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Thursday
Nov122009

« In Which We're Larry David And We Happen To Enjoy Wearing Women's Panties »

The Histrionics

by ELEANOR MORROW

Once I heard someone ask the poet Derek Walcott what he thought the major achievement of the last decade of the 20th century in art was. Without thinking for very long, he answered Seinfeld. It is good for Walcott and everyone else that the best comedy ever to air on television will briefly be given back to us during what will likely be the last season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.


In some ways, Larry David's second television project is exactly like his first one. Both concern themselves endlessly with the proprieties and improprieties of American customs; both have elevated their creator's Jewish sensibility to high comedy; both shows feature a conflation of events that spirals towards an expected or unexpected conclusion composed of multiple characters and situations. This characteristic denouement came about early in the process:

The show’s pivotal moment came in the third season, in 1991. Charles remembers walking with David from the “Seinfeld” offices in Studio City up to Fryman Canyon to try to break a story: the library-cop episode, in which Jerry is investigated for keeping a book out for twenty years. “We had a couple of strands, and I don’t know if it was the oxygen from the walking, but we were very exhilarated,” Charles said. “We went, ‘What if the book that was overdue was in the homeless guy’s car? And the homeless guy was the gym teacher that had done the wedgie? And what if, when they return the book, Kramer has a relationship with the librarian?’


“Suddenly it’s like—why not? It’s like, boom boom boom, an epiphany—quantum theory of sitcom! It was, like, nobody’s doing this! Usually, there’s the A story, the B story—no, let’s have five stories! And all the characters’ stories intersect in some sort of weirdly organic way, and you just see what happens. It was like—oh my God. It was like finding the cure for cancer.”


Now in old age, the real life Larry David has less misery and pain to draw from. His Curb alterego swings through Los Angeles, spending most of his time playing golf and having elaborate dinners in Brentwood. Larry was momentarily nonplussed when his wife divorced him, but soon he was sexing Lucy Lawless, Vivica Fox, and a host of other babes with his bald, lefty-bra unhooking style. He is a man with a lot of time on his hands who happens to enjoy wearing women's underwear.

Where Curb really separates itself from Seinfeld is in its protagonist. Jerry Seinfeld was a fairly inoffensive comedian whose only foible was the neverending succession of women that came into his life. No one didn't like Seinfeld. How could you? It is the quintessential example of why art must be completely specific to become general.

Curb has engendered a more divided reaction, for a variety of reasons. Since most of our readers are either visual learners or soon-to-be visual learners, I have prepared a handy pie chart in order to illustrate the split reaction to Larry's Curb "character."

As you can see in this charming illustration, Larry is one complex Jew. And he most certainly is a Jew. Seinfeld basically kept its essential Jewishness in the background despite the fact that Jerry's parents were straight out of Fiddler on the Roof, but Curb Your Enthusiasm exults in it.

By making four sympathetic Jewish characters (Elaine was essentially a hidden Jew), Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld may have integrated the ethnicity more seamlessly into the American consciousness than any Jewish artists in history.

No need for Larry to put even the lightest veil over himself in the freeing environment of pay cable. He is so much himself that he transcends stereotype, and the characters that surround him do likewise. Chief among them is the comedian who plays Larry's agent on the show,  Curb executive producer Jeff Garlin.

Garlin's purpose in the milieu is to make Larry look good. As despicable as Larry is, he looks a lot better in contrast to his unfaithful, scheming agent. Last week, Larry covered for a pair of women's underwear Jeff's wife Susie found in his glove compartment. He's done as much many times over the show's six seasons, always to point out that as bad as Larry is, he's not the worst.


Adding for the sympathy we feel for Larry is that he's a sexual innocent. Cheryl Hines played his wife at the show's inception, and it was generally understood that she was with him because of his titanic Seinfeld syndication bankroll. This is not to say she didn't value Larry as a partner - after all, we can't date people in absence of their status, we can only be with the person that they are. But I mean, she didn't value Larry as a partner, or else she wouldn't have broken up with him.

Since every man believes at his heart that he is an impotent, inexperienced fool, Larry's plight with the ladies has slowly inched him towards the sympathetic category. Larry is essentially a flamboyant sconce, a popinjay if you will. He parades around the environs of a fake paradise like a parody of the Shakespearan tragic hero.

His freedom is our shame; his exuberance in living is our violation of others. This is a considerably more optimistic attitude than David's Seinfeld alter-ego ever possessed. George Costanza was a miserable creature and Jason Alexander never liked being identified with the character, much to the source of its self-hatred's chagrin.

Real events parody fake ones, who can say which is better or more verifiable? Larry's real life wife Laurie David dumped him for a laborer after eons of marriage. Freed from the burden of satisfying a partner, Larry went wild with women and is generally in shorts or ladies underwear or some other revealing gear. He solicits the affections of women according to his whims, while offering a singular plan to deceive his ex-wife Cheryl to get back together with him.

larry and now ex-wife laurieIt was noted in the early days of Curb Your Enthusiasm that Larry wasn't so pleased in storyline or real life with the public's reaction to the Seinfeld finale he came back to the show to write. When it happened, David's exodus from Seinfeld after the seventh season changed the show irrevocably. Seinfeld became sillier; more attuned to Jerry's tendency to prefer the wacky over the painful. Without Larry's oversight, Seinfeld became something still marvelous, but different.


In hindsight, Seinfeld had to evolve. We loved Elaine, Jerry, George and Kramer despite the best efforts to paint them as self-involved. Larry's finale showed the characters in something of a negative light again, and now that Seinfeld was more institution than a subversion of the traditional three camera comedy, the path back to edgy humor made for an unsatisfying conclusion for those who didn't treasure every word Larry wrote.


Curb Your Enthusiasm has been the redemption of that sensibility. Larry's trip to Heaven where he met angels Sacha Baron Cohen and Dustin Hoffman, his disastrous/wildly successful jaunt with David Schwimmer and Ben Stiller in The Producers, his discovery of what he thought were his birth parents: all were new places in American comedy. We're so used to having Larry around we barely realize we're in the presence of greatness.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. She tumbls here.

 

"Even Though" - Norah Jones (mp3)

"December" - Norah Jones (mp3)

References (3)

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Reader Comments (3)

great article.

but...

"every man believes at his heart that he is an impotent, inexperienced fool?"

come on.

November 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEric

So it should have said "every man who is worth anything to society believes at his heart that he is an impotent, inexperienced fool"

November 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commentera man

maybe if you find that all the chris carrabbas and jason schwartzmans of the world are of potent societal worth.

In my opinion: no.

November 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEric

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