Top 10 TV shows of the decade – # 3
Curb Your Enthusiasm
What other show could possibly snare the mantle of top comedy of the decade? If it came down to greatest comedy of all time, it’s no coincidence that the only other show that’d give Curb a run for its money is Seinfeld. While both series obviously share a lot of overlapping ideas and stylistic beats, Curb has the curveball of an improvisational shooting style that throws up fortuitous moments you wouldn’t get with a scripted show. One of the great joys is watching those genuine reactions to unexpected lines or performances, where the hysterical laughter of Larry and Jeff blurs the line between characters & friends, fake sitcom laughter & corpsing.
Due to, among others, the success of Curb, this is the decade where improv became a bit of an in-thing with performers who obviously (and wrongly) saw it as an easy alternative to churning out a couple of dozen drafts of a script, but unless the people involved are actually talented and funny, it just doesn’t work. (see: Confetti) Funnelled through the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing – Christopher Guest, Will Ferrell, Sacha Baron Cohen, Larry David – it can be spectacular. Despite the improv aspect, Curb is still a pretty traditional sitcom built around farce and misunderstanding, and while it contains the verbal wordplay and subtle character ticks, it also has a great line in big, comedic reveals – Wanda Sykes witnessing out of context possible-racism, Jeff in a neck brace – and it’s not afraid to go broad. It’s neither old nor new-school, but a wonderful mixture of the two, and the most groundbreaking thing of all is how consistently fucking hilarious it is. On the subject of the broader comedy, Larry’s evolved into a tremendous physical comedian with some of the best wild gesticulation and overreaction you’ll ever see. Unlike a lot of other beleaguered sitcom leads, the episodes don’t always end with Larry’s humiliation, he gets his victories too. I can’t be the only one who thought the Producers arc would culminate in a spectacular failure, but ended up wishing he’d take on a Broadway role for real. Actually, if there is a mainstream role out there for Larry, it’s The Vulture in Spider-Man 4.
A lot of sitcoms do that whole “lots of seemingly unconnected threads that tie together at the end” thing, One Foot in The Grave and Seinfeld (obviously) being a couple of examples of when that really works, but Curb is the absolute king. In other shows, it’s obvious where everything’s going, but here there’s rarely a denouement you’ll see coming, and the end credits usually roll on a real unexpected boot, not so much into the funny-bone, but straight into the funny-balls, and grazing the hysteria-perineum.
All of the many recurring characters are so great, whoever they are, you let out fist to the air and a “Yes! It’s…” when they wander into a scene, none more so than Marty Funkhouser, after whom I’ve reserved the name for my future dog of Little Orphan Funkhouser. It never fails to blow the minds of British Curb fans when they realise that Bob “Marty Funkhauser” Einstein was popping up on our screens throughout the eighties in the Super Dave segments that aired on Clive James on Television. While I was writing this, it shocked me to realise that Marty only appeared for the first time in the fourth season, it seems like he’s been around forever, and any scene involving Marty is usually the highlight of the episode. It’s a testament to Larry’s casting that for a show built around improvisation, there are no weak-links in the pretty seizable recurring cast. I started naming the characters I loved the most, but it just turned into an enormous list, so let’s just say they’re all magnificent, although it would be remiss of me to not specifically mention Leon, a man who walked onto a show that had been running for five seasons and instantly became everyone’s favourite character.
One of the reasons Curb works so well is that we all have a bit of Larry in us, teetering and wobbling as we do on that invisible tightrope of maddeningly unspoken social etiquette. For me, it’s a given that when I’m at someone’s house, I’ll get into a tedious disagreement for my not wanting the drink that inevitably and aggressively gets offered the second someone steps foot over the threshold. I drink when I’m thirsty, not as something to do, I don’t feel the need to arbitrarily glug on some fluid, and I don’t get the obsession with constantly topping up our bladders whenever we socialize. I don’t get pubs or coffee shops for the same reason. Go for a drink? Why don’t we sit around untying and retying out shoelaces instead, or something else that’s only a necessity at the time? That’s what my Larry moment usually consists of, for others it might be disagreeing with the concept of the “I acknowledge your thank you wave” wave when allowing another car to pass, or getting into arguments with those over-sensitive cab drivers who take umbrage at you trying to strike up a conversation with them from the back seat while you masturbate.
For most Curb fans, this season’s Seinfeld reunion arc was something you’d still ask for if you had three wishes and three dying relatives, if you’d been smart enough to conceive of such a thing in the first place. The whole season was more than a joy to watch, with all the familiar Curb greatness but with the added magic of seeing the gang back together, and all handled in a sublimely clever meta-way that verged on full-on Charlie Kaufman-esque post-modern art, as well as being as tightly constructed, funny and inspired as you could only dream of for a show in its seventh season. It was a genuine stroke of genius as a way of doing service to the Seinfeld fans while also not pandering to that same desire, by doing an out and out Seinfeld show that may not have lived up to the colossal expectation there’d be for such a straight-up reunion. That said, on the evidence of the tremendous Seinfeld scenes, and a constantly-peaking Larry David, they could probably pull it off, except we now have our satisfactory wrap-up. For a show that was fixated on minutiae, unspoken social protocol and characters bogged down in self-obsession, Curb’s self-referential, existential take couldn’t be more of a fitting ending. Quite simply, the finale of this season may be the finest, most artistic piece of comedy ever broadcast, where at one point, we had the real Larry David playing the Curb Larry David playing George Constanza via the performance of the real/Curb Jason Alexander, and with George being based on the real Larry David. The reflections of reflections of reflections brought to mind Synecdoche, New York and its…hold on a sec, I’m bleeding from the ears.
Yeah, so anyway, I think I speak for all of us when I say how glad I am that Larry keeps changing his mind about never doing any more. When he says he’s all done, bored and out of ideas, which he inevitably does at the end of every season, I just don’t buy it any more. He’s the Jew who cried wolf.
I actually have this idea for an iphone app that’s just a big picture of Larry’s face, and when someone says something you don’t quite believe, you touch the face, and the Larry David Stare-Out Theme plays to accompany your suspicious eyeballing of the probable-liar. If you steal this idea, I’ll sue the jizz out of you, and if “I thought of it first” is your defence, I – and a court of our peers – shall decide if you’re telling the truth thusly.