Culture Rover

#28 - Warmth and Nastiness

Binging the past few weeks on Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm. It is, as many have pointed out, a refinement of Seinfeldian nastiness -- a world of self-absorbed actions, boorish behavior, and over-sensitivity to the slightest slights. The show casts a brutal lens on the lies and fibs and terrible truths that characters tell each other and that they especially tell themselves.

Larry David drives everyone batty, of course. That's why he's funny. The scenarios that he and the other actors improvise on this mock-reality show are tragic-comic set-ups with deep roots in a bitter strand of Yiddish humor. In this context, Larry David is a classic comic paradox -- he's a neurotic id. There's bits of Chaplin there in his ridiculous naivete, and even bits of Rodney Dangerfield in his continual feelings of humiliation. But beyond lineage, there's something simultaneously repressed and unleashed about David's persona that makes him, in all his jerkiness, kind of lovable because he's ourselves.

So, yes, the show has an unrelenting Seinfeldian streak of meanness and cruelty running through its humor. But, there's another dimension to Curb Your Enthusiasm that Seinfeld lacked. Beyond the fact that we can find elements of Larry David in ourselves without looking too hard, we're also able to feel a touch of sympathy for David's character because his wife can. The warmth that David and actress Cheryl Hines capture in their relationship as married characters is the hinge on which the show pivots.

Hines explored this in her recent Fresh Air interview. Just the way Hines rolls her eyes in exasperation is full of an affection that casts an intriguing beam of light through the show's dark humor. They drive each other crazy, but there is a fondness -- a real love -- there that makes the show shine in a way Seinfeld never did.

17 November 2004

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