In the Seinfeld series finale, Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer were convicted of “callous indifference and utter disregard for everything that is good and decent.” The current season of Seinfeld co-creator Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm would benefit from a similar reckoning. Unfortunately, David’s supposedly cringe-inducing comedy takes place in no-stakes Los Angeles, where “criminal indifference” is the rule rather than the exception.
The sixth season opened with Larry (David), Jeff (Jeff Garlin), and Richard (Richard Lewis), viewing news footage of “Hurricane Edna.” They shook their heads at the tragedy, then returned to discussing their golf game. When Larry eventually agreed to house a family displaced by the hurricane, at the urging of his wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines), he was unable to muster a whit of empathy. On learning that the African American family happened to be “Black,” he came up with this blank-faced welcome: “That’s like if my last name was Larry Jew.”
Here and elsewhere, Larry endures no consequence for his ignorance. This renders his show cartoonish, as though his actions take place in a social vacuum. He remains an unchecked id, incapable of development, a state that everyone around him accepts. By the sixth season, though, his childishness has become stale. The indifference of his peers leaves most scenes not awkward-funny — the comedy of transgression, which the audience knows will be punished, and which aligns them with the transgressor — but awkward-awkward, as though watching a close friend’s child misbehaving. Viewers may squirm, but whether they’ll laugh is another question. Curb Your Enthusiasm seems designed to hit only this note. The repetition has the effect of a Beckett knock-off.
The Season Six premiere concluded with the most disappointing example of the show’s refusal to “evolve.” The episode opened with Larry and Cheryl lying in bed, awakened by the insistent beeping of their smoke detector’s dying battery. Larry promptly smashed the detector with a baseball bat. Twenty minutes later, in his kitchen, he had an argument with Loretta Black, then threw her still-burning cigarette in the garbage. The next scene found the Davids and Blacks standing in the yard in front of their smoldering house. The fire could have changed things. Larry might’ve been forced, like his Seinfeld predecessors, to reconsider his life choices. The second episode, though, found the Davids moving into a new house: in Curb Your Enthusiasm, anything that challenges Larry’s comfort disappears by the next episode.
Neither do Larry’s antics have effects on his friends. In this season’s first episode, he said he’d like to have sex with Richard’s girlfriend. This “embarrassment” drove a minor subplot, but Richard forgave him. In the second episode, Larry was banned from Jeff’s house, and by the third episode, the ban was dropped. Larry insulted Marty Funkhouser (Bob Einstein) by stealing flowers from a roadside memorial for Funkhouser’s mother. Funkhouser’s response typified the interactions within Larry’s social circle. Confronted with what some might consider an unforgivable act of self-centeredness, he said, “If you weren’t my best friend, I’d squeeze your neck until your head popped off.” Larry retorted that he was not, in fact, Funkhouser’s best friend. There’s little evidence to the contrary. It’s a mystery how Larry can call anyone a friend.
This is the world of Curb Your Enthusiasm, one that revolves around “Larry David,” a self-absorbed lout whose inability to grow up should have left him friendless long ago. By now, however, the world has become monotonous, and he’s a predictable caricature. For some, that world might be funny, but it’s also very small, with no room for anyone except “Larry David” and Larry David.