Monday, April 15, 2024

Quote of the Day (James Kaplan, on How ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Was Unlike Anything on TV Before)

“The show [Curb Your Enthusiasm] wasn't quite like anything that had been on TV before. The real-life details (there were deadpan talking-head interviews with [Jerry] Seinfeld, [Richard] Lewis, Jason Alexander, and Rick Newman, the founder of Catch a Rising Star), the handheld camera (an acknowledged presence in several scenes), and the improvised dialogue made the show much closer to the bone than Seinfeld. Seinfeld was scherzo, its fun stemming from the constantly shifting play among its troupe of four. [Larry] David's new form was simpler and starker. There was a basic triangle: Larry; Jeff, his manager, who helps get him into trouble (usually in the form of telling lies and keeping secrets Larry being spectacularly bad at the latter); and Cheryl, his wife, who calls him to account.”— American novelist, journalist, and biographer James Kaplan, “Angry Middle-Aged Man,” The New Yorker, Jan. 19, 2004

I came across this quote and the larger article from which it comes a couple of days after the series finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I bet that James Kaplan never thought that the subject of his profile, Larry David, expected his show to conclude a full two decades later.

The factors that Kaplan points out did make the show unusual, and, indeed, account for much of the devoted audience it built over the years. 

But, I would argue, David’s series only follows in the footsteps of Garry Shandling’s talk-show parody, The Larry Sanders Show, in what I have heard called a “neuroticon.”

This mini-genre follows, documentary-style, a prominent figure in TV comedy—or, rather, his highly exaggerated alter ego—through his self-absorbed, often self-defeating, private life—or, as Kaplan puts it, “routinely managing to annoy or infuriate everyone around him.”

That protagonist interacts with equally exaggerated versions of real-life celebrities who frequently are the star’s friends. The main character eventually irritates his long-suffering wife enough that she grows tired of his antics and divorces him.

Given the public attention and affluence that have come to David over the last 35 years, it was a surprise for me to read, in Kaplan’s profile, that, before Seinfeld was picked up, David was “a standup comic in trouble...middle-aged, single, living in a building with subsidized housing for artists on the West Side of Manhattan, and just scraping up.”

Every time he took the stage as a stand-up comedian, David told Kaplan, he was “taking my life in my hands…Every time I went up, I thought I was putting my life on the line.”

It didn’t get any better with the pitch that David and friend Jerry Seinfeld made to NBC executives for what became Seinfeld. Whatever these suits were feeling about the proposed star, “they would have gotten rid of me without even thinking about it,” David remembered.

Believe it or not, in a viewing habit similar to The Larry Sanders Show, I only began to watch David’s HBO sitcom after it had concluded filming. Now, I am finding out what I missed over 12 seasons and nearly a quarter-century—and, through streaming, have gotten a close relative to do likewise.

Many longtime viewers will cherish moments from this comedy of cringe for a long, long time from now, as Abby Alten Schwartz explains in this February article from The Huffington Post.

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