Off-center, offbeat but rarely off-balance, Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm has remained one of television's best-kept secrets since its premiere in October 2000. While most comedy shows focus on larger-than-life situations and protagonists that act more like caricatures, CYE focuses our attention on life's smaller details: silly rules, social guidelines and what happens when you forget to follow them. Although every episode relies on Murphy's Law to tell a story, it's hard to fault the series for repeating itself when the results are this funny.
First things first: I rarely laugh out loud at shows and movies despite my love of comedy. More often than not, I'll just chuckle a bit, but it's extremely hard to stay quiet during Curb Your Enthusiasm. Despite the show's tendency to repeat its formula, most every episode always manages to keep me guessing the whole way through. It's obvious that even the smallest snowballs will eventually come back to bury David alive, but when, how and with whom is always a mystery.
Just for the record, why is never an issue. But that's life, isn't it?
Through the last three seasons, we've seen Larry and company ruin a baptism, trip Shaq at a Lakers game, deface an out-of-production doll and slash a pro wrestler's tires, proving that it's not the about the journey or the destination, it's about finding your way back home in one piece. On the other hand, they say most accidents happen close to home...so he's really not safe there either. Lucky for us, he's a likable klutz. His mouth gets him into trouble more often than not, but it's hard to hate the victim of the world's worst luck (well, except for the second half of the Shaq episode).
As mentioned earlier, Season 4 is more of the same, but that's not a bad thing. As in previous seasons, there's a larger plot that gets advanced with each episode; here, Larry becomes part of Mel Brooks' Broadway version of The Producers after Mel hears him sing at a karaoke bar. Along the way, there's guest appearances by Mel, Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer, Muggsy Bogues and more. You'll see Larry mix it up with the local weatherman (above right), a prostitute named Monena, Mel's production crew...and, of course, his wife Cheryl, manager Jeff and more of the usual suspects. It's also worth noting that Cheryl and Larry are celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary; to celebrate, they'll renew their vows after Larry attempts to have a fling with another woman (don't worry, it's actually Cheryl's idea). The season finale is, of course, the opening night of The Producers. It's quite a show, featuring a guest appearance by the late Anne Bancroft, a cameo by Jerry Seinfeld and even a bit of impromptu stand-up.
Fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm on DVD have come to expect an on-again off-again treatment from HBO: the technical presentation has never really been an issue, but the bonus features get the shaft this time around (similar to the Season 2 package). That's not to say this is a bad release; after all, the show's certainly strong enough to stand on its own two feet. Just for the record, Season 4's episode listing includes "Mel's Offer", "Ben's Birthday Party", "The Blind Date", "The Weatherman", "The 5 Wood", "The Car Pool Lane", "The Surrogate", "Wandering Bear", "The Survivor" and the hour-long finale "Opening Night". Trust me, there's not a bad one in the bunch.
All of the episodes appear in their original broadcast format, though it's worth noting that "Wandering Bear" is slightly edited from its first airing on February 29, 2004. Apparently, the scene where Jeff and Larry are watching Girls Gone Wild was trimmed at the request of Larry himself (thanks to DVDtalk reader Jim Finley for the info), so I suppose you could call this DVD version "the Creator's Cut". For those who taped the original broadcast, you might want to hang on to those.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
As with the first three seasons, all 10 episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 fullscreen format. This isn't a glossy production, as the show lends itself to an "everyday" appearance. A fine layer of grain is present, but the overall image detail is still good enough to get the job done. Colors are bold and black levels also hold up nicely. In short, it's about as good as CYE is supposed to look.
In all respects, the audio design is also fairly straightforward. You won't find a great deal of directional activity or earth-shattering subwoofer action, since Curb Your Enthusiasm is presented with a no-frills English Dolby Surround mix (a French mix is also available). Still, this is an acceptable presentation that gets the job done nicely. English, French and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
If you own the first three seasons on DVD, there aren't many changes in the overall presentation of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The fullscreen menu designs (seen above) are pleasantly simple, offering funny highlights and easy navigation. Each episode is presented with a handful of chapter stops, but there's still no "Play All" option available. Packaging is identical to past seasons, as this two-disc set is housed in a nice digipak case with trays that pull out like a pop-up book. It's a unique and clever design, but I'd imagine most buyers would prefer a simpler packaging job and a lower price tag.
Bonus Features, or Lack Thereof:
HBO has taken another step back with the bonus features, offering fans absolutely nothing this time around. So far, it looks like only the odd-numbered seasons of CYE have gotten any goodies, so hopefully we'll see an improvement with Season 5. I can understand the lack of commentaries, but $40 for 10 half-hour episodes is a tough sell for anyone new to HBO's system of pricing.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it"---that's been the golden rule for Curb Your Enthusiasm through the last four seasons, so it's no wonder that Larry David's show remains as fresh and funny as ever. Although they can't all quite match the consistency found in Seasons 1 and 3, this batch of episodes rarely hits a sour note from start to finish. HBO delivers another DVD package that preserves the show nicely, although the lack of bonus features takes the experience down a notch. There might not be much to dig through here, but at least you'll laugh yourself silly in the process. Firmly Recommended.
DVD Talk Review Link: Previous Seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm on DVD
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.