Curb offers witty television with social undertones
Between psychologists that wear thongs and HBO executives that steal shrimp, it’s tough to look at Larry David’s HBO series, Curb Your Enthusiasm, as anything more than a hilarious TV show. But it’s much more. For behind the laughter, the show’s creator and star, Larry David — a genius if there ever was one — has inserted underlying themes that radiate with acute cultural wisdom. While other insightful comedies like The Office and David’s own co-creation Seinfeld are known as sources of social commentary, Curb has not yet received the credit it deserves.
This inattention is odd given the blatancy of Larry’s opinions. I’m not referring to the fact that his character doesn’t like “no-fly” underwear because men “need to have options,” or that he thinks cocktail parties should have an abundance of places to set down leftover skewers. I’m speaking of his beliefs that one’s religious identity affects his or her personality, that our society is too sensitive about ethnic stereotypes, and lastly, that our existence is trivial.
For example, in one episode, Larry discovers that he was adopted and that his real parents are devout Christians, unlike Larry’s supposed “adoptive parents,” who are Jewish. Upon receiving this news, Larry changes his entire attitude toward life, now considering himself a Christian. He prays passionately at Church, happily donates a kidney to his friend, and exclaims to his wife, “I want to have children!” When he finds out later that he was not, in fact, adopted — and hence, still Jewish — Larry, devastated, reverts to his old ways, even trying to stop the imminent kidney transplant procedure. Here, the show parodies the way one’s religious culture directly influences their character. Larry drastically changed his personality, but his religion never changed — he just thought it did.
In another episode, Larry uses a remote control to lock his car when an African-American man is coincidentally walking by. Larry’s friend Wanda, also African-American, sees Larry lock his car, and immediately berates him for being racist. In this exchange, the show points out how society is too quick to cry “racism!” about something that is no more than a benign act or sheer coincidence.
Finally, Larry views human existence to be somewhat insignificant, assuming a stoic attitude towards life. When he finds out in one episode that his mother has died, Larry reacts indifferently, using the “mourning period” as a chance to fend off the people in his life that annoy him. As he lies on his death bed in another episode, he beckons over his friend Jeff, and rather than leaving him with grandiose parting words, says, “You know, I’ve never said anything, but I’ve noticed that you use way too much mayo. You know when they make tuna, there’s already mayo in it, you don’t have to put it on the bread.” Larry’s indifference to life’s most profound moments — and his passionate concern over some of its most trivial ones — implies a world view that de-romanticizes the importance of individual human lives and interactions. This triviality contrasts with plenty of other shows, where death or marriage scenes are always saturated with melodrama.
When we watch Curb, we must realize that David is more than just a funny guy — he’s a genius at work. Curb’s influence on public morality, however, remains in question. At least, the show’s a hell of a lot more insightful than Friends.