never learned a lesson in my entire life."

My top moment in the finale is, unsurprisingly, a digression. Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld step away from the trial to laugh about the idea of dating a bearded lady. This is a dazzling non sequitur, two old friends choosing to talk about nothing while the world burns.

We might as well laugh, for the burning never stops. There will be no more Curb Your Enthusiasm. Richard Lewis, who fought David in that first episode and that last episode, is dead. I am not nineteen anymore. Curb has left me older and wiser, more respectful of wood and less afraid of being me. Thank you, Larry David. Take a bow, take a break, maybe go sell some cars. When you feel like it, come back to make TV great again.

Streaming Tip Of The Week:

Curb Your Enthusiasm relied heavily on its regular cast, and one of the funniest and most quotable was the late Bob Einstein, who played Marty Funkhouser. The Super Bob Einstein Movie (JioCinema) is a great documentary that charts Einstein’s groundbreaking body of work.

Also read: ‘Palm Royale’: Kristen Wiig and Ricky Martin have a blast in new comedy

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