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Thursday, May 31, 2012


Back in the 80s when Larry David was just a skinny, frizzy-haired young castmember of ABC's "Fridays"--which was sort of a bratty bastard nephew of "Saturday Night Live"--I didn't think he was particularly funny or talented.  His success, not to mention obvious comedic abilities, as co-creator of "Seinfeld" came as a big surprise.  And when he took center stage with HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm", scoring big both as the show's driving force and onscreen star, I finally had to admit that this former "Fridays" nobody really had something funny going for him. 

The 2-disc set CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: THE COMPLETE EIGHTH SEASON serves up ten episodes of what some consider to be the funniest show on television.  "Seinfeld" fans should have a ball watching it since it displays that show's brand of humor in its undiluted form, with no laugh track, sitcom trappings, or surrogates (such as Jason Alexander's "George Costanza") acting out Larry David's skewed outlook on life for him. 

Captured in an almost cinema verite' style that's often painfully close to real life, each scene is improvised by the actors as they work with a barebones story outline which is fleshed out mainly by their own spur-of-the-moment dialogue.  This makes everything seem more natural while yielding some wonderfully comic exchanges with a welcome spontaneity you won't find on the usual sitcom. 

Also undiluted here is the show's rich vein of "Jewish" comedy, which was evident on "Seinfeld" but rarely alluded to.  "I love being a Jew" says David's co-star Jeff Garlin (who plays his chubby best friend and manager) in disc two's panel discussion, and clearly one reason for this is the fact that it gives him a chance to play up the humorous aspects of his own religious and cultural background to the hilt. 

This includes the sort of clash between "casual" and Orthodox Jews that has Larry and Jeff gleefully patronizing a Palestinean chicken restaurant (with anti-Semitic owners) every day while their friends are busy trying to protest it out of business.  Larry's friend Funkhouser (Bob "Super Dave" Einstein), who's currently undergoing a reaffirmation of his Jewish heritage complete with yarmulke and lengthy mealtime prayers, catches him in bed with a gorgeous Palestinean woman who shouts such things as "Take that, you filthy Jew!" while an ecstatic Larry enjoys what he later calls the best sex of his life.

Larry's divorce from wife Cheryl (series regular Cheryl Hines) is complicated when he discovers that his lawyer, Berg ("Mr. Show" veteran Paul F. Tompkins), isn't Jewish but Swedish, prompting him to switch to a guy named Hiriam Katz who turns out to be a complete washout.  With the divorce, as you might guess, comes a whole new era of single-guy dating for Larry which supplies a wealth of hitherto unexplored comic material for the show.

As always, Larry's social forte is doing or saying whatever is the most inappropriate for any situation.  In one episode, the daughter of a friend comes to his house to sell Girl Scout cookies and suddenly has her first period, whereupon Larry gives her one of ex-wife Cheryl's tampons and barks the instructions aloud through the bathroom door. 

In another episode, Larry's tendency to speak his mind about what annoys him in others (making smacking noises after a sip of liquid, saying the word "LOL!" instead of actually laughing, using "smilies" while texting, etc.) results in him being dubbed "the Social Assassin", with friends soliciting him to point out such things to their own loved ones that they're afraid to mention.  Naturally, all of this eventually backfires on Larry as does just about everything else.

Jeff Garlin and Susie Essman play Larry's bickering married friends Jeff and Susie, an easygoing, henpecked schlub and an acid-tongued fashion disaster.  Richard Lewis is funny at basically playing himself, a neurotic, obsessive hypochondriac.  (In one episode, Richard is horrified when the stripper he's dating decides to get her breasts reduced due to an ill-timed remark from Larry.)  J.B. Smoove adds additional ethnic humor to the show as Leon, who seems to have permanently moved in with Larry in order to mooch off him.

Guest stars appearing as themselves include Rosie O'Donnell, competing with Larry for the affections of a gorgeous bisexual woman, Michael J. Fox, whose Parkinson's disease is actually mined for big laughs as Larry's infinite capacity for pettiness rears its head yet again, and Ricky Gervais, another victim of Larry's ability to turn any situation into a social minefield. 

Other guests include Michael McKean, Ana Gasteyer, Michael Gross, Harry Hamlin, Robert Smigel, Aida Turturro, Gary Cole, Wanda Sykes, Bill Buckner, and "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" legend Jo Anne Worley. 

The 2-disc DVD from HBO Home Entertainment is in 16:9 widescreen with English and French Dolby 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English, French, and Spanish.  Extras consist of "Leon's Guide to NYC" (to where the show relocates late in the season), and a lengthy roundtable discussion featuring Larry, Jeff, Susie, and Cheryl.

One of the few shows in which a line like "My father just died" gets a laugh, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is just the thing for those who thought "Seinfeld" was just a little too genteel.  If you want to find out the meaning behind phrases such as "chat and cut" and "sorry window", CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: THE COMPLETE EIGHTH SEASON is your gateway to inappropriateness.

Buy it at

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