Everybody loves Raymond, everybody hates Chris, but no one knows exactly how to handle Larry.
Which is understandable.
After all, Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld and star of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm -- a mockumentary about his life as a semi-retired TV producer -- is an acquired taste.
So why even decide to spend half an hour watching a rich, self-loathing, white Jewish male kvetch his way through middle-age when other sitcoms can easily tickle funnybones with a lot less angst and effort?
Simple: Curb Your Enthusiasm -- now into its sixth season -- is worth it.
If Seinfeld took the traditional sitcom format to the edge -- an award-winning episode, "The Contest", deals with self-gratification without even mentioning the M word -- Curb, which is shot without a script, pushes the envelope all the way.
With no less than David doing all the heavy lifting, conceptualizing, producing, acting, and editing, Curb has its misanthropic anti-hero lie about sexual molestation in group therapy, discuss his wife’s numb vagina with a Native American gardener named Wandering Bear, and suggest a name for a lesbian couple’s adopted Chinese child (“How about Tang… It’s not a name, it’s a juice.”).
But critically-acclaimed Curb is more than just provocative storytelling.
Although most episodes feature a story arc -- in which widely disparate events at the beginning come together at the end, a concept David used to great effect at Seinfeld -- the series also offers a similar Seinfeld-like inventiveness, a characteristic generally credited to the show’s executive producer.
After Seinfeld introduced “Yadda yadda yadda,” and “master of your domain,” among others, into popular culture, Curb refused to be outdone and volunteered its own samples. These include “a big bowl of wrong,” used by Jeff Greene, David’s manager, to describe his misadventures, and concepts like “the stop and chat,” a social convention which forces David to exchange pleasantries with people even though they have nothing to talk about.
Nothing ever seems sacred to David and, by extension to Curb. True to his nature, the show’s executive producer has made fun of HBO’s slogan more than once.
“‘It’s not TV’? It’s TV. What do they think people are watching?” he says in the second season.
Besides providing top-notch, unconventional entertainment (at least to viewers who can wince while laughing) the series has also successfully crossed the line between television and theatrical reality.
In the fourth season, David is asked by no less than Mel Brooks, who appears as himself, to play one of two leads in the New York production of The Producers. Originally a 1968 movie of the same title, the Broadway show and its more recent movie adaptation, all produced by Brooks, centers on two con artists who intend to produce a flop so they can swindle their investors.
Except for Brooks and his wife, Anne Bancroft, no one knows that David was deliberately hired to fail.
Weary of The Producers’ commercial and critical success since it opened in 2001, Brooks and Bancroft—like the two leads in the musical—sought to end production to terminate the show’s tour across the continental US. “No more dirty beds in Pittsburgh,” Brooks tells his wife, as he toasts to their well-executed plan.
Little did they expect that David, playing Max Bialystock, would actually become the king of Broadway. After he flubs his lines during opening night, David does stand-up, cracks a joke about a Sikh’s turban, and becomes an instant hit with the audience, which includes Jerry Seinfeld.
As a result, the episode, which features David singing two songs from the The Producers, is transformed into a play within a play; the two separate realities of the mockumentary and the Broadway production intersecting in a cable TV show called Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, despite heavy involvement with tinseltown and the Great White Way, Curb has done the real world one good turn.
In 2004, unused footage from the fourth season’s "The Carpool Lane" was used to release a wrongfully accused man from prison. When David received this news, he said, “I tell people that I’ve now done one decent thing in my life, albeit inadvertently.” Spoken like a true master of his domain.