After 12 seasons, 120 episodes and 20-odd (sometimes very odd) years, it’s time to say goodbye to Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David. Not to be confused with the Larry David who plays him, though it’s an easy mistake to make; after all, the David (the real one) did beat up Elmo on live television recently.
Crank to many, friend to few, outspoken defender of the right to be offended or annoyed by just about everything, Curb’s Larry David has become a comedy icon. Even his theme music has become the soundtrack to countless online clips where someone’s real-life fumble fits seamlessly into his cringe comedy world. But after 24 years, does he still have what it takes?
The first episode back for season 12 is pretty, pretty good. The main plot has Larry, along with Leon (JB Smoove) and breakout star of Young Larry Maria Sofia (Keyla Monterroso Mejia) heading to Atlanta to make a paid appearance at an African businessman’s birthday party. So you know things can’t possibly end well there.
Along the way Larry (seemingly having run out of humans to get annoyed with) yells at Siri, steals food off a server whose mother just died, repeatedly butt dials people, openly wonders if he even knows how to be cordial (as required in his appearance contract), and has his glasses frames stretched out, resulting in Leon saying ‘you look fucking ridiculous with a peanut fucking head’. Basically, business as usual.
A grand finale?
Season 12’s been announced as the final ever season, which means there’s maybe an 80% chance it really will wrap up. There’s already been two pretty strong ‘final’ episodes over the years (including that one where Larry died); Larry David’s unique deal with HBO lets him come back for another season when and if the mood takes him, so even if he does currently seem committed to wrapping things up, the door is always open.
Curb has come a long way since it began as a one-off fake documentary-style special last century. If you wanted to split things into eras, there’s roughly three: the first five or so seasons were (for a sitcom) relatively grounded and realistic, then things started getting bigger and wilder after that, and when it returned after a six-year break with season nine things were never quite the same.
It’s unfair to say that at this stage much of the pleasure of Curb comes from seeing old friends. There’s so much going on in every episode it’s rare to find one that’s across-the-board bad, and those weird dead-end scenes – which are part of the process when so much of the show is improvised – have been there from the beginning. But there’s no denying it’s a thrill to see Jeff (Jeff Garlin, now with brown hair) and Susie (Susie Essman) turn up for a scene.
David’s performance still doesn’t miss a beat, and over the years the man’s been nothing but a force for good in comedy (there’s the little matter of him co-creating Seinfeld). But there was a time when Curb’s legacy looked a little more mixed. Today the show’s an old favourite, the comedy equivalent of a comfy couch. Twenty years ago, it was a trailblazer with plenty of lesser series at its heels.
The revelation that you could make a successful comedy by having a group of friends make up their dialogue as they went along (no more paying writers!) led to a lot of efforts best forgotten. We won’t even mention Whatever Happened to That Guy?, an Australian take starring Peter Moon.
The early focus on scenes so awkward they were difficult to watch derailed comedy for a decade or more as ‘cringe comedy’ – comedy you didn’t actually laugh at – became the hot new trend. It’s a sign of just how funny David is that a legacy best summed up as ‘inventing a form of comedy that didn’t require scripts or jokes’ didn’t see him run out of town.
What most of the imitators missed was that Curb was never all that unscripted (it’s always used detailed outlines), and there are very few people as effortlessly hilarious as Larry David. Whatever changes took place over the years, Curb always worked because it was designed to play to his strengths; it’s hardly his fault if almost nobody shared them.
Outlasting the imitators didn’t hurt either. For one last time, it’s good to have Curb back.
New episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm are screening weekly on Binge.