Express your enthusiasm

| April 19, 2024

Curb Your Enthusiasm, the show that revelled in awkward social encounters and misanthropy, came to an end on April 7 2024. Over its 12 seasons and 120 episodes, the show became a cult classic, leaving a lasting legacy on television comedy. Debuting in 2000, just over two years after the end of Seinfeld, we had a new groundbreaking sitcom from one of its creators.

The show’s popularity was attested to by the number of stars who wanted to appear in it including Ted Danson, Meg Ryan, Jon Hamm, David Schwimmer, Mel Brooks, Vince Vaughn and Lin-Manuel Miranda among many others.

It spawned a host of catchphrases like “WWLDD” (what would Larry David do), “pig parker” and most memorably, “pretty, pretty, pretty good” (pronounced pre-tay, pre-tay pre-tay good).

Set in Los Angeles, Curb revolved around the everyday life of a semi-fictionalised Larry David and his ragtag group of friends. These included his long-suffering wife Cheryl whom he divorces in season eight, his agent Jeff and his wife Susie, his friend the comedian Richard Lewis, and various other personalities.

Building on the innovative structure he honed while writing Seinfeld, Larry David took it to a new level with Curb Your Enthusiasm. His innovation here was only to draft a rough outline of each episode giving the actors a measure of freedom to improvise. This led to much unscripted laughter and attempts by the actors to hide it.

The show thrives on seemingly inconsequential details – plotlines that most other sitcoms would discard – which then snowball into elaborate, interconnected narratives. Each episode culminates in an intricately woven tapestry of social mishaps, with Larry often bearing the brunt of the chaos.

Larry is the antihero of Curb. He isn’t particularly likeable nor is he intended to be. “Deep inside you know you’re him,” said one of the show’s taglines. We recognise some of him in ourselves. He can be morally ambiguous, malicious, selfish, self-involved and extremely petty. He refuses to improve himself, evolve, or even manifest the slightest desire for change. Larry learns no lessons, hence the final episode’s title, No Lessons Learned.

Susie stands out as a strong female character. Stand-up comedian Susie Essman plays her with tremendous verbal elan as well as comic timing. Her foul-mouthed rants were usually at Larry’s expense, and by the end of the series, we had lost count of the number of times she had thrown him out of her house.

No topics were taboo

Curb tackled a host of taboo topics like gender, sex and disability, but also religion, the Holocaust and antisemitism. These produced some of my favourite moments over the years.

When Larry is heard whistling Wagner (a notorious antisemite), his neighbour Walter accuses him of being a self-loathing Jew. “I do hate myself, but it has nothing to do with being Jewish,” Larry insists.

Or when a Holocaust survivor and a member of the reality TV show Survivor argue over who had it worse. Or when, on a visit to the LA Holocaust Museum, Larry steps in dog poo and wanting to change his footwear, he grabs a pair from the display of victims’ shoes.

Curb doesn’t shy away from the issue of race either. It allowed Larry to address the striking lack of diversity that scarred Seinfeld. While Larry’s world is white and upper middle class, the show features many recurring Black characters like Wanda Sykes who accuses Larry of having deliberately adopted a racist dog. “The dog hates Black people,” she exclaims, “it’s a Klan dog”.

This becomes especially pronounced with the introduction of Leon (played by JB Smoove) in season six who becomes Larry’s lodger and sidekick. In their first meeting, Larry asks, “So your last name is Black? That’s like if my last name was Jew, Larry Jew”. Their conversations continue in the same vein. “Every Black person you meet, you say ‘brother’ to?” Larry asks before explaining, “I don’t do a Jew nod”.

Is it really over?

The final episode, set mostly in Atlanta, neatly wrapped things up. Mimicking the much-maligned finale of Seinfeld, Larry goes on trial during which a succession of witnesses are dragged out to attest to what a terrible person he is.

Larry is found guilty and sentenced where he reprises a routine heard in the first episode of Curb. But realising the error of Seinfeld, he is then acquitted on a technicality. Jerry Seinfeld himself comes to break the news: “You don’t want to end up like this. Nobody wants to see it. Trust me.” Larry turns to him: “This is how we should have ended the finale. How did we not think of that?”

But is this really the end of Curb Your Enthusiasm? A hint is provided on the flight home to LA as the gang bicker, suggesting there is more to come. Only one person knows for sure, leading me to wonder, What Will Larry David Do?

This article was published by The Conversation.

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