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‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Was Larry David’s Tribute to a Great American Hero: ‘Larry David’

The series finale may relitigate that controversial ‘Seinfeld’ swan song, but it died the way it lived: as a valentine to its creator’s cranky, obsessive, righteous alter ego

Curb Your Enthusiasm


“I’m 76 years old, and I have never learned a lesson in my entire life.”

In the series finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David tells this to a child in an Atlanta hotel lobby who throws a ball at him. The mother wants the child to learn the lesson of saying “sorry,” forcing Larry to stay put and receive that apology. Larry doesn’t have time for that, and unleashes what is essentially the maxim for the entire series — and maybe David’s entire career.

Of course, that statement also acts as good summation of the finale, which essentially re-creates the much-hated Seinfeld finale just for the purposes of Curb. Larry is on trial for violating election law in Florida because he gave a bottle of water to Leon’s Auntie Rae (Ellia English) while she was waiting to vote. The prosecution, played by Greg Kinnear, brings out a parade of people who have been wronged by David, all to complain about him (Mocha Joe, Mr. Takahashi). The jury finds him guilty, and the judge (Dean Norris) sentences him to a year in prison, but Jerry Seinfeld gets him out on a technicality, having run into one of the supposedly sequestered jurors at a restaurant. The case is thrown out, and Larry walks free. With that, it’s not an exact repeat of the Seinfeld finale where they all go to jail, a fact that goes remarked upon.

In the show, Larry’s essential trait is stubbornness. He’s a man who has gone to such lengths over his grievances that he opened up a spite store next to a coffee shop he didn’t like. The last episode proves that stubbornness is also a key trait of David’s; he has refused to let the public live with their revulsion of the Seinfeld ending despite the fact that it aired nearly 30 years ago.

But David is actually letting something go: Curb itself. And, in a way, the finale served as a reminder of how frustrating that actually is. Yes, the clip-show element gave it a nostalgia that usually only comes when something has run its course, but otherwise, “No Lessons Learned” could have been just a regular episode.

The lie of the sitcom is familiarity. After spending countless half-hours with these characters, you start to feel like you know them. The actors’ real personas, whatever those are, start to blend with their fictional ones. If you cross paths with a sitcom star on the street, you might have to do a double take. Who are you really encountering? A performer? Or the person they have played?

This is never more true than in the case of Curb. The onscreen Larry David and the Larry David of real life are not exactly the same person, but they are pretty, pretty close. Or at least they seem to be. “Larry David” of Curb has always felt more real than the “Jerry Seinfeld” of Seinfeld. Perhaps it’s because Curb, unlike Seinfeld, was not shot on a soundstage and not beholden to network television rules. But it’s also because Larry’s foibles are more nakedly visible, and at least seem to be rooted in a deeper truth. (Jerry on Seinfeld was always pretty cool. Larry on Curb was never that way.)

I’ve come to think of the loosely fictionalized version “Larry David” as the version of him as he would like to exist in society — free to be himself and totally hated. For instance, I was shocked to learn that a recent plot point in which Larry brings his own eggs to the country club restaurant for the chef to cook up was based on Larry’s actual behavior. He actually brought his own eggs!

And it’s because “Larry David” and Larry David seem so close that the end of Curb feels particularly brutal. David himself seems to be still going strong. Why can’t his show? Why must we let go to “Larry David” if Larry David is still with us?

David has given his reasons. He’s 76 years old, and Curb has been running on and off for 24 years. Still, while this last season was not perfect, it doesn’t feel like he has run out of material.

The finale alone gave us a wealth of high jinks independent of the trial featuring the anti-Larry character witnesses. Larry refuses to turn off his cellphone on the flight to Georgia and then starts squealing on Leon (J.B. Smoove) and Jeff (Jeff Garlin) when they won’t either. Larry pegs Richard Lewis’ new girlfriend, an old flame played by Allison Janney, as a liar because she won’t let him into a lane when he’s trying to exit the highway. He then tries to get her to admit she attempted suicide after her first breakup with Richard. (The last thing we hear of her is that she bought a gun possibly to shoot Larry. I almost expected the series to end with Larry dying at the hand of C.J. Cregg.) And Larry and Jeff fail Susie (Susie Essman) one more time by stealing a salad dressing recipe from Auntie Rae for her anniversary gift. The best jokes weren’t thanks to memories of everything Larry has done in the past. They were what Larry is currently doing.

The last time David said he was ending Curb after Season Eight, he ended up eventually coming back for four more seasons. David’s stubbornness would imply that there’s always a chance for the show to return. I don’t think that will happen again. After all, the unspoken sadness of this season has been the death of Richard Lewis, a reminder of the very real distance between the fictional world of “Larry David” and his actual counterpart. David’s heartbreaking statement on Lewis’ death showed a level of emotion that the Curb Larry would never dare show.

The last shot of the series features all of Larry’s main friends and enemies — Richard, Susie, Jeff, Leon, Jerry, his ex Cheryl (Cheryl Hines), and her boyfriend Ted Danson — all on a plane arguing. The end of Curb means we have to imagine them arguing in perpetuity: Susie calling Jeff a “fat fuck,” Leon saying something perversely hilarious, Richard waxing about a woman who is going to be his new wife. And Larry, or “Larry,” will always be there, finding something new to get mad about.

Curb has thrived on discomfort, but over the years has become more and more of a comfort show for its fans. We’ve learned to find the nobility in Larry’s stubbornness. It often leads to disaster, sure, but a lot of times he has a point. The more time you spend with Larry, the more you see the righteousness in him. That’s the line where Larry David and “Larry David” begin to blur even more.

Life will always offer up little indignities and chances to mess up for Larry David. Now, we’ll just have to go on without him turning them into television.

From Rolling Stone US