Had Curb Your Enthusiasm ended after its fifth season and the near-death experience of Larry David the character, a hero in his own mind, it would have gone down as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. Everything up to and including that particular season went beyond funny. More often than not the episodes were dazzling displays of how something as simple as whistled Wagner leads to the accusation that Larry is a self-loathing Jew to a denied trick-or-treater to a house vandalized with toilet paper to a second confrontation (Larry’s previous opponent is revealed as the father of the delinquent in the making). Mix that in with a misunderstood proposition and an anniversary gift that never materializes, and you’re back to Larry surprising his wife, Cheryl, with strings in the foyer and then using those same musicians to stick it to the Wagner-hater one last time. Now maybe that seems complicated, and in lesser hands it would play that way on-screen. But David and Co. were firing on all cylinders, working without a net, and rarely faltered. Had the show bid adieu after Season Six, the show would’ve exited our collective consciousness starting to show signs of wear, but then we would have missed out on early Leon and perhaps the funniest final minute ever of a season finale (Larry completely ensconced with the Black family). Season Seven undid that moment with Larry’s almost instant attempt to rid himself of Loretta (although for some reason Leon remained), but we did get the Seinfeld reunion, David and Jerry Seinfeld improving it up like two fighters in their primes, David as Jason Alexander as George, and a Leon/Michael Richards sequence that removed most of the ill will incurred by Richards’ racist tirade from a few years back. The series really could’ve, should’ve ended there. But now we have Season Eight, and while I’m watching and waiting for the much hyped move to NYC, so far, two episodes in, it’s a total slog.
Let’s start with the on-screen divorce of Larry and Cheryl which parallels David’s real life marital breakup. Now while I understand that the show is meant as a heightened reflection of David’s own life, sometimes a writer shouldn’t include every aspect of his or her own reality in the fictionalized version. See, I always believed that despite her complaints and frustrated, bewildered expressions in the face of her husband’s anti-social behavior, Cheryl loved Larry, and moments like the afore-mentioned anniversary present showed the audience that the feeling was more than mutual. Add to that, Cheryl’s requests were often as unreasonable as those of her spouse (remember the wire from Season One?), and as a result we could understand how Larry’s home life influenced all of his interactions. Now, even though they’re seemingly having an amicable divorce, Larry without Cheryl comes off as just plain petty for the sake of being so, and if no one is that invested in him, how can the audience be expected to follow suit? Also, the lessened screen time for Cheryl Hines leaves a large gap in the show that no amount of the talented Susie Essman can replace.
You could argue that Leon is playing the role of Larry’s surrogate spouse (this past week saw Leon mistakenly identified as Larry’s abusive partner). But I’m over Leon. Nothing against J.B. Smoove, who is talented enough that you kind of wish David would pour his talents into a new vehicle for him. But in the Curb universe, Leon’s presence makes no sense. Why does he get to stay on without his family and why would Larry of all people tolerate a freeloader? This is an obvious instance where the performer is liked so he’s kept on at the expense of a character and a situation that just does not ring true. Speaking of minor characters pushed to the forefront, Marty Funkhouser is another example of someone who works as a punchline here and there. But now that he’s getting entire subplots (looks like his own divorce will play a part in Season 8), the character’s limitations are all too apparent.
An overused character here or there could possibly be forgiven if the plots were still up to par. But they’re not. The current season premiere featured a menstruating girl scout as a prelude to a stranger offering Larry her tampon to stop his bloody nose. You saw it coming a mile away, and there was nothing funny or believable about it. This past week was even worse. A battered women’s shelter in Larry’s swanky neighborhood? And nearly every resident advertising this information to every man trying to buy a pint of ice cream? Mix in the really outdated comic device that all African-Americans look alike, and you’re left with nearly 30 minutes that felt like three hours.
There are those who say that Seinfeld was never quite as good once David left. I would disagree. Some of the post-David episodes are my favorites (“The Susie,” “The Comeback,” “The Bizarro Jerry”). But even if you think otherwise, even if you think the dark finale, which I’d argue has aged very well, was a letdown, that was a show that knew when to let go when it was still on top (and you know NBC would still give Jerry Seinfeld anything that he wanted to return to the fold – and The Marriage Ref does not count). David is an unbelievably talented writer and without question a superior actor to Jerry. But it’s time to let Curb go. Pull a Ricky Gervais; let one creation go and start something new. Perhaps I’ll retract all of this in a few weeks once this current season comes to a close, but right now, things are looking, prett-ay, prett-ay, prett-ay, pretty bad.