Wednesday, December 21, 2005

TV BLOGGING: Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 5

I'm sure Larry David gets tired of fans telling him how much they love Seinfeld. Because when push comes to shove, Curb Your Enthusiasm is sort of like Seinfeld unfiltered. The misanthropic four of Seinfeld represent elements, perhaps, of David's personality, divided liberally across several characters. Yet Curb Your Enthusiasm serves up that level of absurdity without any mitigating factors. So if you think David is funny, you'll love this series. If you think David is irritating, well, Curb Your Enthusiasm won't win any high marks from you. Larry David may just be an acquired taste...

I've watched all the previous seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm with devotion and really loved the show. I seldom failed to laugh out loud at David's anti-social, comedic tendencies. I remember some times just staring at the television, mouth hanging open. I was awed by David's seemingly endless capacity to inadvertently insult and offend those around him. Damn! I'm also a little bit in love with his much-hassled, put upon wife, Cheryl (played by Cheryl Hines).

Season Five of the series is good, to be sure, but some critical element of freshness is now gone from the mix. I know other critics have been carping about this, and I don't want to pile on, because I've always enjoyed the series so much. But, as David would say, this group of ten episodes left me feeling ehhhh.

Also, I think it would be really difficult to top the season that saw Larry David win a role in a stage production of Mel Brooks' The Producers. I experienced more winces and cringes during that batch of episodes than in any TV show since Ricky Gervais's The Office. And that's a compliment. I love it when discomfort, anxiety and humor mix on these programs...there's something realistic and downright addictive about watching people turn their lives into train wrecks.

Curb Your Enthusiasm's fifth season follows a two-part "story arc." The first story involves Larry's quest to find out if he's actually adopted. He hires a private detective, played by Mekhi Phifer, to find out. The second story involves comedian Richard Lewis, and his need of a kidney transplant. Turns out - of course - that Larry David is a perfect match. Only thing is, he doesn't want to donate a kidney and will do anything to avoid it (including hoping against hope that Lewis's cousin, Louis Lewis, will die in a coma so his organs can be transplanted...).

Both of these stories climax in an interesting - if not always inspired - fashion in the final episode of the season, "The End," which sees David meet the folks whom he believes are his biological parents: cornfed, Christians from the mid-west. Also, the kidney issue is resolved with a trip to the afterlife, but any further detail would spoil the fun.

My favorite episode of the season was the seventh installment, entitled "The Seder." This involved Larry inviting Rick Lefkowitz (The Daily Show's Rob Corddry), a convicted sex offender, to a religious dinner celebration. The other guests included a rampant conservative (and David, of course, is a progressive...), and a doctor that David suspected was stealing his newspaper every morning. As you can imagine, plenty of shame, mistakes and disasters got spread around before the half-hour was over.

Seinfeld was always famous for giving the world new catchphrases, and I think Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm is trying to do the same thing. This year, we met a character, Jeff's ex-girlfriend, who had "an unusually large vagina" ("The Ski Life") and also learned Jeff and Larry's "double transgression" theory. Maybe this stuff isn't as memorable as "master of your domain," but it's all funny nonetheless. It just isn't innovative.

Come the end of Season Five, it appeared that Larry David was about to meet his maker, and face judgment in the afterlife for all the people whom he has crossed swords with during five hysterical seasons. As David lay in a hospital bed dying, and a rabbi asked him if he wanted to make peace, the film cut to a lengthy montage of David's previous escapades on the series. This sequence had a valedictory feeling of "The End" (as the episode is titled), and again, I recalled Seinfeld, and how that series ended: with all the characters going off to the slammer after videotaping a crime, but not lifting a finger to stop it.

Here, Larry David questions his faith and heritage, and sees it restored. He dies, and returns to life. He claims to be a changed man...but we see he hasn't changed at all when he uses a handicapped bathroom. That's probably a perfect place to call it quits on Curb Your Enthusiasm: with the recognition that even a brush with death will not change Larry David's nature.

Now, I'm not saying the show should be cancelled. If it returns, I'll no doubt return for the encore. But really, how else can Larry David surprise us or keep us laughing? His "shtick" at this point is a known quantity, and so much of comedy depends on feelings of surprise and shock. If Curb Your Enthusiasm returns for a sixth season, I also hope that Cheryl will be more central a figure, like she was in the earlier seasons. She's still Larry David's best "straight man," as far as I'm concerned. The embarrassment David generates wherever he goes work best when someone close to him has to deal with it, and Cheryl Hines has mastered the slow burn. Her constant rejoinder to his insanity, "okay," speaks volumes about his nuttiness. It's a reply to cut off further debate, it's a prayer to the Lord to end her suffering, and it's always delivered with perfection.

4 comments:

  1. wow, glad to see you show such an interest in earthbound comedy. what do you think of todd solondz? have you caught pootie tang?
    i'm very much a fan of larry david and curb particularly because it is so unfiltered and cable (you know, single cam, no laugh track, building rather than going after a punch line every twenty seconds). its renewed my admiration for seinfeld and i've come to enjoy its more davidian twists. my reservations on seinfeld had more to do with seinfeld's persona and schtickiness. anyway, curb is my favorite of the two.
    i agree that the producers season was great, but the final episode of that one fell flat to me, too much straight larry performing the producers. mel brooks and anne bancroft duplicating zero mostel and gene wilder in the bar was a great post modern idea, though. much like the final episode of seinfeld, a great idea falls flat with too much recycled schtick.
    my favorite season is the one before that, the restaurant. through those usual labyrinthine plot twists, larry ends up with a chef afflicted with tourettes, who can't help but scream obscenities constantly. larry improvises on opening night (the final episode of the season) by making it a theme where all diners are free to curse at each other as loudly as desired. seeing larry pleased by creating a contained environment of pure vitriol is one of the most transcendently pleasing television moments i've ever witnessed.

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  2. George -

    I have really loved Curb Your Enthusiasm, and truth be told, I've enjoyed it even more than Seinfeld. I remember the season-ender you're talking about - at the restaurant - and indeed, that was a classic bit of business. There are many outstanding episodes here (and just last night, I watched one from a few seasons back, involving a "conversion" and Baptism, that was hysterical). I just wish Season 5 was a little more fun & fresh, somehow...

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  3. Anonymous2:37 PM

    I agree with you about season 5. Many of the episodes I did not laugh out loud at. HOWEVER I thought "the ski lift" was one of the BEST episodes of the series. Me and a friend watched it and we were dying during it and had our mouths hanging open. When it was over I asked "How long was that? That felt like a movie" and my friend replies "It was so dense." So much happens in that one episode it feels like a whole day passed when you're done with it.

    But overall the season hasn't done much for me. However I don't think you need too much shock or surprise when it comes to Curb. I think a lot of the humor is KNOWING Larry is JUST ABOUT to say something awful, or seeing the look on Larry's face when something annoys him and bracing yourself for him to say something about it. I actually think a lot of the comedy is from knowing Larry's character so well.

    I also agree with the above poster who said it made him appreciate Seinfeld more. It definitely did that for me. But I will never love Curb more than Seinfeld (I was JUST talking to someone about this last night!!)... Seinfeld is just such a perfect sitcom and the characters are all so great... It's just a lot more dynamic than Curb.


    -Jordan
    www.timwarnermovie.com

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  4. Hey Jordan!

    Thanks for your comments on my Curb Your Enthusiasm fifth season post. I'm with you on that Ski-Lift episode. That was very, very funny. Definitely some high points this season, but overall...ehhhh.

    I need to start collecting Seinfeld DVD box sets. Kathryn and I loved the show when it was on, but I don't remember it ever being quite as cringe-inducing as Curb. Whether that makes it better or not as good, I guess, is up for debate...

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