“As Seen on HBO”, reads the sticker on this two-disc set’s plastic wrap. It reminds me of a moment from early in Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s run, when Larry mentions the network’s catchphrase and quips, “What do they mean it’s not TV? Of course it is. What else would it be?”
And thus the man who partnered with Jerry Seinfeld to subvert the sitcom dared bite the hand that fed him. And why not? David Letterman has for years mocked CBS. 30 Rock has in the last few years made it a running gag to ridicule NBC every chance it gets. Why would Larry David have any sacred cows when given the opportunity to be sole creative overlord of his own show?
I have to admit, I wondered if the series would ever return when the eighth season finally made its debut. Eight seasons in nearly 11 years of existence, with only ten episodes per season, is not exactly tremendous output, but us fans will take what we can get. I imagine Larry David would offer his characteristic head bob in response—then he’d consider the statement a bit more and ask, “What the fuck do you mean by that, ‘not exactly tremendous output’? Do you know how hard it is to create this show?”
Ah, Larry. Don’t ever change. As the 90-minute roundtable discussion included in this set demonstrates, the fictional version of Larry isn’t much different from the real one. He’s a curmudgeon through and through, the type who might blast someone who deserves it one minute and then commit an idiotic act of social gracelessness the next, all the while insisting that his behavior is perfectly okay.
If that’s your cup of tea, season eight of Curb Your Enthusiasm offers up more of the same, with Larry uprooting his life—and that of Jeff and Susie, of course—to move cross-country to New York City. All to avoid participating in a charity gig, of course. The overarching storyline involves Larry finalizing his divorce from Cheryl and adjusting to single life—with hanger-on Leon fast-talking Larry into stupid situations—while the smaller moments involve him insulting the Girl Scouts, playing the role of “social assassin” (and loving it, of course), competing with Rosie O’Donnell for the affections of the same woman, considering an investment in a car periscope, and making the awkward observation that his new girlfriend’s son might be gay (he’s seven years old).
The final episode guest stars Michael J. Fox and features a series of increasingly cringe-worthy situations as Larry accuses him of harassment and tries to discern whether Fox’s behavior is intentional or the side effect of Parkinson’s Disease. Unsurprisingly, Larry royally screws up by the end of the episode, leaving us with the possibility that season nine could take place on another continent.
One of the subjects in that aforementioned roundtable discussion is the use of improv in the show. The cast members only receive basic outlines of the story, while guest stars are given minimal information. I watched the discussion and then revisited a few episodes from this season; while the subtle clues are there, as roundtable moderator Brian Williams points out, it’s almost impossible to tell that the actors are making up their lines on the fly. It’s an impressive feat.
Williams does an excellent job as moderator, bringing his own brand of straight-faced humor to the affair while getting Larry David and fellow cast members Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, and Susie Essman to open up about their work on the show. It was recorded at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, so it was a receptive crowd that enjoyed hearing the stories about the show’s inception, the creative process, others’ perceptions of the fictional Larry vs. the real one, and so forth. It’s worth watching.
The other bonus feature in this set is Leon’s Guide to NYC, in which the character fast-talks his way across the city, getting a massage, hustling some poor guy out of a few bucks on the basketball court, and basically being his usual annoying self. He’s okay in small doses on the show, but he’s not a character I want to spend too much time around; luckily, this piece only runs several minutes.