The SmarK DVD Rant for Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete First Season
“I’m completely nonplussed. Is that the word I’m looking for?”
– As many people may know by now, before Friends, the great obsession of my life was Seinfeld, from his days as a standup comedian to the TV show, which remains my favorite all-time sitcom.
Seinfeld was obviously running out of steam in its final seasons, with the departure of co-creator and writer Larry David an obvious factor in the decline in quality of the show. However, once the show ended, HBO did the obvious thing and offered David, who was by then approximately $400 million richer thanks to syndication rights for Seinfeld, his own version of a sitcom.
So now, meet the “real” George Costanza
The best way to think of Curb Your Enthusiasm is as a loosely-scripted, largely-improvised, tour through the everyday life of the rich and/or famous. The series is centered on Larry David, newly rich and successful and with nothing much to do but stumble through life and dig himself out of the holes he creates.
The brilliance of Larry David (who is basically playing himself) is the gloriously mean-spirited egocentric nature of his character. Stop and count all the little white lies that he tells throughout the season to avoid any sort of confrontation, for instance, and then watch his reaction when he gets one regardless. Like all truly self-centered people, he loves all opinions and perspectives as long as they’re his. Much like George Costanza, he lacks the little trapdoor between his brain and his mouth that’s supposed to filter out the first stupid thing that comes to mind, and that’s where much of the humor from this series comes from. It takes the wacky misunderstanding to new heights, as Larry is seemingly incapable of parking his car in a lot without incurring the wrath of 7 different people. And much like George, he brings it all on himself and could avoid the whole mess by stopping to think about someone else for 5 seconds. But that’s why we love him. And much like Seinfeld, this is also a show about nothing it’s just Larry going about his daily routine, eating lunch with friends, going bowling, trying to figure out the “cut-off time” for calling people, and it all just builds from there.
This is a two-disc set covering all 10 episodes from the first season, which are as follows
– “The Pants Tent”. What begins with a funny bunching of the material in his pants turns into a very bad day indeed, as Larry is faced with the problem of wanting to go to a movie and having no one to see it with. Richard Lewis is busy going on a date, so Larry’s wife Cheryl lends him one of her friends. This would seem to be a simple enough matter, but Larry first gets into a fight with current CSI Miami babe Sofia Milos over manners, and then finds out that she’s Richard’s date, and then has an embarrassing experience with his inappropriately-bunched pants that leads Cheryl’s friend to think he was sporting wood, all of which he blows completely out of proportion in standard Larry manner. While explaining this to his manager and friend Jeff on the car phone, he accidentally makes a joke comparing his wife to Hitler while Jeff’s parents are listening on speakerphone, and since they’re Jewish they don’t take it particularly well. Go figure. And naturally, everyone meets up in the same restaurant at the end of the night, just to make sure the evening is a total disaster for everyone involved. Gut-bustingly funny, especially Larry’s exasperated interaction with the hostess at the restaurant and feeble attempts to pull rank as a celebrity.
– “Ted & Mary”. Ever get invited to an event by friends and then forget what day it was supposed to be? That’s the premise here (well, one of them) as Larry & Cheryl go bowling with the Dansons and charm their way into tickets for a Paul Simon concert. Larry, however, seems to be quite obviously (and hilariously) in love with Mary Steenburgen, to the point where he’ll even go shopping with her to earn brownie points. However, after a case of shoe mixup at the bowling alley, he’s forced to order a new pair from the store, leading to an awkward social situation with the clerk when he gets his original shoes back and doesn’t need the new pair anymore. Meanwhile, he gets increasingly paranoid because Friday is approaching and no one’s called him yet to tell him where to pick up the tickets. Do you call them and risk being told that they don’t want to go with you anymore? Not as purely funny, but all the little interactions between the couples (especially Ted’s knowing snipes at Larry shopping with his wife) ring very true to life, as do the awkward problems posed by, say, trying to get your shoes back from a guy who’s stolen them.
– “Porno Gil”. Another brilliant look at awkward social situations, kicking off with Larry selfishly failing to pick up a golf ball at the driving range because he was too busy staring at the guy’s cowboy hat. Larry meets up with him later and tries his usual supplication (ie, lying) to get out of taking the blame, but the guy’s comeback is worthy of being sewn on a sampler and hung over the front door. (“Oh, you can bend over? Well, why don’t you BEND OVER AND KISS MY ASS!”) Larry’s nonplussed (is that the word I’m looking for?) reaction makes it even funnier. Regardless, Cheryl & Larry attend a dinner party being thrown by a former porn star (your friend and mine, Bob Odenkirk) which results in a series of bad behavior decisions by Larry and what is perhaps the most horribly inappropriate dinner conversation ever devised (albeit an educational one who knew Tabasco sauce had so many uses?) Cheryl wants to leave, but Larry forgets his watch in the house and is worried about a “double goodbye”, not to mention the psychotic wife who demands all shoes be removed upon entering. If I was a girl, I’d say I laughed so hard that I nearly peed, but I’m not, so I’ll just spare everyone that imagery and say it’s really f*cking funny.
– “The Bracelet”. Apparently still a complete idiot after all those years of marriage, Larry makes the mistake of watching a football game out of the corner of his eye while conversing with Cheryl upon her return from vacation, and naturally jewelry is the only solution. However, he looks like a bum after a week of no wife, and the store won’t buzz him in, so he calls Richard Lewis to buy the bracelet for him. Next problem: They get hit up by a blind guy for help moving some boxes, which turns into a hilariously awkward yelling match when he starts getting them to unpack his entire house. What exactly IS the line at which you stop tolerating bullshit from the handicapped? The next question comes when they go for lunch, as Larry’s credit card bill includes a space for tipping both the waiter and the captain, which Larry naturally calls out as bullshit. Although when confronted by the waiter captain for not tipping him later on, Larry takes the opposite side of the argument. Personally, I agree with Larry’s original stance, but then I don’t tend to eat in restaurants nice enough to warrant tipping a glorified host, so what do I know?
– “The Interior Decorator”. This one is Larry David distilled right down to the pure essence of the character. While being a gentleman, Larry lets a woman by him on the way to the doctor’s office, only to discover that the waiting room is first come first served (despite the outward illusion of having appointments). This results in the captive audience in the other seats being subjected to a lengthy rant on the subject by Larry, but his day would get worse when he’s out of cash on the way out of the parking lot and gives the attendant an IOU for $3. Finally, he meets up with his lawyer (played by Nia Vardolos in a memorable cameo role) only to find she’s charging him $1500 for her to read a script that he gave to her husband, and that’s enough to drive him over the edge, resulting in the gods REALLY stepping on his foot, karmicly speaking. He finds it impossible to actually pay back the parking lot attendant due to a series of misunderstandings, borrows small amounts of money on several occasions from his now-former lawyer, and finally gets back to the doctor’s office after having the policy changed single-handedly, winning a war of attrition with the same woman from the beginning of the episode and arriving first, only to be forced to wait in line behind her again because of his original complaints. This results in the poor beleaguered nurse exclaiming that apparently the only policy that Larry agrees with is one that means he gets in first, and Larry’s completely irony-free agreement with that defines the character once and for all. Brilliant from start-to-finish.
– “The Wire”. Larry, eternally harassed husband, finds himself in the position of needing to get rid of a power line that’s ruining the view of the backyard for Cheryl, and all he needs the signature of one neighbor a lawyer who is in love with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. A meeting seems to be the easiest solution, but with the lawyer representing Jeff in his battle with a summer camp over a juvenile delinquent he’s sponsoring, things get a lot more complicated. And since it’s Larry, even the simple question of how late it’s acceptable to call someone turns into a major battle of wills with both Julia and Jeff’s wife. And when Jeff lets the wayward boy stay with him, the kid cleans him out and leaves in the middle of the night, leaving Larry stranded in the middle of the all-time blowout between the couple (the improvised directions for the fighting couple basically involved Jeff being called “a fat f*ck” as much as possible, and they ran with it). This is one of those ones with a concept that doesn’t seem to lend itself well to comedy, but Larry’s reactions to all the little daily traumas add up to some hilarious stuff (like annoying Julia and Brad Hall by searching their home at 10:00 at night for his little notepad) and the fight between Jeff and Susie provides some of the funniest insults (mostly towards Jeff) heard in the show.
– “AAMCO” It’s bonding time for Jeff & Larry, as Jeff buys a ’57 Chevy and wants to take it for a test drive (after getting offended that Larry failed to congratulate him on the purchase, as though it was an engagement or something), but he makes the mistake of letting Larry drive. A misunderstanding of a car commercial with a horn honking leads Larry to flip off the guy behind him, and earns him a rear-end collision from the pissed-off driver. Luckily, Larry meets an AAMCO station owner at his dinner party (the super from Friends!) and after some of the usual awkward moments, gets him to agree to fix the car. But when his new savior leaves a message on his machine asking him to meet in private about an embarrassing situation, Larry’s paranoid imagination runs wild and his imagined transgressions far exceed what was actually bugging the guy. Meanwhile, Larry also has to get in touch with his dormant confrontational side and accuse the caterer of stealing the leftovers. That’s never fun. Not the strongest ep, although I do like Larry’s prize for winning his bet with Cheryl. Also, I’m guessing the production order was changed, because he gives the leftover chicken a l’orange from the dinner party to a bum on the street here, but the bum later thanks him for it in “The Bracelet”, which was the fourth episode.
– “Beloved Aunt”. Just to show the difference between network TV and HBO, you’ve got THIS one. Cheryl’s aunt dies (although Larry isn’t quite as sympathetic as she’d want) and Larry, ever the giving type, offers to write a heartfelt obituary in the paper as his way of showing his life for Cheryl’s parents. Unfortunately, the “a” in “aunt” is replaced with a “c” as a result of a typo, which leaves Larry looking like a jerk. Oh, plus the fact that he told his sister-in-law’s boyfriend to dump her on the day of her aunt’s funeral, all of which leaves him kicked out of the house for the night. He tries staying with Jeff, since he has to drop off a pair of sunglasses as a birthday present for Jeff’s mom anyway, but ends up copping a feel and getting kicked out of THAT house, too. The whole gift-buying scenario sets off Larry on a hilarious running joke about someone with no domestic skills trying to figure out how normal people get stuff giftwrapped. And it’s even got a cameo by Paul Goebel, from Beat the Geeks. Larry even puts his confrontational hat on again as he tries to barter his way into the hotel that he’s putting the boyfriend up in, but in the end it’s a night in the car. Well, good thing he had the sunglasses in the morning. Total cause-and-effect behavior from Larry here.
– “Affirmative Action”. Cheryl has a skin rash and makes a simple request of Larry: Get her prescription filled on the way to meeting Richard Lewis, and then give it to her at dinner later that night. Of course, being Larry, that’s too much to ask, and in fact he and Richard bump into Richard’s black doctor friend and Larry immediately makes an affirmative action joke that goes over like a lead balloon. Then, at dinner, Larry makes perhaps the first and only successful bribe of a maitre d’ in TV history sort of. Unfortunately, he used the prescription rather than a $20 bill, and with Cheryl in increasing discomfort and her doctor gone for the weekend, the only alternative is for Larry to try the offended black doctor who is having a dinner party with his equally black friends that night. Larry doesn’t come off looking too well there. Finally, he discovers that greasing a pharmacist doesn’t the have the same effect. So much funny stuff here, from Larry using a bathroom two doors down to avoid small talk, to his discomfort with repeating a joke he never should have made in the first place, to his memorable silent war with Sofia Milos at Richard’s house.
– “The Group”. Larry goes for the grand comedy jugular here, as Cheryl is offered a part in “The Vagina Monologues” and Larry meets up with an ex-girlfriend who is also vying for the part, and that leads to a flustered Larry getting dragged to an Incest Survivors group meeting to “be there for her”, but since you can’t really just audit an Incest Survivors group meeting, he decides to make up a story about his own secret pain. I can’t even do this one justice Larraine Newman stealing the show with her story about playing “Zorro and Consuela” with her grandfather and her bickering uncles has to be heard to be believed, as does Larry’s discussion with Cheryl about who he fantasizes about while masturbating, and the slow build to the final payoff with Jeff and the car accident and Sidney Freedman playing the “incestuous” uncle and getting into a fight with the director is all improvisational GENIUS. If you can laugh at the Incest Survivors pouring their hearts out and not feel guilty about it, then you truly get this show, and otherwise you should get out now because you’re not going to get anything out of it. â€˜Nuff said.
With no laugh track and a truly edgy approach to the tired sitcom formula, this is a show that people will either love or completely hate, because it doesn’t ever pander to the audience. They just throw the shit out there and say “If you want to laugh, laugh, and if you don’t, f*ck you” and I love that attitude. If you can deal with it and can laugh at anything without getting offended, you will love this show. All others, caveat emptor. This is like Seinfeld without the social niceties, stripped down to the essential dysfunction of Larry David’s brain.
Kind of a weird transfer from HBO, as the colors are sharp, but it’s actually SO sharp that edges look kind of jagged and there’s a lot of noise going on in the picture. Anyway, it’s full-frame TV that looks okay, but the imperfections in the picture started to bug me after a while, which is weird because the clips from the Bob Costas interview look AMAZING by comparison.
Standard 2.0 Dolby Surround, which is fine because this is all about the dialogue. It’s all clear and easily understood, if really quiet compared to most TV mixes.
Not actually much in the way of extras for a show that you’d think would have tons of deleted scenes and outtakes.
– An audio commentary from Larry and friends on the first episode only.
– The full hour-long HBO special that served as a pilot for the show, also titled “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, as Larry returns to standup after 10 years and makes an HBO special about making an HBO special. This one introduces a lot of the core characters and establishes the tone and running themes of the show, like Larry making an ill-fated job reference on behalf of a former employee and getting seen in the park with Jeff’s girlfriend and leaving a rambling answering machine message to Cheryl as a preemptive apology. It also features Larry doing standup material at small clubs, and it’s HILARIOUS stuff, like his “Hitler didn’t take any shit from magicians” bit (“WHERE IS THE RABBIT!?”). Basically an extra two episodes, albeit in rougher form (especially the grainy video).
– A 30-minute sitdown interview with Bob Costas, and Bob is of course a great interviewer who knows all the right questions to ask and provides some fascinating background information on the show and the process of creating it. It also shows some clips from future seasons, which is a bummer for those of us who haven’t seen them yet, because there’s no context to them.
Yeah, so that’s it. Better luck on the next season, I guess. Hopefully HBO pumps these things out soon, because it’s really more effective to sit down and watch them all in one shot, although it might start to affect your world view after a while.
The Film: *****
The Video: **1/2
The Audio: ***
The Extras: ***