Just how well was Larry David, or the lightly fictionalized version of Larry David who stars in HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, equipped for the COVID-19 crisis? In the words of television’s most beloved curmudgeon and the original king of social distancing: Pretty, pretty, pretty ... prettyyyyyyyyyy good.
On Sunday night, HBO aired the season finale of Curb, capping, for now, 10 remarkable seasons of superlatively awkward cringe comedy from the maestro of misanthropy. It would be one thing if the episode featured David getting up to his usual anti-social antics – from avoiding handshakes to wriggling out of social obligations to denouncing all human contact of any kind – but the half-hour’s final minutes also offered a rather spooky bit of prescient television.
As part of David’s ridiculous but satisfying season-long war against café owner Mocha Joe (Saverio Guerra), Larry finally opened his own “spite store” right next to his enemy’s – a space that came equipped with Purell hand sanitizer on every (non-wobbly) table. Naturally, as happens with all of Larry’s misadventures, the whole endeavour goes up in flames (literal ones this time around, as his café burns down), with the entire stock of Purell, now considered the equivalent of liquid gold, lost forever. It was a wonderfully devastating and almost culturally cathartic conclusion that could nicely serve as the very end to David’s grand meta-experiment in societal detachment, should he desire to isolate himself from a camera forevermore.
Over the course of 20 years – David only produces seasons when he feels creatively up to the task, and HBO happily obliges – Curb Your Enthusiasm has charted a tremendous, and surprising, arc. Not only one detailing the increasingly impressive creative powers of David, who could have easily retreated from the creative world after co-creating Seinfeld and making untold millions of dollars, but a sort of instructional arc for the zeitgeist as a whole. Curb’s ostensible conceit was to present an anti-hero not suited for our world, with the audience invited and encouraged to find his actions reprehensible, disgusting ... but also understandable. Sympathetic. Courageous, even.
Through its 100 episodes, Curb has revealed, and revelled in, our desire to embrace our inner crank. Larry David is us, and we are Larry David. And if we didn’t learn and adopt the power of Larry’s leave-me-alone philosophy then, well, we’d best embrace it now. Society today, whether fairly or not, demands it.
So maybe we recoiled when, say, Larry killed a swan that was making life difficult on his favourite golf course, or when he posed as an incest survivor, or used his mother’s death to score sympathy sex, or stole flowers from a dead woman’s memorial ... listen, a lot of Larry’s actions are, surface-level, unconscionable. But I cannot deny that I’ve also raised my eyebrow a few times and thought, “Huh, I get it.” And now we’re being told to use these anti-social tendencies for the public good. (Well, maybe not the swan murder, but you get it.)
And I can only imagine Larry David, whichever version you prefer to picture living in Los Angeles this very moment, is somewhat delighted (if such a man can ever be truly happy). Society has now achieved large-scale Larry commonality. Curb, after all, could never have existed if there was no common ground between Larry and the audience. We could chastise him and pat ourselves on the back, but what the series was ultimately asking us to realize is how we identify with Larry. It was always pointing a finger right back at us, asking why we thought we were so much better. We’re not, we never were – and now, suddenly, society is expecting us to embrace, not suppress, some of our basest anti-social instincts. Cue the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme song.
It is an open question if Curb will return – just as it is a question of when any new television series will return from the COVID-19 void. But right now, facing a world bereft of social contact and mostly absent of Purell, I can imagine a Season 11 where Larry David comes back. I’d be happy to see him simply wander around his mansion with buddy/housemate Leon, watching the rest of the world go insane trying to live a life he’s long espoused. Or maybe he’d reverse course and flout the rules of social distancing, just to annoy everyone else. There is simply no flattening Larry David’s curve.
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