"That's a good policy, the me first policy!"
Although he's been largely known as the co-creator of "Seinfeld", former stand-up comic Larry David has sort of turned the George Constanza character (apparently based upon himself) into a show that David stars in. Born after a documentary/stand-up performance showcase on HBO, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" stars David as himself, a socially awkward, paranoid, hilariously self-obsessed person who manages to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, then sink ever deeper into his own mistake until the result is almost difficult to watch - yet still claiming himself to be the victim the entire time. A minor mistake, a little moment blown out of proportion, can suddenly snowball into something much more devastasting for David down the road.
In the show, David is joined by a series of characters, including his wife (Cheryl Hines, excellent), manager (Jeff Garlin, very funny) and occasional stars playing themselves, including Wanda Sykes, Ted Danson, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"'s Nia Vardalos and David's longtime friend, Richard Lewis.
The show's dialogue is largely ad-libbed, with the actors getting a general outline of the plot and scenes, then going from there. Combined with the often-handheld camerawork, the improvised dialogue feels even more realistic. Cheryl Hines also truly deserves her awards notice for playing David's wife; not only do the two have great chemistry with each other, but she gives depth to a character that could have been one-note, "That's another fine mess you've gotten yourself into, Larry."
With the freedom that HBO seems to have provided, "Curb" takes the everyday issues of "Seinfeld" to brilliant new heights. This is certainly apparent in "The Bracelet", an episode where Larry wants to get a bracelet for Cheryl to make up for something he did. Fate - and even friend Richard Lewis - keep Larry from getting it. In another episode, Larry and Cheryl go bowling with Mary Steenburgen and Ted Danson, then finds out when he turns his bowling shoes in that his regular shoes are gone. A funny scene in itself due to David's bewilderment, but the episode manages to string along the thread and escalate it into unforseen heights. "Beloved Aunt" starts with a funeral for Cheryl's aunt; while she accepts well wishes from guests, Larry's in the corner fiddling with the air conditioning and then offers to write the obituary ("It's not going to be funny, is it?"), with disasterous results.
"Curb Your Enthusiasm" is a little odd, a little dark and a little mean, but it's also a work of genius throughout many of these 10 episodes. For those who enjoyed "Seinfeld", this takes similar situations much further and makes them feel much more realistic. The next season of the show starts in January '04 on HBO.
1. 1- 1 101 15 Oct 00 The Pants Tent
2. 1- 2 102 22 Oct 00 Ted and Mary
3. 1- 3 103 29 Oct 00 Porno Gil
4. 1- 4 104 5 Nov 00 The Bracelet
5. 1- 5 105 12 Nov 00 Interior Decorator
6. 1- 6 106 19 Nov 00 The Wire
7. 1- 7 107 26 Nov 00 AAMCO
8. 1- 8 108 3 Dec 00 Beloved Aunt
9. 1- 9 109 10 Dec 00 Affirmative Action
10. 1-10 110 17 Dec 00 The Group
VIDEO: "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is presented by HBO in the show's 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. The picture quality of the original season is generally quite good, although, as discussed in the commentary, the second season does look a bit better in terms of production quality. As for the first season episodes, the picture offered satisfying sharpness and detail, although some darker scenes could appear a bit on the soft side.
Other than occasional softness, there weren't many issues with the image quality. A little bit of shimmering was noticed on a couple of occasions and I spotted a compression artifact or two, but other than that, the image looked clean and clear. Colors remained natural and cleanly presented, with nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is presented in Dolby 2.0 on these DVDs. The show's audio is largely dialogue-driven, but the loopy, offbeat and wonderful score is spread nicely across the front speakers, with some reinforcement by the surrounds. Dialogue generally remained clear and clean throughout.
EXTRAS: The "Pants Tent" episode includes a commentary from director Robert B. Weide and stars Larry David, Cheryl Hines and Jeff Garlin. The commentary is pretty decent, as the participants discuss the creation of the show, offer a few tidbits on how it's changed since the early years. Garlin talks briefly about how having a stroke early on effected his performance in the first season, as well.
Interview: The second disc offers this 29-minute interview with Larry David, conducted by Bob Costas. The interview goes deeper into the process of "Curb Your Enthusiasm", as David talks about the improv process of the show, as there is no script - just a detailed outline of the scene, with maybe the occasional quote or two. David also talks about the benefit of the creative and "language" freedom that HBO provides. Much of the interview is also devoted to David going back over some of the highlights of the episodes so far. This appears to be a more recent interview, because later episodes are brought up.
Curb Your Enthusiasm: This is the hour-long special that resulted in the series. A pseudo-documentary, the special follows Larry for "44 days" as he prepares to return to stand-up. The characters (Jeff Garlin as the manager and Cheryl Hines as Larry's wife) are in place here, and we hear from many of his old co-workers, who discuss their experiences working with him and what they think about his return to comedy. There are some very funny bits scattered throughout this hour and it's easy to see how this all slid into a series, but there are some so-so conflicts (Larry calls comic Caroline Rhea by the wrong name, a former assistant wants a recommendation, which Larry proceeds to screw up) that don't approach the level of humor that episodes of the series have come up with.
Also: Previews for each episode.
Final Thoughts:For those who don't have HBO, this set of 10 episodes is a terrific introduction to this fantastic series. HBO's DVD set offers a few nice supplements and good audio/video quality for the episodes. Highly recommended.