Larry David has really been on a roll lately. The first two volumes of his hugely successful sitcom Seinfeld dropped on DVD last year, cementing its status as one of the most popular shows in TV history. Of course, there's more where that came from. Also chugging along nicely is my personal favorite creation of his: Curb Your Enthusiasm, an HBO series about David's fictional adventures with a cast of characters that makes the Seinfeld gang look downright sane in comparison. It's one of television's most consistently entertaining shows, offering tons of the most awkwardly funny situations you'll ever see. Murphy's Law tells us that "anything that can go wrong...will go wrong." Unfortunately for the protagonist---and fortunately for the viewer---Curb Your Enthusiasm never breaks this law.
First airing in October of 2000---a one-hour "special" appeared roughly one year prior---this ongoing series has enjoyed a great amount of success since its inception. 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 can really throw 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 TV shows around, and I'd encourage any fans of character-based comedy to give it a chance. Trust me...you'll get hooked fast.
The Complete Third Season keeps the ball rolling nicely, presenting the 10-episode run in a two-disc set. Featured here are "Chet's Shirt", "The Benadryl Brownie", "Club Soda and Salt", "The Nanny from Hell","The Terrorist Attack", "The Special Section", "The Corpse-Sniffing Dog", "Krazee-Eyez Killah" (a personal favorite), "Mary, Joseph and Larry" and "The Grand Opening". For those of you who like spoilers, an episode summary guide has been linked below. Originally airing from September through November 2002, this short run of shows is just as consistent as previous seasons (if not more so, since much of the cast has had time to perfect the show's formula). Trust me, there's not a bad one in the bunch. The first six episodes are presented on Disc One, with the second getting the remaining four and the included bonus features (covered below). All things considered, HBO has kept the presentation fairly solid: with the exception of the bare-bones Season Two, each offering has combined a decent technical presentation with a handful of entertaining supplements. Let's see how this set stacks up, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
As with the first two seasons, 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.
In all regards, the audio design is also fairly straightforward. You won't find a great deal of directional activity or earth-shattering subwoofer action, as Curb Your Enthusiasm is presented in a no-frills English Dolby Surround mix (a French mix is also available). Still, this is a perfectly acceptable presentation that gets the job done, offering fine detail and clarity. English, French and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
If you own the first two seasons on DVD, there aren't many changes in the overall presentation of Curb Your Enthusiasm. In short, there's good and bad news to report. The fullscreen menu designs are pleasantly clean and straightforward, offering highlights from the episodes and simple, animated transitions. On the other hand, each episode is presented with no chapter stops...and there's surprisingly still no "Play All" option available. The packaging is identical to past seasons, consisting of an odd digipak case with trays that pull out like a pop-up book. It's a neat design, but lovers of practical packaging will find this set a little frustrating. Still, the overall presentation is polished enough to earn a good rating.
Bonus features have been improved a bit over Season 2's dismal array, but they're still not as strong as they could be. Disc Two houses the main attraction, a two-part series of interviews with members of the cast and crew. There's roughly 48 minutes of total content---coming up a bit short of the 60 minutes promised on the packaging---recording live during the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado. Included here is a Stop & Chat Session (22 minutes, seen below)---a more general series of questions aimed at Larry David and company---as well as a Favorite Moments Session (26 minutes) featuring several of the episode directors in attendance. Both are highly entertaining segments, filled with tons of great insight and funny contributions from all participants. Believe it or not, they're good enough to be watched more than once.
Also featured on both discs is a Season Index, containing previews for each episode and direct access when available. That pretty much wraps up the bonus material, but there are several other key features I'd have liked to see here. A few commentaries would have been most welcome---which were present on the first season---and a series of outtakes or bloopers would be great (which, unfortunately, have been a no-show from the start). With that said, though, the included Comedy Arts segments are great and will be of much interest to fans. In any case, the shows are the real selling point to this release.
Newcomers to Curb Your Enthusiasm probably won't have much trouble jumping right in, but it's still a good idea to start from the beginning. Followers of the show on DVD can rest easy with HBO's efforts here, thankfully improving the weak extras of the last release. It's been a great trip so far; with Season Five set to air later this year, there's plenty more comedy in store for fans of this terrific show. Although other TV boxed sets might offer more content for the asking price, there's no argument that Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Third Season is gut-busting comedy with great replay value...and that's what really counts in the long run. Highly Recommended.
Related Links: Previous CYE Season Reviews | Season Three Episode Guide
Randy Miller III is a moderately affable 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.