Prett-ay, prett-ay, prett-ay good.
In his 1997 book “Facts and Fancies”, Armando Iannucci told the fictional tale of fifty-two year old electrician Peter Manion. Manion was a man who had volunteered to undergo a pioneering neurosurgery, placing a microchip containing a selection of songs into his brain, with an appropriate tune to be played for each moment throughout the remainder of his days. His overall stress levels reduced, he went on to lead a blissful, if fictional, life.
If such a practice were to become reality (or even mandatory), we'd suggest that the incidental music from Curb Your Enthusiasm made the implant playlist. This way, should tempers rise in any situation, be it inconsequential or monumental, the sounds of Luciano Michelini’s “Frolic” or Franco Micalizzi’s “The Puzzle” would slide into the minds of the participants, and everyone would chuckle at the thought of Larry David getting het up about the sleeves on pullovers and such. Tempers would cool, foreheads would be jovially slapped by their owners, and warring factions would realise the futility of getting all het up about the minutiae of modern life.
For anyone who hasn’t watched the series, here’s a lazily constructed nutshell: it’s essentially One Foot In The Grave, only with more swearing, sunnier backdrops and more dry New York Jewish wit. Larry David plays Larry David, a reflection of his real self in an only slightly distorted funhouse mirror. The delightful Cheryl Hines plays Cheryl David, Larry’s wife (we avoid using the adjective ‘long-suffering’, in case you expect slightly less of the show as a result). Jeff Garlin and Susie Essman appear as the Greene’s, Larry’s agent and his ferociously short-fused wife, best pals to the Davids.
Many other members of the recurring cast play modestly distorted versions of themselves, including Richard Lewis, Ted Danson or Wanda Sykes, alongside less frequently spotted guest stars such as Rob Reiner, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael York, Martin Scorsese, Mel Brooks, or Ben Stiller. However, the initial lure of the show (for us) was that Curb includes turns from a post-Seinfeld Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander both joining Larry (at various points in the series) in a quest to repeat the success of The Greatest American Sitcom Of All Time (a title we’ve awarded it). And yet, it turns out that their involvement (alongside Michael Richards and Jerry Seinfeld, as the show went on) turned out to be a sideshow compared to the marvellous goings on inside the mind of Larry.
It’s the contents of Larry’s brain that make Curb so utterly enthralling. If you’re not paying attention properly, you might dismiss the programme as a wealthy, successful US comic complaining about everything, but Larry is deeper than that. It’s not that Larry is grumpy, or that he has declared war on etiquette, but that he has his own rigidly defined set of expectations, and he generally won’t budge from them. He just won’t Let Things Go. To celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary, Larry insists Cheryl comply with a pre-marriage promise that she’d allow him to cheat on her, once and once only, after their first decade of wedlock. When a shop owner asks Larry to hand back a pullover he’d tried for size so that it can be folded ‘properly’, Larry’s insistence that he can fold the garment perfectly adequately himself soon escalates into him being banned from the store. And yet, while few could see themselves taking a similar stance in those situations, there is always some kind of skewed logic to Larry’s actions, which adds to the overall amusement factor.
His obduracy aside, Larry is frequently capable of both selfless and selfish acts. So, while one episode may see him resolve a minor sun-cream related misunderstanding by taking an entire special needs group out for a meal, another may see him save himself a trip to the florists by stealing flowers from a roadside memorial. There is always a sense of Larry living his life by the standards he, not society, has set for himself. In what might well be the series finest half-hour, Larry is caught in traffic while trying to make a baseball match. Spotting that the carpool lane is moving much more quickly, Larry doesn’t just sneak into the carpool lane and risk the chance of a fine, he hires a prostitute to accompany him on his journey. She gets paid, he gets to the match on time, and it’s not as if he’s paying to have sex with her – it’ll all logical.
All in all, Curb hangs together brilliantly, with the top quality writing, superb performances and measured direction all combining to produce a reliably entertaining situation comedy.