Talking with friends at Cambridge Common last week, someone brought up It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I delivered my stock review of the show: a fantastic Grand Guignol of morality in the first two seasons that went off the rails in the third. In S1 and S2, the protagonists are conniving, their selfish schemes doomed to failure through their own mistrust of each other. In S3, they’re just dumb. Homer Simpson dumb. And just as The Simpsons grew worse as Homer transitioned from a proletarian to a high-functioning illiterate, so too did It’s Always Sunny lose me.
(I’ve been told S4 is better)
Then someone brought up Curb Your Enthusiasm and the conversation ground to a halt.
I need to stress that I love awkward television. I tune in to Mad Men and Breaking Bad every week to watch how its male protagonists will continue throwing away the good, safe things they have. I loved the British version of The Office and the most painful parts of the American version as well. I can watch people screw up their lives and suffer the consequences all day. But not Larry David.
This hearkens back to, and I hate to quote myself here, something I wrote on Overthinking It about Michael Richards’ racial epithet stand-up comedy meltdown:
Michael Richards thought he could get away with the n-word because he thought he was the victim. He thought a room full of black people were out to get him and he was justified in lashing back with the harshest weapon in his arsenal. What Richards failed to realize is that it’s effectively impossible for a successful white male entertainer with tens of millions of dollars in the bank to be a “victim” in a comedy club. He failed to realize the balance of power would never let him be a hustler.
Michael Richards owes every dollar he has to Larry David, creator of Seinfeld. In Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David plays Larry David, the creator of Seinfeld, a man with over $200 million in the bank, a beautiful wife and no self-esteem.
When talking to my friends, I frequently dismiss my own complaints as “First World problems” or “white people problems” – the kind of problems that 90% of humanity would consider themselves fortunate to have. Curb Your Enthusiasm is all about white people problems. Larry David gets invited to a friend’s house for dinner. This friend asks that Larry take his shoes off before entering the house. OH NO! HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY, etc. In later episodes, Larry inadvertently offends black people, women, strangers, etc. Larry feels uncomfortable visiting his therapist after he sees his therapist in a thong; WHAT A TRAGEDY. And so forth.
Curb Your Enthusiasm offends me on every level at once. The character of “Larry David,” as played by Larry David, would be a forgettable shell of a man were he not the creator of Seinfeld. He’d be trapped in a garret apartment in a forgotten corner of Sherman Oaks, too scared to go shop for groceries. But the only reason we even pay attention to this man is because, given his multi-millionaire status, he has famous friends and lives in a wealthy part of the world. As such, you’d think that a life in show business would have jaded him to the excesses of the human species. But it hasn’t! He still can’t function in polite society. How such a man even attended the meetings necessary to make two hundred million dollars strains my suspension of disbelief.
I guess I still believe enough in the Horatio Alger notion of wealth that I can’t watch a man who doesn’t deserve his good fortune. I can’t watch Larry David snarl and rebuff every friend he has. I’m sure it’s funny; it’s just not for me.