Murphy's Law tells us that anything that can go wrong...will go wrong. Unfortunately for the protagonist---and fortunately for the viewer---Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000- ) rarely breaks this law. Drawing comparisons to David's own Seinfeld, this celebration of social ineptitude began with a one-hour HBO special in 1999 and was followed by a regular series the next year. Curb's main attraction lies in its approach to comedy: though the characters themselves are well-defined, the improvised dialogue and interaction is perhaps the key element to the show's freshness. Half the time, it seems possible we're watching real-life events as they actually happen: the performances are spirited, while the sticky situations (although usually played for laughs) often remind us of life's embarrassing moments...only more embarrassing.
Seven seasons in, Curb has maintained its poison-tipped roots...and fans wouldn't have it any other way. The show's formula, of course, hasn't changed a bit: Larry's still got a dark cloud hanging overhead and his social blunders always come back to bite him in the ass. We're often treated to a car wreck of story elements right before the credits roll, even though the setup and payoff feel a little more forced at this point. To be fair, we're expecting these traditions by now---as well as the occasional "Pretty...pretty..good" and one-on-one staredown (AKA "the bullshit detector")---so we can't fault the creative team for sticking to a successful formula. The reason that Curb still feels fresh is that the show's improvisational roots haven't changed, either: large portions of dialogue are crafted on-the-fly, creating a truly unpredictable atmosphere. Whether it's a stand-alone episode or part of each season's larger story arc, most installments of Curb provide belly laughs and uneasiness in equal doses.
This season's story arc is perhaps its most engaging and accessible to date: it revolves around a Seinfeld reunion, devised by Larry as a chance to get his wife Cheryl back. After his wife packed her bags during Season 6, Larry became involved with Loretta, a woman whose family was taken in by the Davids after Hurricane Katrina. This unlikely but unique pairing, unfortunately, paves the way for one of Season 7's few blunders: their relationship is quickly tossed out the window to make room for Cheryl. Let's be honest: none of us imagined that the Loretta-Larry relationship would last forever, but her character transforms from a brash (but empathetic) houseguest to a completely ungrateful, selfish cancer victim almost overnight. This may have been a necessary and inevitable change to keep the season moving, but it happens a little too fast.
Aside from that, though, Season 7 is perhaps the best Curb outing thus far; fans of David's other show have much to look forward to as well. Most Seinfeld disciples undoubtedly migrated to Curb for obvious reasons...but if they didn't stick around for the long haul, Season 7 should easily lure them back. This two-disc DVD release includes the following 10 episodes:
(10 episodes on 2 single-sided discs)
Though a Seinfeld reunion is undoubtedly at this season's core, it takes a few episodes to get the ball rolling. After the "Loretta situation" (mentioned above) is swept under the rug, Leon sticks around as roommate and occasional counselor. As with Season 6, Leon steals just about every scene he's in...so for those who appreciated the comedic styling of JB Smoove the last time around, there's plenty more where that came from. Still, it's Larry's relationships with Jeff, Marty Funkhouser and Richard Lewis that keep the momentum going early on; both "Funkhouser's Crazy Sister" and "Vehicular Fellatio" serve as decent stand-alone episodes for this very reason. It's also here that Larry reconnects with Cheryl...and before long, the possibility of a Seinfeld reunion (with an open spot for Cheryl, who's pursuing acting) is formally introduced. The stage is set, as they say.
Soon enough, we dive headfirst back into the world of Seinfeld, beginning with "The Reunion"...but, as expected, not every episode revolves completely around Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer. In fact, only "The Table Read" and (obviously) "Seinfeld" share that privilege, but this is David's show for a reason. More stand-alone highlights include "Denise Handicapped" (Larry briefly dates a handicapped woman, but loses his BlackBerry---and her number---in the process), "The Black Swan" (trouble at the golf course after Larry kills a prized bird in self-defense) and "Officer Krupke" ("My name is Larry David, and I enjoy wearing women's panties."), though there aren't any truly bad episodes in the bunch. Both "The Hot Towel" and "The Bare Midriff" offer plenty of laughs---and, like the remaining stand-alone episodes, at least manage to hint at the larger story arc this season.
Once the Seinfeld reunion is ready to roll, however, Curb really kicks it into high gear: both "The Table Read" and "Seinfeld" are two of the most satisfying episodes to date. From the careful set (re)design to the curious character relationships both on and off-stage, it's a satisfying conclusion to a great season and Seinfeld in general---and as the joke goes, at least it's better than the 1998 series finale. The Larry-George-Cheryl meta-triangle is particularly effective: not only does it further explore the curious relationship between Larry's "real" persona and the other character he created in his image, but Cheryl gets in on the joke as well. Equally effective is the finale's last scene: Cheryl and Larry officially look to be kindling their love for one another...but as with Seinfeld, a completely happy ending just wouldn't feel right. Of course, an eighth season has already been announced for 2011 (continuing the one-year gap that Season 5 started), so there's plenty more Curb in store for us.
For now, it's hard to believe that 2 1/2 years have gone by since the last season was released on DVD, but fans can now look forward to another satisfying two-disc package from HBO. Curb has finally switched to 16:9 widescreen format; as expected, this two-disc release preserves the new aspect ratio. A number of Seinfeld-minded bonus features are also on board, making this one of the most well-rounded Curb DVD releases to date. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
In all respects, the audio presentation aims a little lower but still hits the mark. Presented in your choice of English or French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, Curb Your Enthusiasm boasts an acceptable, clean presentation that gets the job done without incident. Most dialogue and music cues are anchored squarely up front, but the rear channels are used occasionally for general ambiance. English, French and Spanish subtitles are also included for the hearing and English impaired.
Seen above, the 1.78:1 menu designs are pleasantly simple, offering episode highlights and easy navigation. Each episode is presented with roughly 6 chapter stops, though there's no selection screen. Packaging is identical to Season 5, as this two-disc set is housed in a foldout digipak case with a matching slipcover, rather than the flimsy pull-out design from earlier seasons. The cover art is amusing, but it's unfortunately the neutered version of a much more fitting original design.
"Rebuilding the Seinfeld Sets" (11:08, below right) takes a more production-minded approach; among other highlights, we catch a glimpse of the sets in storage and hear about their careful restoration...and, in some cases, updating for the new decade. Finally, "Larry David as George Costanza" (2:45) allows David a bit of time to chat about the pros and cons of having an alter ego on-screen. Overall, some non-Seinfeld extras would've been nice to have as well, but it's tough to complain.
All bonus features, like the episodes themselves, are presented in 16x9 widescreen and look good, aside from some moderate interlacing issues. Unfortunately, optional subtitles or Closed Captions have not been included for this content.
It's taken plenty of time to arrive, but fans should enjoy revisiting "the Seinfeld season" of Curb Your Enthusiasm before the next batch of episodes begins in 2011. This seventh round continues Curb's tradition of public predicaments and multiple mishaps, running our reluctant hero through the wringer once again. The addition of the Seinfeld reunion storyline---not to mention Larry's renewed infatuation with his estranged wife, Cheryl---offers a more personal and touching layer to the proceedings, creating one of the most cohesive and satisfying seasons to date. HBO honors Curb once again with a well-rounded DVD package, pairing a strong technical presentation with a handful of Seinfeld-centric bonus features. All things considered, Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Seventh Season should appeal to all former and current fans of the scathing series. Highly Recommended.