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Entries in curb your enthusiasm (3)


In Which We Forget What We Know

Think Like A Hermit


Curb Your Enthusiasm
creator Larry David

Why isn’t Curb Your Enthusiasm funny anymore? I was browsing through the nether regions of my DirecTV package the other night and I flipped on the Clippers game against the Suns. Suddenly, the enterprising director went to a close-up on Larry David. He looked his usual mix between alarmed and disoriented, only perhaps even more so, since the comedian celebrated his 70th birthday this past summer.

Seventy used to be a grand old age, but now it is basically reverse adolescence, filled with a similar set of painful indulgences. When I turned seventy in 2011, I remember buying and eating an entire cantaloupe at first light, and spending most of the evening attempting to figure out the name of a movie where Helen Hunt befriended a zebra. Unsurprisingly and somewhat disappointingly, the film I remembered never existed.

This was not so different from how I was occupying my time sixty years ago, except I had a non-gastrophysical reason for purchasing a cantaloupe. Naivete is an asset when experience is so easily disregarded, so Larry David wanders around a cleaner version of Los Angeles, dabbling in all of the city’s richest parts. The show’s long awaited upgrade to true high definition now makes every scene look like the memorable season finale where Mr. David went to heaven, the joke being that he is the only man who could find hell there.

It was always painful to watch the awkward improvisations that made up David’s life on Curb, but this season is particularly unwholesome because Larry has nothing positive in his life that is sacrificed by his miserable attitude. His ex-wife Cheryl Hines has moved on with Ted Danson, although like most of Larry’s relationships with people, their quintessential dynamic is never altered.

Still, this gets us no closer to finding out why Curb Your Enthusiasm has become a turgid collection of dated blunders, attempting to relive a time when some of us could actually bother to give a shit about what white people were going through. Whenever I look in the mirror, I honestly have a thought in my mind that there is a chance a creature visually similar to Clarence Thomas will look back.

It used to be that nostalgia could free us from the uncomfortable newness of the present. But Larry has already cycled through his various reunion storylines, and we definitively learned that there is no bringing Seinfeld back at this point — the only thing left would be infants cryogenically preserved in the frozen winter of their discontent. The reunion didn’t work, and Curb does not work now, because everyone except Richard Lewis is forced to play the straight man to Larry, and the comedic talents of the surrounding cast inhabit humorless, monotone versions of the characters they usually play. (See Cranston, Bryan).

Anyway, the parallels to our president are too obvious to explore. In time, Mr. Pence will be our new leader, and I will write thematically fascinating essais about how Karen Pence takes her thinspiration from Gilda Radner and her smile from a mountain lion. The question will be as repetitive as it always is: how much we permit ourselves to tolerate what other people bring into our lives. Not to be cynical, but it might be worthwhile to think about how much they take.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which We Wonder Why We're So Ashamed

Bald Not Broken


Curb Your Enthusiasm
creator Larry David

Breaking Bad
creator Vince Gilligan

Being bald is more difficult than you can imagine. I remember the first hair I lost, really lost, floating among my blood and pus in the shower. It was so long I couldn't see the end of it. Every time I ran my fingers over my scalp, I was newly surprised by what I found.

As our nation's credit rating drops, a bald man (Alan fucking Greenspan) informs us that America "we can always print money." With this comment, Greenspan finally separated himself from the attachment to his idols Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. Reading The Fountainhead, I never imagined Howard Roark bald, but looking back he probably shaved his head with a knife and ate squirrels. He didn't have time to try Rogaine, he had to blow up a building he thought was ugly. Baldness can be used for good or ill, just like Christianity or Pinkberry.

When I saw Aaron Paul bald in last night's Breaking Bad, something was altered deep within my carapace. In the bald community, Paul was known as a key holdout. The afternoon I realized that Sam Worthington actually had hair I screamed "William Fucking Buckley!" like I had seen a hairy ghost.

In the wake of certain people's proclamations that America itself is finished, bald men will have the last say. Every aspect of the culture has become a lightly veiled allegory for America's decline, although it is usually not so transparent as Boardwalk Empire. Yesterday I saw two entire families fighting over the last parking spot in the lot at Home Depot. Neither would move their car, so they just sat there. I almost cried, seeing that last hair in my tub, floating, immobile. But I did not cry.

Gifted with the hundreds of millions Seinfeld reaped for him when the show was sold into worldwide syndication, Larry David (Larry David) wants for nothing. After his wife Cheryl divorces him, he inspires his friend Marty Funkhauser to divorce his wife as well. All his closest buddies become suddenly single men in their 60s, and they find themselves the happiest they have ever been. Freed from the responsibility of being capable husbands and fathers to their children, they become children again themselves. (Larry even instructs one of his Girl Scout peers how to insert her tampon in an emergency.) The same thing happened in Rome, only without cable television.

Larry enjoys picking on women above all others on Curb. This is because they give him the reaction he desires. They make him feel alive because he wishes, despite his critical and financial success, to be rejected. In his heart of hearts, Larry believes he deserves to be scorned. Men compliment him on his superior comedy; women are the only ones capable of the disgust he senses when he masturbates to orgasm in the shower, or views his naked dome in the mirror.

Americans have taken most things for granted. An appointment is made, the person will show up. Larry's problems with bad parking, the selling of Girl Scout cookies, his friend's reaction to a Palestinian chicken restaurant, a german shepherd's last meal, Suzy's post-beverage sigh, his girlfriend's use of emoticons, have actually become comforting reminders of things we can control. Correcting such ethical lapses are a welcome distraction from the collapse of the society that surrounds Larry. In stark contrast, the men of Breaking Bad are afforded no such consolation. 

In the first episode of Breaking Bad's brilliant fourth season, Jesse Pinkman (the newly bald Aaron Paul) watched a man's throat cut in front of him (by a bald man) as a threat. Instead of horror, or shock, or rage at the death, his steely-eyed look conveyed one emotion only: peace. He had come to terms with the event, he understood the man who committed the murder, and knew he could not be harmed by him, because he felt himself already gone. Why are you not watching this show?

When Breaking Bad debuted on AMC in 2008, it concerned itself with an Albuquerque chemistry teacher in the thrall of apparently terminal lung cancer forced into the production of meth so he could leave his family with enough money to survive. It was his brush with death and poverty that pushed Walter White (Bryan Cranston) over the edge, but he had already known himself to be divorced from the world before he learned he was dying.

Like many, Walt felt disconnected from American culture. His friends and family viewed him, smilingly, as a harmless intellect within their midst. "Oh Walt," they sighed to themselves, "this man is as meek and good-natured as a housefly." He viewed their polite condescension as an impetus for evil. Upon discarding several business partners, he entered into business with two bald men and never looked back.

A few bald men wear toupees, or use chemicals to attempt to regrow what they lost, but most do not. When I first became bald this surprised me. I used to tool around Wyoming in my Mustang, my toupee rippling against the wind, attempting to be the man I was before it happened. It took some time to realize that I could not go back to that, really, that there was more strength in the truth of what I was.

Jesse Pinkman has come to a similar realization. He is a meth user, a junkie, and now a somewhat experienced chemist. His partner in the production of this brilliantly lethal drug is Walter White, now compelled to hide the shame of his actions from his family, creating an elaborate cover story that allows him to claim his drug money as the spoils of a gambling addiction.

Here we have a rough parallel for the political debate in this country. Liberals want to cover up the loss of American exceptionalism, since for some reason they regard it as an indictment of the current administration, by writing a check. Conservatives wish to reclaim it by acknowledging what seems painfully obvious: we are one broke nation, and when you can't cover your bills, best practice is to start. Although both Jesse and Walt are guilty of a crime, it is Jesse who accepts that he must pay for it.

That douchey pinhead John Judis actually suggested the only way to climb out of the recession was to get involved in a war! I can't really blame him for forgetting we're currently fighting two. When liberals start advocating for war, I feel I have to zig where they zag.

The only people disappointed by an American fall from grace are those who actually think America is the greatest country in the world. Whether it is or isn't is not my point. A man with hair believes he is better than a bald man because he has hair; when that recedes, he philosophizes, "I may be losing my hair, but at least I am not completely bald."

He is a fool. No man is better than any other. I think I read that in Highlights or maybe that time I went to the vet and fell asleep reading a brutally boring copy of The Economist. The person who reads The Economist believes he is better than another person. The man with hair believes he is better than the man losing his hair. The man losing his hair believes he is better than the man who is bald. An American only has to be an American.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He last wrote in these pages about George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons.

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

The Histrionics


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.


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