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 as if we're watching real-life events unfold: the performances are natural, while the sticky situations (although usually played for laughs) often remind us of life's embarrassing moments. Just more embarrassing.
After the well-received "Seinfeld Season" of Curb a few years ago, Larry David and his ever-so-patient wife Cheryl were approaching the end of their marriage. They'd been a pair since the show's first episode and, despite Larry's worst efforts, managed to stick together most of the time. Right out of the gate, this eighth season puts their long-running relationship to bed permanently: appropriately titled "The Divorce", Larry and houseguest Leon (JB Smoove) are packing their things before the credits roll. Larry's official descent into bachelorhood marinates for a few episodes, picking up steam during a second-half run in New York that ends things with a bang. Along the way, Larry hooks up with a number of beautiful young women, breaks up with 'em, battles a swarm of Girl Scouts, denies a dog his last meal, delivers a bread beat-down, becomes a social assassin and temporarily eschews his cultural heritage during the much-heralded episode "Palestinian Chicken". This season's backbone is undoubtedly Larry's new life as a single man...and while it ushers in a new direction for Curb, fans can still expect business as usual.
Episode Listing: "The Divorce", "The Safe House", "Palestinian Chicken", "The Smiley Face", "Vow of Silence", "The Hero", "The Bi-Sexual", "Car Periscope", "Mister Softee" and "Larry vs. Michael J. Fox".
Guest starts are uniformly excellent this time around. Our lineup includes Gary Cole (Office Space), Michael Gross and Michael J. Fox ("Family Ties"), Ricky Gervais ("The Office"), Robert Smigel and Chris Parnell ("Saturday Night Live"), NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Wanda Sykes (Pootie Tang), Samantha Mathis (American Psycho), Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap) and more. It's usually bad news when a show resorts to stunt casting...but within the skewed perspective of Curb's real-life landscape, seeing so many familiar faces---even as the focal point of certain episodes---isn't distracting in the least. In any case, the stars of our show always have enough presence to keep everything grounded perfectly.
For now, it's hard to believe another two years have gone by since the last installment was released on DVD, but fans can once again look forward to another satisfying two-disc package from HBO. Curb finally switched to a 16:9 widescreen format during the seventh season; as expected, this two-disc release maintains the new aspect ratio. A number of thoughtful 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?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Curb has always aimed for a simple slice-of-life documentary look, so it's good to know that everything holds up perfectly. Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, Curb looks great and there's very little to complain about. The natural color palette is consistent, black levels are nicely balanced and no major digital problems---aside from a bit of interlacing during a few stray sequences---could be spotted from start to finish. While I'm surprise that an optional Blu-Ray edition hasn't been made available, fans shouldn't be disappointed with these standard definition visuals.
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 included during the main feature...and all of the extras, thankfully enough.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the 1.78:1 menu designs are pleasantly familiar, offering episode highlights, summaries and easy navigation. Each episode has been divided into roughly six chapters, though no selection screens are present. Packaging is identical to the last season: 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.
Two extras are on board this time around, and they're both pretty entertaining. First up is "Leon's Guide to NYC"
(9:30, 480p, below left), an off-the-cuff guided tour of Manhattan hosted by everyone's favorite uninvited guest. From the pizzeria to the basketball court, Mr. Black leaves no stone unturned.
More substantial is a Roundtable Q&A (88:30, 480p, below right) hosted by news anchor Brian Williams and featuring cast members Larry David, Susie Essman, Jeff Garlin and surprise guest Cheryl Hines. Recorded live at Manhattan's famous 92nd Street Y, this feature-length Q&A is lively and entertaining from start to finish. DVD Talk reader Jim Finley (who attended the event) informed me that audience members were treated to an advance screening of "Palestinian Chicken" and were asked to supply most of the questions...and although his didn't make the cut, he had a great time anyway. Thanks Jim!
As mentioned earlier, all bonus features include optional English subtitles, which is an extremely nice surprise. It's good to know that HBO continues to be more attentive in this department.
Whether your follow along on HBO or play catch-up on DVD, new seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm are always a pleasant surprise. It's gradually become one of TV's most consistently funny shows, thanks to terrific improvised performances, rock-solid writing...and, of course, the "ten-episodes-every-couple-years" release strategy. This eighth season doesn't have a particularly durable story arc overall, but it sacrifices a little familiarity to usher in Larry's new-found bachelorhood. All told, there's not a bad episode in the bunch and HBO's two-disc DVD package is a well-rounded effort that fans should enjoy. And hey, almost two hours of bonus features this time around! Very Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off and writing stuff in third person.