Curb Your Enthusiasm Series 6 DVD review

Larry David's cantankerous character bumbles his way through another series of excruciating social shenanigans...

Even a glass of water has many issues to consider...

The curmudgeon has long been the mainstay of classic comedy. An archetypal sitcom character, TV screens have been littered with examples of the grumpy old man, from Alf Garnett, to Basil Fawlty to Victor Meldrew. For my money though, they don’t come much grumpier, and certainly no funnier, than Larry David. Since 2000, Curb Your Enthusiasm has consistently proven to be one of the funniest comedies on the box. Expertly written and excellently acted, the show’s true genius lies in its creative plotlines which see David drawn into situations that only he could find himself in.

For the uninitiated, Curb Your Enthusiasm revolves around the life of the former Seinfeld creator as he bungles his way through the everyday intricacies of modern life. Typically ending in his downfall, each episode is a well planned, brilliantly executed piece of work, not least because most of us can really feel Larry David’s pain. As the tagline for the show once was, ‘Deep inside, you know you’re him’.

Famously, Curb Your Enthusiasm is largely improvised with just a skeletal plotline so the actors themselves deserve much of the credit for the ensuing comedy. Now, fifty plus episodes in, they’re clearly extremely comfortable in their roles and it would have been all too easy for them to drop the ball in this series. Thankfully that’s not the case, perhaps partly down to the injection of new blood. Series Six introduces us to the Blacks, a family rendered homeless by Hurricane Edna and subsequently taken in by the Davids. A regular feature throughout the series, they’re a welcome addition to the cast. Leon especially, played by J B Smoove, proves a scene-stealer. With some of the funniest lines heard on TV this or any other year for that matter, Smoove, a former Saturday Night Live writer, deserves high praise for making Leon so memorable among a bunch of characters who have been around since episode one.

The flipside of his excellent performances is that episodes without him fail to hit the heights of ones where he shines. That’s not the only aspect that splits this series in two though. Curb Your Enthusiasm has always been at its best when Larry David is placed in situations that viewers can empathise with. The more believable the problems he finds himself in, the funnier the episode. Conversely, when an episode has a convoluted, more fanciful plotline, it loses some of its comedic weight. This first became a problem during series Four, when the ongoing story arc of Larry trying to sleep with another woman, as part of a wedding anniversary present from wife Cheryl, became increasingly preposterous, and the series finale, with Larry in a stage production of The Producers, just didn’t work at all. Series Five, by contrast, was largely a return to tackling life’s daily foibles, which made it a classic series.

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Series Six falls somewhere between the two. When it keeps it simple, the result is some of the best ever episodes. Covering life’s little annoyances like ‘sample abusers’ at an ice cream store, the unwritten law of dry-cleaning (where you get to keep any clothes accidentally bundled in with your own returns) and how to get out of dinner parties you don’t want to go to is where the show is at its strongest. The way these seemingly small issues escalate has long been the show’s strong point. For example, the opening episode of this series starts with Larry David destroying a very annoying smoke detector that keeps going off, and ends with him being homeless. The fact that you don’t see it coming is testament to the strong scriptwriting.

Less successful are convoluted plotlines involving offending a deaf woman and her husband by misconstrued sign language and switched mobile phones, and an episode that sees David becoming a limo driver. With these less believable situations, the comedy can come across as forced. Worst of the lot is an episode starring Steve Coogan as a therapist. In a role in which he looks extremely uncomfortable he stands out for all the wrong reasons and a plot consisting of Larry attempting to win back his wife, with whom he separates halfway through the series, comes across as more structured sitcom than improvised wit. It’s a shame because when the series is good, it’s vintage Curb… When it’s not, it’s average.

Extras on the disc are few, with just two small features weighing in at a little over twenty and ten minutes respectively, plus a five-minute gag reel. The main feature A Conversation With Larry David and Susie Essman is pretty good, a chat between David and Essman (who plays fantastically foul-mouthed Susie in the show) about how the show’s creative process comes about and how the various ideas for the show are spawned. The gag reel is also very funny, but the fact is, as with all Curb… boxsets, the extras are too thin on the ground.

Earlier I said some of the episodes were average, but that comes with an important caveat. An average episode is still way better than most comedies out there with enough laughs to warrant at least three stars out of five. Coupled with the episodes that are, frankly, downright five-star efforts, you’ve got a DVD boxset that’s well worth parting with your hard-earned for. Oh yes, this is good. Pretty, pretty good.

DVD:

4 out of 5
Extras:
2 out of 5

 

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Rating:

4 out of 5