In the six years since we last saw an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, times have changed. A lot.
Curb Your Enthusiasm hasn’t change at all. A 2011 episode and a 2017 episode are virtually indistinguishable. And hey! Maybe that’s fine for some of you who are perfectly content to approach a comedy from a 2010 mindset. Maybe all it takes to make you laugh is watching a wealthy, narcissistic man engage in awkward, deeply uncomfortable exchanges with other people. If you like to cringe, there’s a lot to cringe about here, although most of it involves Larry David’s misanthropic, tone-deaf character expressing hostility toward everyone around him.
Here’s a sample storyline from last night’s premiere episode: Larry gets into an argument with the woman above about whether it’s appropriate to open the door for her. He doesn’t think she’s the “type” who would want someone to hold the door open for them, and by “type,” he means: Someone who he thinks looks like a lesbian. This awkward jokes runs through the entire episode, culminating in an argument between this woman and her fiancée about who should be the “bride” and who should be the “groom” at their wedding. Her fiancée (Nasim Pedrad) looks more traditionally feminine, therefore she should be the bride, right? But Curb upends those expectations, I guess, when the fiancée expresses anger when Larry tries to hold the door open for her.
The point, I guess, is that you can’t judge a lesbian by her hairstyle …?
Last year, Jerry Seinfeld said that he won’t play college campuses anymore because they’re too P.C., and Curb Your Enthusiasm feels like the television equivalent of that statement. He’ll make a disabled person the butt of a joke, or he’ll engage in an uncomfortable exchange with J.B. Smoove about black slang (“lampin” now means “to chill,” I guess) as if to say, “Fuck you, college kids! I’ll be as politically incorrect as I want!”
And that’s fine. You do you, Larry. But in the intervening six years between Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes, many of the rest of us have found different ways to laugh. By watching Insecure or Atlanta or Brockmire or I’m Sorry or You’re the Worst or Great News or Trial & Error or any of a dozen other sitcoms that manage to be hysterical without resorting to stereotypes. It’s not that jokes that rely on stereotypes can’t be funny, it’s just that they’re kind of lazy. There are better ways to approach comedy.
Can you extract comedy from the awkwardness of trying to fire a legitimately incompetent person who also happens to be a disabled woman and the product of incest? Sure! But why? Can a show about nothing still succeed? Sure, but why? Especially when a show about something can be much funnier and relatable rather than alienating. Does a guy have to be likable to be funny? Absolutely not! But I also don’t feel any need to view the world through Larry David’s toxic point of view.
“You know why I’m laughing,” Richard Lewis says to Larry David at one point in the premiere. “I’m laughing at the sadness of your existence. You are devoid of anything that is remotely caring or empathetic. And it’s sad.”
“I take that as a compliment,” Larry responds. I think that underlines the entire problem with Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2017. He expects us to laugh at his lack of empathy, but increasingly, I, too, just find it sad.