Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete First Season (2001)
"I did once try and stop a woman who was about to get hit by a car. I screamed out, 'Watch out!' And she said, 'Don't you tell me what to do!' I tried to save her life and she screamed at me. That's all it took, I got out of the 'nice' business at that point."- Larry David
Stars: Larry David, Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin
Other Stars: Kathy Griffin, Richard Lewis, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, sexual humor)
Run Time: Approx. 360 min.
Release Date: 2004-01-20
DVD ReviewWhen Seinfeld ended in 1998, the nation mourned the passing of one of the great sit-coms of all time. But for those in the know, the series was already over—it's best years as a truly groundbreaking comedy "about nothing" (save some truly unlikable-yet-endearing characters) ended after the seventh season when co-creator and executive producer Larry David, writer or co-writer of some 60 episodes, finally grew tired of the daily grind of network television. After he left, the show became shrill and over-the-top, stretching the formula of seemingly disparate but eventually intertwined plots to its limit. Luckily, the curmudgeonly spirit of Larry David lives on. In 1999, he returned to television, this time on HBO. The relaxed setting allowed him the freedom to produce fewer episodes on his own terms, and the result is a show that is quite possibly superior to Seinfeld. If nothing else, it proves just how much influence David had on the most popular comedy of the 1990s.
Curb Your Enthusiasm, shot in a faux-documentary style with primarily improvised dialogue, follows the life of Larry David, creator of Seinfeld, as he goes about his life in Hollywood. It's hard to say how much of the series mirrors David's actual real life, but I assume it's accurate at least in the sense that it documents his general frustration with the entirety of the human race, including, occasionally, his wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines, who is not David's real wife) and his agent Jeff (Jeff Garlin, one of David's friends, but, likewise, not his real agent). The episodes follow the Seinfeld model of storytelling (a series of seemingly unrelated events finally tie together by the end of the episode) but it never feels like a rip-off or a retread.
Credit is due to David, who elected to surround himself with wonderful comedians and allow them to improvise their lines (though he does write very detailed outlines for every episode). The result feels totally fresh, unconventional, and true to life. Like the best comedy, it captures moments of frustration that everyone can relate to and then amplifies them to the point of near-ridiculousness. Take, for example, the fourth episode of the season, The Bracelet. David and Richard Lewis (a childhood friend of the actor) meet a blind man on the street and (grudgingly) agree to help him carry some boxes up to his apartment. Then, when he asks them to help him rearrange the furniture, they do, because they don't want to be insensitive to the blind guy. After working for an hour, David finally gets fed up and tries to leave, at which point... the blind guy gets offended at the insensitive way he is being treated, and David's head explodes.
David, a gifted comedian whose performing talents were wasted behind the scenes on Seinfeld, does a wonderful job playing himself. Like his former alter ego, George Costanza, Larry David the character is a small, insecure man who isn't comforted by the fact that he is wildly successful. He takes offense at the smallest slight and isn't afraid to let people know about it. He tends to say the worst possible thing at any given moment, and he can never understand why people get offended (and he winds up offended in turn). He's the impetuous child within all of us—the self-centered brat that most of us learn to control in polite company—and watching him is like pure wish fulfillment, because he allows himself to be openly selfish.
It's also great to watch David get his comeuppance, and every episode ends poorly for him. In my favorite episode of Season One, Larry, trying to make peace with Cheryl's family, writes an obituary for her aunt that includes an unfortunate typo (Hint: Beloved aunt). He tries to smooth things over and winds up sleeping in his car and not speaking to his wife. Cheryl Hines, by the way, is an essential part of the series' chemistry. She and David work wonderfully together, and they really do seem like an old married couple. It's a little easier to swallow David's foibles and misfortunes when you know there is at least one person in the world that loves him, however inexplicably.
The first season of Curb Your Enthusiasm includes ten episodes that make the most of the freedoms allowed by cable television. It isn't just the swearing or occasional dirty jokes—the subtle comedy would never work on network TV, despite guest appearances from stars like Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, and, memorably, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Dreyfus appears in The Wire, in which, following a typically complicated series of events, she has to kick David out of her house when he shows up there in the middle of the night searching for a notebook he thinks she stole and proceeds to search her house for it (Larry: Maybe it's in this drawer here. Julia: Those are napkins.).
With the demise of Friends and Frasier, many critics have posited that comedy on TV is dead. I'd say it's alive and well as long as Curb Your Enthusiasm remains on the air. But then again, it's not TV, it's HBO.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: To give it the feel of an intimate, true-life documentary, Curb Your Enthusiasm is shot with hand-held digital cameras. As a result, the video isn't exactly reference quality, but it does fit the show perfectly. That said, colors are saturated (though darker shades lack some contrast) and detail is fairly good. I noticed quite a bit of aliasing and artifacting, but I seem to remember seeing it when the show was originally broadcast also, so I can't fault the compression job.
Image Transfer Grade: B
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Audio Transfer Review: Like the video, the audio mix is intentionally simple to fit the tone of the series. Most importantly, dialogue is always crystal clear and presented front and center in the mix. Music is used infrequently, but it sounds fine when it shows up. Sound effects are confined to the front soundstage and presented with limited directionality.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Robert Weide and actors Larry David, Cheryl Hines, and Jeff Garlin on The Pants Tent
Packaging: Book Gatefold
- HBO special Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm
Another nice bonus is an interview segment with David taken from On the Record with Bob Costas. In this 30-minute piece, recorded (I believe) between the second and third seasons of the series, David discusses the nuts and bolts of creating Curb Your Enthusiasm, from his detailed outlines to the sometimes surprising nature of improvisational humor. David also reviews some of his favorite moments of the series, including the later seasons, so there are spoilers for those who don't want to know any of the jokes going in.
Finally, David, Hines, Jeff Garlin, and director Robert Weide provide commentary for the first episode, The Pants Tent. Considering the participants, it's a little serious and slow going. The trio stays on topic, discussing the process of creating the show and filming the first episode. They also talk about how the series changed in subsequent seasons. Garlin talks about suffering a stroke early in the series and how it affected his performance. I liked David's descriptions of the calliope music that acts as a transition during every episode; he calls it the "everything's fine" music.
HBO decided to get creative with the packaging, which features sliding trays that look nice, but they aren't very functional. Love that cover art, though. As is the norm for HBO, episodes are presented without chapter stops, though they do includes subtitles.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsIf you're one who sees truth in humor, you'll watch Curb Your Enthusiasm and judge Larry David the most selfish, small, insecure, hateful man in Hollywood... and you'll love him for it. The series is utterly original—a careful balance of deadpan wit and outlandish plots and the best example of smart comedy on American television since the golden years of Seinfeld. HBO's DVD set is a little light in the extras department, but the episodes are really all you need.
Joel Cunningham 2004-06-03