Hank Stuever
Hank Stuever
Critic

HBO’s ‘Clear History’: Larry David, slightly restrained

John P. Johnson/HBO - Kate Hudson, Larry David and Jon Hamm star in “Clear History.”

A feature-length dose of Larry David is probably not on some people’s wish-list (Some people, Larry! I said some!), but director Greg Mottola’s HBO film “Clear History” — co-written by and starring Larry David — turns out to be a surprisingly pleasant tech-era parable about hubris and greed.

These are well-trod themes for David, as are the frequent detours into nitpicky compulsions; no matter the role he’s playing, you can bet that the Larryesque character will kvetch about wall sockets or dirty silverware or the age-old conundrum of two drivers staring each other down when they meet on a narrow road.

Hank Stuever

Hank Stuever is The Washington Post’s TV critic and author of two books, “Tinsel” and “Off Ramp.”

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But under Mottola’s direction and with what appears to be an ebullient and productive collaboration with an array of writers, producers and co-stars, “Clear History” (which airs Saturday night) fashions a newer, more restrained Larry from the wake of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” It’s a somewhat kinder and gentler approach, and it works.

This time, David plays an irritable Silicon Valley marketing guru named Nathan Flomm. Wearing a wig and beard that more or less make him look like a Geico Caveman, David’s Nathan rashly resigns from his job at an electric-car venture, cashing out his 10 percent share in the start-up, all because he doesn’t like the name (“Howard”) that his vainglorious boss, Will (Jon Hamm), has bestowed on the revolutionary automobile.

Naturally, the Howard all but solves the energy crisis and becomes a ubiquitous sight on the road, while Nathan goes down in financial history as the fool who walked away from a billion-dollar investment. (This mirrors David’s real-life and oft-repeated self-flagellation that he once owned 10 percent of Apple, but unloaded his shares before the iPod changed everything.)

Utterly humiliated (and broke), Nathan relocates to Martha’s Vineyard, trades the hippy look for the mensch-in-khakis look, and starts life over as Rolly DaVore, where for 10 years he lives modestly, works as a caregiver and makes friends in the blue-collar set.

Wouldn’t you know that Will, now a multi-billionaire, arrives with his new wife (Kate Hudson) to build a garish mansion on the harbor. Driven by both his renewed jealousy and the panic that his real identity will be revealed, Rolly launches a series of comical schemes meant to drive Will away.

There’s not a lot of plot to be had here, and the news that “Clear History” leaned heavily on the improvisational impulses of its cast might usually ward off the improv-weary. But “Clear History” has a nice, confident and well-edited breeze to it (including a lot of jokes about the band Chicago), with a fun cast that includes standout riffs from Michael Keaton, Danny McBride and Eva Mendes.

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” fans may miss some of the existential darkness (I guess that’s what I’d call it), but the infinite awkwardness and can’t-win-for-losing Larry David worldview remains. And, after a carb-heavy diet of HBO-made films that are only ever celebrity-biopic downers (Liberace, Alfred Hitchcock, Phil Spector), I’m officially submitting this request: Make more comedies.

Clear History

(115 minutes) Saturday at 9 p.m. on HBO, with encores.

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