Tom Shales on TV: Taking a Look at Larry David and 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
Misanthropes need hugs, too, even though they may claim not to want them. Sometimes they even get their own TV shows, though to be consistent they probably shouldn't want those either. After all, the system is so corrupt and mediocrity so richly rewarded, what self-respecting artiste would want to squander his talents in it?
However, Larry David, the comedy writer who created and plays himself in "Curb Your Enthusiasm," the HBO comedy series that ended its seventh successful season Sunday, seems to have made both a lifestyle and a career out of beating the system -- beating it to a pulp, figuratively speaking.
And yet the darned system keeps coming back for more. It never learns.
The question -- or at least one question -- is whether the system should support this haughty expatriate for another season. When the closing credits came up Sunday night on the final chapter of Season 7, I proposed to myself that it be the last season, too; David was obviously running very low on ideas and had now revisited and re-revisited most of his comedy conceits nearly to death.
This would include the less-than-brilliant catchphrase that Larry drags out when confronting an opponent on some trivial issue -- getting very much "in his face," squinting his eyes and tilting his head and saying "prittee, [pretty], prittee, prittee good" over and over.
Strangling the previously golden goose seems like the right idea. Even though the seventh season contained a wonderfully crowd-pleasing idea -- reassembling the cast of "Seinfeld" (which David co-created with Jerry Seinfeld) for a revised season finale that would also serve as "Enthusiasm's" seventh-season finale -- David's seventh was one of his weakest seasons ever and included some of his least plausible episodes.
Example: As part of the show-within-a-show, David proposes the "Seinfeld" reunion idea to NBC, which in real life would be so thrilled to get it that the peacock might keel over with a heart attack. But in David's odd plot, a top NBC programming executive inexplicably gave David two free tickets to a Los Angeles Lakers game, making sure that the seats were just about the worst in the house, up in the nosebleed section where you'd expect to find mountain goats and eagles' nests.
As much of America should recall, David and Seinfeld had elected to kill off "Seinfeld" during one of its primes (David had actually stepped down from his executive-producer job a few seasons earlier).
Not only did "Seinfeld" pull off the road with plenty of gas left in the tank, it bade bye-bye with a final episode, written by David, that disappointed or angered some of the show's most devoutly devoted fans; they had rightly or unfairly expected more. In the season finale of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," David hits upon the idea of reassembling the cast to shoot one more "Seinfeld" show so as to rewrite that entry in the record book -- but also as a way of rekindling sparks with ex-mate Cheryl, played to perfection by Cheryl Hines.
Unfortunately, only four of the 10 "Enthusiasm" episodes this season included appearances by Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who played Elaine Benes), Jason Alexander as George Costanza (the character patterned after David), Michael Richards as Cosmo Kramer, Wayne Knight as Newman (just plain "Newman") and others from the original, inspired cast. When they appeared, it was like a big holiday, but they didn't appear often enough.
David's show has always been irreverent in ways that only a premium cable channel like HBO would be likely to tolerate. HBO not only tolerates David's irreverence but glories in it. Alas, David tried too hard in too many episodes this season to offend religious people, especially Catholics and Protestants.
One embarrassing episode featured a scene in which Larry, supposedly taking some strange sort of medication for a urinary tract or prostate problem, accidentally "spills" on a painting of Jesus hanging in a religious woman's bathroom. The woman and her daughter think the splash is a tear emerging from Christ's eye and naturally are crushed when the truth comes out.