Curb Your Enthusiasm might be the most traditional sitcom currently on the air.
In its eight season, Curb Your Enthusiasm continues its long run as a public therapy session for Larry David. Playing a hyper-stylized version of himself, David will now have spent 80 episodes deconstructing his past as a co-creator of Seinfeld, his now-defunct marriage, and his own narcissistic and obnoxious personality.
Luckily, David is an amusing subject on the couch. But the dirty little secret about Curb Your Enthusiasm is that it might be the most traditional sitcom currently on the air. At its core, Curb has more in common with golden age sitcoms such as I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners than The Office and, yes, Seinfeld.
Despite being original and sometimes shocking in its subject matter or language, Curb is stubbornly throwback in its structure. Most half-hour comedies today feature ensemble casts, which makes for a more fluid and unpredictable show (which reached a kind of culmination in Seinfeld's four intersecting storylines, one for each of the main characters). Curb puts Larry David, the character, front and center in nearly every scene.
In this, it recalls Lucille Ball's several series, where she was the catalyst for the comedy. Most episodes took typically mundane situations to ridiculous extremes due to Lucy’s unique character flaws. Likewise, nothing happens on Curb Your Enthusiasm that is not the direct result of David’s inability to keep himself from saying exactly what's on his mind. But based on a sampling of episodes from the new season, the humor of his observations is starting to grow stale. Watching David confront someone for doing something annoying is no longer interesting, yet it happens again and again. The viewer knows it is going to end badly, because it always does. How many more times can we watch David invent a flimsy excuse to get out of a charitable obligation, only to get caught in a blatant lie? The repetition betrays a laziness, as the show falls back on a formula that here might be described as Seinfeld Lite.
However, Curb has not completely run out of gas. It is still the sharpest show on TV when it turns its attention to subjects that no one else would dare touch. One episode blithely skewers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by abandoning eschewing political correctness and crassly prioritizing great food and sex -- even if it means accepting vitriolic anti-Semitism. In another inspired series of bits, David and Leon (JB Smoove) test the theory that white people only trust African American men who wear glasses.
Curb Your Enthusiasm reached its creative peak in Season Six. David’s wife, Cheryl (Cheryl Hines), convinced him to take in an African American family who had lost everything in a hurricane. This unifying arc was combined with an honest portrayal of the dissolution of David’s marriage due to his own character flaws. It was funny and even poignant at times, the furthest thing from a show "about nothing.” In terms of David’s therapy, that season could have been considered a breakthrough, and the series might have been better off ending with that season’s final episode, which felt like a series finale.
The new season follows somewhat from last, which reunited the cast and crew from Seinfeld for an inspired arc that both honored and addressed the legacy of David’s previous show. Now much is being made about David returning to New York City. If he hadn’t already had that full season catharsis with the Seinfeld crew, this might have been more of an event. Instead, his obnoxious behavior doesn’t seem as out of place on the streets of Manhattan as it does in the restaurants of Los Angeles.
Certainly, David is associated with New York because of Seinfeld, but this plot turn lacks the emotional impact of a prodigal son returning home. Then again, Curb Your Enthusiasm is not about viewers, our feelings, or what we might want to see. It's all about David, the patient. The show has always been about his selfishness. Maybe coming home is the final stage in his therapy.