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What you get in Curb Your Enthusiasm is Larry David’s eccentric take on a very wealthy old white guy in a consequence-free existence. And it doesn’t fit in.HBO / Crave

Should you be moved to google the series Curb Your Enthusiasm these days, about six entries into the list of results comes the question, “Is Curb Your Enthusiasm funny?” Darn fine question, these days. And the correct answer is, yeah, maybe, mildly so, but only occasionally.

Curb Your Enthusiasm (Sundays, HBO 10:30 p.m., and streaming on Crave) is close to becoming a chore to watch. There’s context: The last few months have brought us some scorching series about economic polarity, with Squid Game presenting those at the bottom of the ladder as deeply desperate; Maid offering a verité picture of single-mother poverty; and then both The White Lotus and the current season of Succession offering us the very rich as soulless monsters living repercussion-free lives.

What you get in Curb Your Enthusiasm is Larry David’s eccentric take on a very wealthy old white guy in a consequence-free existence. And it doesn’t fit in. The whimsy on the show is now so ethereal it barely registers. The setups can be achingly obvious and the punchlines disappointing. Besides, an ever more elderly Larry David as a single guy ambling round LA is getting tiresome. Every time Cheryl Hines appears as Larry’s ex-wife, Cheryl, the more you are reminded that the period of the show’s Larry-and-Cheryl marriage was its best. Cheryl was the anchor restraining him from his absolute worst.

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There used to be genuine humour in the show’s wonky picture of very rich celebs and their little contretemps situations about very minor issues. Now, after the most recent episode, you have to wonder what was the point of having Woody Harrelson doing an exaggerated version of himself doing a riff on Joaquin Phoenix’s famous Oscar speech. (That would be the real speech in which Phoenix mentioned, “We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable.”)

The payoff in humour is so obscure that you wonder if Hollywood fake-sincerity and insularity is being mocked or cheered on. Not to mention that the same episode underused Kaley Cuoco’s comedic skill in her cameo as an optometrist dealing with Larry’s indecision.

It’s not the first time that David’s take on an ornery old white guy has failed to land. The show’s ninth season, airing in 2017 after a hiatus, misfired terribly. In a batch of episodes, the Larry David on the show was incessantly rude to a lesbian who was about to get married, a sex worker and hotel staff. It seemed tone deaf, as Larry demeaned and attacked the less privileged. Often, it looked like misogyny disguised as slapstick.

The opening episode of this season had a classic scene of those tiny, socially awkward moments turning into heated, absurd argument when Susie (Susie Essman) plopped on a couch next to Larry, causing him to spill a glass of red wine.HBO / Crave

The next season was vastly improved, audacious even, presenting the Larry character as an obnoxious fool who needed to be taught a lesson. Now the remnants of enjoyable humour and satire are in the small details of life that David can so ably amplify into ridiculousness. It’s those Seinfeld-ian touches that still make you laugh.

The opening episode of this season had a classic scene of those tiny, socially awkward moments turning into heated, absurd argument. Susie (Susie Essman) plopped on a couch next to Larry, causing him to spill a glass of red wine and the resulting argument about the right and wrong ways to sit down on a couch was worthy of Seinfeld minus, of course, Susie’s loud cursing and frequent foul language.

The bigger issues, when paraded out for satire, tend to have much less zip. In Sunday’s episode, Larry got all magnanimous with a Ku Klux Klansman whose robe he spilled coffee on, and offered to have the robe dry cleaned. There seemed to be some larger point at work, about tolerance and not stooping to the level of ignorant, hate-filled people, but it never landed as comedy or even observation. The watermelon-eating storyline had the same kind of strange pointlessness and and even less payoff.

There is promising material to come, perhaps in the continuing efforts of Larry and Jeff (Jeff Garlin) to pitch Netflix and other companies on the idea of a new show, Young Larry, but that too could fall flat if it becomes broad strokes rather than small-scale comedy.

Me, I could watch Larry and Susie argue and squabble for hours. It’s when the themes get big and the comedy disappears into awkwardly constructed comedy that the show fails. If Larry David wants to help with various issues regarding race and intolerance, he could just write a cheque to some charity; it’s what rich, white, older dudes do.

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