The great thing about TV on DVD isn't just the improved quality or occasionally-enlightening extras, it's that you can discover a show you might never have seen otherwise. Case in point: I don't subscribe to HBO, because I really don't have a schedule that permits me to watch TV regularly (much less the premium channels). DVD has introduced me to countless shows, past and present, that I unfortunately didn't have the privelege of catching the first time around (including 24, Family Guy, and Futurama). Luckily, I've seen the light.
Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm is no different. It first aired in October of 2000 (a one-hour "special" appeared roughly one year prior), and this ongoing series has enjoyed a great amount of success since then. Of course, the main attraction to the show is the down-to-earth authenticity of the character relationships: from Larry's wife Cheryl (played with extreme believability by actress Cheryl Hines) to his friend Richard Lewis (playing himself), this show really throws viewers for a loop. Half the time, it seems possible we're watching these events as they happen: the performances are spirited and genuine, and the situations (although always over-the-top) often remind us of life's embarrassing moments.
Of course, these events aren't really happening before our eyes, but the nature of the acting lends itself to a high degree of believability. Apparently, each scene is loosely "mapped out", but the actors involved aren't really given a script: they must rely on improvisational skill to carry the show forward. By now, this unique approach is common knowledge to the many fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but the effect of this approach makes for a consistently funny show. It's simply one of the best television series today, and I'd encourage any fans of character-based comedy to give this show a chance. If you're like me, you'll get hooked fast: after buying the first season, I couldn't wait to see more.
2004 marks the fourth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but the DVD sets are doing a decent job of keeping up with the series. Season Two is the newest offering, and (like the first season) packaged in a nifty 2-disc set. Containing the same excellent blend of comedy, drama, and awkward moments that made the first season so great, this is a near-perfect package of great comedy. It presents all ten half-hour episodes from the season...but I'm afraid to say that's about all that fans can look forward to. Brief episode recaps can be seen below, followed by the technical portion of this review.
Season Two Episode List:
(mild spoiler warning!)
Car Salesman: Larry's short-lived job selling cars is quickly thwarted by his friend, Richard Lewis. Jason Alexander also guest stars, as he and Larry make plans for a new show about a frustrated actor who was typecast on a hit TV series (sound familiar?).
Thor: After arguing on the road with fictional pro wrestler Thor Olson (played by Deron McBee), Larry needs to find a quick solution to bury the hatchet. Larry also meets again with Jason Alexander as they heatedly discuss their new show.
Trick or Treat: During the premiere of a movie written by Larry's friend Cliff, Larry inadvertently offends him (and his wife), as well as a Jewish neighbor. Larry also gets into the spirit of Halloween by refusing to give candy to two kids without costumes.
The Shrimp Incident: Supposedly, HBO Executive Allan Wasserman has stolen some of Larry's take-out shrimp, and he keeps bringing it up while he and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are pitching a new show. Also, Larry says the "c" word (hint: it rhymes with "grunt").
The Thong: After seeing his shrink at the beach wearing a thong, Larry decides to stop seeing him. Rob Reiner (above) also guest stars, and invites Larry to participate in a "lunch with a celebrity" auction for charity, which doesn't go too smoothly.
The Acupuncturist: Money is the key word here, as Larry's acupuncturist agrees to forego his $5,000 fee if Larry's back problems aren't cured. Also, Larry loans the same amount to a struggling writer.
The Doll: Larry attends a mini-series screening after pitching a show to ABC, and runs into the young daughter of ABC's President. After getting Larry to cut the hair off her doll, she gets really upset when she finds out the hair won't grow back.
Shaq: In one of the show's most surreal episodes, Larry and Richard Lewis score courtside seats to a Lakers game, but Larry ends up accidentally tripping Shaquille O'Neal (above). Surprisingly, this accident ends up working out for the best.
The Baptism: Larry is upset that a Jewish man (who plans to marry his sister-in-law) is converting to Christianity. Richard Lewis also shows up again, and accuses Larry of stealing the outgoing message on his answering machine.
The Massage: In the Season Two finale, Larry's loyalty to Cheryl is thrown into question after a psychic reveals that he received a rather "thorough" massage. In other news, Larry is also accused of stealing forks from a local restaurant.
Quality Control Department
As with the first season, these episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 fullscreen format. This isn't a glossy or slick production, as the nature of the show lends itself to an "everyday" appearance. A fine layer of grain is present, but the overall image detail is still strong. Colors are bold, and black levels also remain solid...in short, this is about as good as this show is supposed to look. While I've not had the chance to compare it to its original broadcast presentation, it looks to be noticeably better than most shows I've seen recently.
Similar to the video quality, the audio design is also fairly straightforward. You won't find a great deal of directional activity or subwoofer action, as Curb Your Enthusiasm is presented in a no-frills Dolby Surround mix. With that said, this is a perfectly acceptable presentation that gets the job done, and really shouldn't disappoint any fans of TV on DVD.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
If you own the first season on DVD, there aren't many changes found in the overall presentation of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The animated menu designs are clean and straightforward, offering "best moments" from the episodes and the show's familiar theme as background music. Each episode is presented individually (with detailed descriptions, so squint to remain spoiler-free!), and there is surprisingly no "Play All" option available. The packaging is also the same, and consists of an odd digipak case with trays that pull out like a kid's pop-up book. Although it's a neat design, I'd prefer if HBO would find practical, simple packaging and stick with it. From the oversized case of Six Feet Under to the "cigar-box" style of The Sopranos, fans of more traditional packaging might walk away frustrated. Still, the overall presentation is polished enough to earn a strong rating.
The only disappointing aspect of this release is a complete lack of bonus features (the only minor extras are the show's original Preview Spots and an Episode Index). The first season featured the original one-hour "special" from 1999, as well as a great interview with Larry David and an Audio Commentary for the pilot episode. Sadly, this is about as bare-bones as TV on DVD comes, and the retail price of $40 doesn't make this release a great value (when compared to similarly-priced sets, that is). Simply put, I hope HBO makes a much stronger effort the next time around.
If you're new to Curb Your Enthusiasm, any episode is a great way to start. There's a lot to like, from terrific performances to the most uncomfortable situations you'll ever laugh through. The DVD itself boasts a decent technical presentation, but the lack of extras lessens the impact of this otherwise near-flawless release. Here's hoping that HBO digs deeper for the next DVD installment of this great show, because the current package could use a little improvement. Overall, though, these episodes make Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Second Season worth adding to your collection. Firmly Recommended.
Other Links Of Interest
Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season One review by Aaron Beierle
Larry David filmography at IMDb
Complete Guide to Curb Your Enthusiasm at TV Tome
Randy Miller III is an art instructor and gallery assistant based in Harrisburg, PA, who also enjoys freelance graphic design and illustration. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.