I think Larry David, at least the fictionalized one featured in television's Curb Your Enthusiasm, is unfairly labeled a schmuck. Sure, Larry racks up his share of antisocial, self-absorbed, tactless moments -- and Season 6 boasts some beauts -- but many of those cringe-inducing episodes, to his credit, stem from his intolerance for b.s. A subsequent tension is at play in Larry's character. A viewer's reaction is apt to fall somewhere between mortification and warped admiration, "I can't believe he said that!" followed up by "I sure as hell wish I were able to say that!"
And as any fan of the HBO comedy series knows, Curb Your Enthusiasm is nothing if not brazen (while I'm assuming that most folks interested in the sixth-season DVD probably know the show's premise, uninitiated viewers might consider checking out Aaron Beirele's first-season review for more details). Larry David tackles the aggravations that likely rankle most of us, and the series' sixth season is no exception. He chafes against the "unwritten law of dry-cleaning" that some clothing items simply are lost forever. He bristles when a woman in front of him at the ice cream parlor insists on sampling every last flavor. During a visit to the doctor, Larry grouses about having to tell the nurse what's ailing him since he'll be expected to repeat it all to the physician once he shows up. Larry David is petty, sure, but occasionally it is a pettiness spurred by unwillingness to accept stupid transgressions.
One notable exception comes in the beginning of episode seven, "The TiVo Guy." When Cheryl (Cheryl Hines), Larry's long-suffering wife, is on an airline flight experiencing terrifying turbulence, she phones home to tell Larry that she loves him. As fate would have it, Larry is at that moment dealing with the TiVo repairman. "You couldn't call at a worse time," he tells Cheryl, oblivious to her panic. "Call me back in 10 minutes."
It's the final straw for Cheryl, who promptly returns home, packs her things and leaves her befuddled husband. To make matters worse, the airplane ordeal led her to bond with the guy who had been seated next to her. Consequently, the specter of divorce looms over the season's final four episodes. It's an extra dose of squirminess for an already-squirmy series when you consider that the real-life Larry David and his wife, Laurie, also divorced in 2007.
For the most part, however, Season 6 is a return to form after a somewhat disappointing fifth season. Renowned for its improvisation and defiant political incorrectness, Curb Your Enthusiasm is often hilarious, even as its formula -- a handful of story threads typically play out in a contrived ending that paints Larry in the worst conceivable light -- is starting to look a little long in the tooth. Curb continues to push (and, thankfully, sometimes exceed) the bounds of good taste in situations that range from ejaculate found in the Davids' guest room to Larry's discovery that friend Marty Funkhouser (the inimitable Bob Einstein) covertly fed the Davids an erotically shaped cake (prompting Larry's exasperated line, "Funkhouser! He knowingly served us penis!").
After five seasons, Curb's cast of supporting players knows their characters inside and out, and it makes for sparkling chemistry. Along the way, there are some notable guest appearances by the likes of Steve Coogan, Lucy Lawless and John McEnroe. Kevin P. Farley, younger brother of the late Chris Farley, has a memorable turn as an exterminator who finagles an invitation to accompany Larry to a middle-school production of Grease.
The season gets a welcome boost of comic adrenaline in the form of the Blacks, an African-American family displaced by a devastating hurricane. The season begins with the Blacks -- Loretta (the terrific Vivica A. Fox), Auntie Rae (Ellia English) and two small children -- taken in by Larry and Cheryl for temporary lodging. A black family (named Black, no less) interacting with Larry David, who possesses no filter between brain and mouth, provides as much non-p.c. gems as fans would expect.
Best of all is the arrival in episode two of Loretta's brother, Leon (J.B. Smoove). The Larry-Leon match-up is the most potent since Holmes vs. Spinks, with Smoove stealing every scene -- and I mean every scene -- in which he appears.
One of the all-time best moments in Curb Your Enthusiasm history, in fact, comes in "The Rat Dog," when the pair accidentally switches cell phones. Larry's genteel friend Hank (Tim Meadows), who is African American, is flummoxed when he mistakenly believes that Larry has answered the phone and is doing a caricature imitation of a black man. Hank says he's offended, but Leon is unfazed. "Barack Obama!" Leon exclaims over the phone, having no idea who he is speaking to on the phone. "I'm the president of hittin' that ass!"
What follows are the episodes contained on the 2-disc set, with summaries as provided on the DVD package:
Episode 1 -- Meet the Blacks
Larry devises the perfect excuse for avoiding a pair of parties, but the plan backfires and ultimately leads to some major issues with Cheryl. To make amends, he agrees to take in the Blacks, a family displaced by the devastating Hurricane Edna. But can the Blacks deal with his tactlessness, not to mention his unfortunate pastry selection?
Episode 2 -- The Anonymous Donor
Larry and Cheryl move into their new home and welcome an additional houseguest -- Loretta Black's dream Leon -- who Larry immediately accuses of an unspeakable act. In other news, Larry gripes over the questionable anonymity of a donation, and considers rewriting the laws of dry-cleaning.
Episode 3 -- The Ida Funkouser Roadside Memorial
Larry comes to blows with a "sample-abuser" at the ice cream shop and inadvertently endangers the academic futures of Jeff's daughter and his own "adopted" children. Marty Funkhouser's mother meets an untimely end and, although Larry attempts to offer condolences, his actions with a dirty fifty-dollar bill, three bouquets of flowers and a particular brand of perfume threaten to obliterate all overtures of sympathy.
Episode 4 -- The Lefty Call
Larry regrets getting Richard Lewis' girlfriend Cha Cha a job near the office bathroom after she starts monitoring his toilet trips. In other bathroom news, the Blacks and Larry hatch a plot to avoid Cheryl's "environmentally friendly" toilet paper; a waiter causes some supreme bowel discomfort for the Greenes' dog, and a loud flush forces Larry to adopt a new phone technique.
Episode 5 -- The Freak Book
Larry buys a charming little book as a birthday gift for Ted Danson. But when Ted spurns Larry's gift and his incapacitated chauffeur, Larry rethinks their plans of spending eternity together. Larry's quest for a new cemetery plot, and his newfound calling as a driver, wreak havoc on a group of foreign mourners and a perturbed John McEnroe.
Episode 6 -- The Rat Dog
Larry is constantly offending a deaf friend, her husband and dog. With the help of a faulty toaster, Larry manages to burn Loretta and Leon's job prospects. Larry sets up his father with a massage and takes Mike, Jeff's exterminator, as his date to a middle school production of "Grease."
Episode 7 -- The TiVo Guy
When Larry chooses the TiVo guy over his wife, Cheryl walks out on him, and soon various friends and relations are "choosing" Cheryl over Larry. Larry seeks solace in the arms of a new woman: none other than Lucy Lawless, but his choice of undergarments could wreck his chances with the Warrior Princess.
Episode 8 -- The N Word
Larry's world is turned upside down when he utters an unspeakable word, even though he didn't mean to. The Blacks, a doctor and a pharmacist are all horrified, and the fallout from this proves disastrous for Jeff's career and Larry's love life.
Episode 9 -- The Therapists
Larry and Cheryl are finally making slow-but-steady progress toward a reconciliation - that is, until Larry makes a disastrous ultimatum, at his therapist's suggestion. To win Cheryl back, Larry concocts a scheme involving her therapist, a mugging, a rescue, a charity walk and a fake disease.
Episode 10 -- The Bat Mitzvah
Larry is depressed about his domestic turbulence, and the impending departure of the Blacks. To make matters worse, he's suffering from an unmentionable gastrointestinal problem, and a reputation-ruining rodent rumor. When Larry and Cheryl both bring dates to Sammy's Bat Mitzvah, it makes for socially awkward interactions, and unexpected connections.
The 1.33:1 full-frame picture is clean and clear, as you would expect from a recent season. It's not a particularly visually interesting show, shot in a documentary style, but there is no major artefacting.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 gets the job done in this dialogue-driven series. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
A Conversation with Larry David and Susie Essman - Recorded live at New York's 92nd Street Y (22:42) is a treat for Curb fans, with the two kibitzing about the series' distinctive style. David admits that he never expected the show would make some viewers cringe.
On the Set: Curb Your Enthusiasm (11:09) is standard, self-congratulatory promotion. A fun, laugh-laden gag reel runs for five minutes, 12 seconds.
Curb Your Enthusiasm -- The Complete Sixth Season is more of Larry David's tasteless, tactless comic brilliance, with the added bonus of J.B. Smoove as Leon Black. In the words of LD himself: Pretty, pretty good.