February 5, 2004

Solitary, Poor, Nasty, Brutish, Short

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Last year, on the first day of German class, while filling out one of those stupid beginning-of-the-semester questionnaires, I stumbled upon this interesting inquiry: Who do you feel is the intellectual leader of the modern world? I quickly wrote down Larry David as my answer, only half-joking.

I mean, let’s face it: From the perspective of someone like me, who matters more: some lame scientist or politician, or someone who can star and write in ten episodes a year that can make me laugh so hard that by the end of each half-hour I’m left looking like Jack Nicholson at the end of Batman? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete First Season.

Larry David, as he endlessly states on the show, made a name for himself as the co-creator of Seinfeld after his beginnings as a stand-up comedian and television writer for shows such as Fridays and Saturday Night Live. George Costanza was loosely based on him, and many of Seinfeld’s most outrageous plot lines were based upon things that actually happened to Larry in real life.

After a small break from TV, David returned with an hour-long HBO comedy special, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which was a mockumentary detailing David’s return to stand-up, resulting in a botched performance at the end. The special is included as bonus material and gives a glimpse of the show in its pupal stage. It’s no work of genius, but this assessment comes only in hindsight, because all ten episodes of the first season went on to blow the original special away.

Unlike its partner in comedy perfection (in my mind), The Simpsons, CYE does not find itself stumbling out of the gates, struggling to find its form in its earlier episodes. From the very beginning, the show has been nearly flawless with each plot containing several intricate storylines that are all somehow woven together in the end, very much like the best Seinfeld episodes. The stories always build up toward an expertly crafted climax, leaving the viewer in awe not only of the show’s impeccable humor, but also the astounding skill with which the stories are told. The plots are so labyrinthine that it takes David almost an entire year to write all ten episodes to be ready just in time.

But unlike Seinfeld, CYE is not restricted by network television censors; David has free rein to discuss whatever he wants. That he listens to sickening stories while dining at a male pornstar’s house with his wife, Cheryl, is taken to an incest survivor meeting, and absent-mindedly makes blatantly racist jokes not only illustrates David’s joy for his newfound writing freedom, but makes for absolutely hilarious television as well.

Much of the show’s appeal, and perhaps its most discussed aspect, stems from the fact that the episodes are almost entirely improvised. David writes extremely detailed plots with each specific scene in mind, but the actual lines within scenes are ad-libbed. Not only is this incredibly impressive, but it adds a new element to watching the show. Sometimes the dialogue is so humorous that the actors struggle not to laugh themselves. And in scenes like the one in “Beloved Aunt,” where Larry is sitting on the couch surrounded by Cheryl’s mourning family members after a funeral for his wife’s aunt, you’ll find yourself baffled that one man can be so damn funny unrehearsed.

But CYE’s true genius lies in the sheer amount of laughs each episode produces. Like the best comedies, it’s nearly impossible to single out just one moment as being the funniest or the best. Above all, each episode contains so many high points that you’re bound to have either laughed through or forgotten some of them the first time around, and watching each episode multiple times remains a rewarding experience — crucial for a DVD set such as this.

And as if this weren’t enough, four weeks ago CYE’s fourth season began, which airs weekly at 9:30 p.m. on HBO Sunday nights. If you have any semblance of a sense of humor, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you tune in each week and purchase this DVD immediately.

Archived article by Ross McGowan