by Curt Holman
(Image courtesy HBO Home Video)
Not long after the debut of âCurb Your Enthusiasm,â HBOâs unscripted but carefully structured sitcom, creator/star Larry David described working on the script of a âSeinfeldâ episode. He felt like writing down the dialogue was practically unnecessary -- that the story practically wrote itself. In âCurb Your Enthusiasm,â David famously put those instincts to the test, since each episode features a precise outline but no written dialogue -- instead, the performers improvise while filming. On one of the extras of âCurb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Sixth Seasonâ (released on DVD Tuesday), David explains that most scenes require multiple takes before they hit on the funniest combinations.
At times âCurbâ can feel structured to a fault, like some of the overly schematic âSeinfeldâ episodes. On the sixth-season episode âThe Rat Dog,â Davidâs alter ego âLarry Davidâ insults an acquaintanceâs dog for looking like a rat, and also reluctantly befriends an exterminator. Rat dog + exterminator = collision course for hilarity! Or maybe just a big contrivance.
The impressive thing about âCurbâsâ sixth season is the way it flips the script. Most seasons feature an arcing, unifying subplot (like Larry performing in The Producers in the previous year), and in this latest one, the David household offered shelter to the Blacks, an African-American family displaced by a hurricane. The odd-couple setup felt a little pat, but Vivica Fox and J.B. Smoove made terrific comedic foils.
Since âCurbâsâ inception, Cheryl Hines has superbly played Larryâs long-suffering wife and ânormalâ counterweight for his irascible, antisocial behavior. On âThe TiVO Guyâ episode (spoiler alert!), Larryâs self-absorption drove her to the breaking point and she moved out. In real life, David and his wife also split up, but rather than cast a too-serious pall over the show, the separation plot liberated âCurb,â providing fresh material for three of the funniest episodes in the showâs history. Steve Coogan made a guest appearance as a therapist who offers spectacularly bad advice, while the showâs supporting cast of friends seemed to find it surprisingly easy to âchooseâ Cheryl over Larry.
Even Susie Essman, who plays Larryâs foul-mouthed nemesis, started being nice to him. Essman (who interviews Larry on the main DVD extra, a live chat at New Yorkâs 92nd Street Y), has always struck me as playing a crucial role on the show. Larryâs abrasive, confrontational antics can build up enormous tension in a given episode -- in their conversation, David admits to having been surprised when people tell him they can barely stand to watch the show. (âCurbâsâ squirm factor has sent my wife running from the room on more than one occasion.) Essmanâs profane, force-of-nature tirades open the release valve for that pressure.
Perhaps as a sign of Davidâs advancing age, âCurbâsâ sixth season relished awkward moments involving doctor visits. In one hilarious plot line, suddenly single Larry went out with a doctor (âSeinfeldâ player Brenda Strong) whoâs dating habits turned out to be strangely like medical visits. It was such a classic, âSeinfeldâ-style plot that you wonder if David had been sitting on it for years. In the DVD extra, David wonât confirm that âCurbâ will return for a seventh season, but admits to being open to the idea. The sixth-season finale resolves the separation and Black family storylines with such a bizarre twist that Iâm definitely interested in a seventh season. Iâm even enthusiastic about it.