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Larry David: HBO’s last ‘boy scout’

The era of prestigious cable TV and shows with difficult men is over, but David has weathered it all

Larry David
Larry David, in a scene from 'Curb Your Enthusiasm.'HBO
Paloma Rando

Being enthusiastic about a TV series with a title like Curb Your Enthusiasm may seem contradictory. In Spain, it’s known as Larry David, after its creator and main character (the lines are blurry). Back in 1999, Larry David released a one-hour mockumentary with the same title, a year after Seinfeld ended, the blockbuster series he co-created with Jerry Seinfeld. After a short stint in stand-up comedy, the idea for the mockumentary emerged, featuring his TV wife Cheryl (played by Cheryl Hines) and manager Jeff Greene (played by Jeff Garlin). This set the stage for the series that followed a year later.

The first episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm aired in October 2000. The golden era of cable TV had just begun with HBO’s The Sopranos and Sex and the City. Shows like Six Feet Under and The Wire followed shortly. Mad Men and Breaking Bad weren’t around yet, and AMC hadn’t even started producing original series. Cable TV was rising in cultural prestige by delving into characters, conflicts and themes that broadcast TV couldn’t cover — topics such as sex, violence and moral ambiguity.

Although the most violence you’ll see in Curb Your Enthusiasm is people shouting at each other, Larry David became a cable TV pioneer, breaking cultural norms with offbeat comedy and paving the way for shows like The Office. His bold and often provocative humor set a new standard. The first episode began with David obsessing that people would mistake his “pants tent” for an erection (they did). In the last episode of the first season, he faked a sexual abuse claim so he could participate in a victim recovery group. Not your usual comedy fare, and much too edgy for Seinfeld, which aired on NBC.

Larry David (right) and the recently deceased Richard Lewis (left) in a scene from the twelfth season of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm.'
Larry David (right) and the recently deceased Richard Lewis (left) in a scene from the twelfth season of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm.'John P. Johnson (AP)

Twenty-four years later, Curb Your Enthusiasm is now in its twelfth and final season. Many doubt Larry David’s claim that it’s really the final season. After all, he’s said this before. The series has taken several prolonged breaks: three years between the sixth and seventh seasons; six years between the eighth and ninth seasons; and three years between the ninth and tenth seasons. At the premiere of the latest season, a reporter asked David why we should believe him now. “I said it before,” admitted David, “but I wasn’t 76.” The same age as the recently deceased Richard Lewis, Larry David’s close friend both off and on the screen. The two men were born three days apart in the same New York hospital.

The television era of “difficult men” (as journalist Brett Martin called them in his book by the same name) is history. The emergence and hegemony of the streaming platforms, a new Golden Age of Television (also known as Peak TV), the demise of cable TV, and the machinations of communication giants have all changed the face of HBO. Larry David would say that not even HBO’s mother would recognize him today. But Larry David, the most difficult man of them all and the only one who exists in real life, has weathered it all. Even the episode in which a Survivor reality show contestant told a Holocaust survivor that his TV experience was tougher than surviving a concentration camp. Or David’s favorite episode — Palestinian Chicken — where he finds himself debating which side to take in a squabble between Jews and Palestinians. He ultimately abandons his Jewish brethren and takes the side of his Palestinian love interest. It’s a remarkable series and even saved an innocent man from prison. In August 2003, Juan Catalán was arrested for murder, but was cleared after raw footage from Curb Your Enthusiasm revealed that he was at a Los Angeles Dodgers game at the time of the murder.

Maybe the key to Curb Your Enthusiasm’s success (beyond the creator’s immense talent) lies in how, in a time when political incorrectness is often seen as a virtue, he views it not as a goal but as a way to get a laugh. It has been a 24-year commitment to an adult audience, showcasing everyday trivialities with a large dose of exaggeration and chaos, all for a laugh. Prett-ay, prett-ay, prett-ay good! Sorry — sometimes it’s hard to curb your enthusiasm.

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