Home Entertainment ‘No other show looked so fun to work on’: how Curb Your Enthusiasm is a joyous homage to friendship | Curb Your Enthusiasm

‘No other show looked so fun to work on’: how Curb Your Enthusiasm is a joyous homage to friendship | Curb Your Enthusiasm

‘No other show looked so fun to work on’: how Curb Your Enthusiasm is a joyous homage to friendship | Curb Your Enthusiasm

How far would go for a friend? A favour, a white lie, pretend to be Orthodox to help them skip the line for a kidney replacement? Lend your skills as a plain-speaking “social assassin” to tell their girlfriend to stop saying “L-O-L” out loud or their mother to cease smacking her lips in pleasure after sipping her drink? Conspire with them to steal a doll from their daughter’s bedroom? Claim to have had vaginal rejuvenation surgery to encourage their hated girlfriend to get it so your friend can – of course – avoid having sex with her for the six to eight weeks during which he still needs her political influence?

In Curb Your Enthusiasm, as the season finale made very clear, there was no hugging and absolutely no learning, a continuation of the ethos behind creator Larry David’s previous show, Seinfeld. (“I’m 76 years old and I have never learned a lesson in my entire life,” the fictional Larry told a child.) It ended with the core gang on a plane, bickering furiously over whether Susie Greene’s open window blind counts as a “community shade”. But in Curb, there were also no limits on the lengths to which this dysfunctional group of friends would go to help one another out of a fix, or even just in pursuit of a good wheeze, from mooting the viability of a car that runs on urine to starting quick-fix businesses that always backfired. The notion would probably make Larry sick, or at least strain one of those famous eyebrows, but Curb’s legacy is as much about friendship as it is the most frivolous aspects of social intolerance.

A typical day in the fictional Larry’s life, 120 episodes of Curb told us, might involve meeting one friend for ice-cream, others for golf, someone for an errand hang and more for dinner; turning up unannounced at another’s house and storing your cheese in their fridge then driving your housemate around late at night so he can graffiti an all-you-can-eat restaurant that does, in fact, limit how much you can eat. Of course, the flâneur lifestyle is easily achieved when you’re richer than Croesus and have no work to do and nowhere to be: the fictional Larry is still the co-creator of Seinfeld, which had earned more than $4bn in syndication by 2017 and was recently bought by Netflix for $500m. And more often than not, these engagements end in variously grievous shades of upset, or at the very least a gaudily clad Susie yelling: “Getdafuckouttamyhouse!” But despite Larry’s gift for causing offence, these self-proclaimed social dyspeptics keep on meeting up with one another, and always reset after mortifying showdowns that would end in most of us Googling witness protection programmes.

‘The show’s sentimental heart and rawest nerve’ … Richard Lewis and Larry David in season 10 of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Photograph: John P Johnson/AP

It seems like a dream to me: the social spontaneity (a rarity, living in a city like London where it often feels as if plans have to be made a minimum of five weeks in advance); having friends who are unafraid to lambast you for your idiocy but who never hold a grudge; the understanding that healthy arguments are the purest expression of familiarity; and in Larry’s (utterly ineffectual) manager Jeff Greene and Kramer-style housemate Leon Black, stalwart sidekicks who will back you to the point of absurdity, taking a “yes, and” approach to mischief. The whole extended gang hangs out like a bunch of kids, not trying to achieve anything more than make each other spit-take or avenge some petty injustice. But these are characters in their 60s and 70s: ages when friendships can drop off – especially among men – but when staying curious and connected is proven to extend your quality of life. As a cameoing Bruce Springsteen, 74, taught us, it’s never too late to learn what a “floor fucker” is.

The friendships in Curb also work on two layers: the dynamics within the series would never have succeeded if not for the profound connections between the actors in real life – the affection and trust that has stoked their improv genius over the past 24 years. You can tell it’s real from how often they desperately try not to corpse even in the takes that made it to air. I don’t know any other show that has looked so fun to work on and would happily watch hours of outtakes from each of the 120 episodes.

Those connections became tragically vivid in February when comedian Richard Lewis – Larry’s best friend on screen and in real life – died at the age of 76. Lewis was the show’s sentimental heart and rawest nerve, laying his friendship on Larry with earnest, wild-eyed ferocity, almost as it if were a matter of life and death, as they competed to pay restaurant bills and outdo each other with the legacies they threatened to leave one another in their wills. In real life, Lewis would apparently regularly call his co-stars to lavish praise on their performances. Susie Essman, who played Susie, said he once left her a rambling 45-minute message to that effect; JB Smoove, who played Leon, said Lewis likened him to Jimi Hendrix, “playing this shit like a fucking guitar, man”. For a show that based an entire season on Larry setting up a “spite store” to put an underwhelming coffee shop out of business, it had a sneaky generous streak.

The final episode brought back another of real-life Larry’s oldest friends as he faced trial for inadvertently breaking Georgia’s (also real) Election Integrity Act in the previous season by handing a bottle of water to a waiting voter. Jerry Seinfeld’s version of moral support came in the form of a pivotal sharp eye, but also an extended riff on whether either of them would date the most beautiful woman in the world if she also happened to have a beard. It’s exactly the sort of pointless but funny nonsense that constituted much of their history-making first show together. Unlike Lar’ and Jer’, your own lovingly tended friendship digressions might not make you television billionaires with time to lunch (on your own eggs, obviously) at the golf club every day. But Curb also showed how they might enrich you beyond measure.

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