Case Number 06109

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON

Warner Bros. // 2002 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 2nd, 2005

The Charge

"Why would you do that, Larry?" -- Cheryl

Opening Statement

Larry David's HBO half-hour exercise in neuroses is one of the funniest shows on television. A true "show about nothing," Curb Your Enthusiasm's third season has meandered onto DVD, in all of its self-loathing glee.

Facts of the Case

Seriously, this is a show about nothing. Forget Seinfeld (for which David was co-creator and writer), which is almost serpentine in plot in comparison. Each episode is filmed in a documentary-like fashion, as if the cameraman was instructed to just follow Larry around in his day-to-day life. Episodes are unscripted; instead actors are given specific outlines and encouraged to improvise. Along the way, Larry interacts with a variety of real-life stars (Ted Danson, Richard Lewis, Michael York, Wanda Sykes, Martin Scorsese) and almost-real-life stars (Cheryl Hines, playing his wife Cheryl David; Jeff Garlin, playing his friend and agent Jeff Greene).

The situations Larry embroils himself in are inspired from real-life societal norms (don't forget to make eye contact with your friend's wife!), recognizable faux pas (if you tip someone twice, you can ask for that second tip back, right?), and plain outlandish premises (a corpse-sniffing dog with an affection for bras).

As in the previous seasons, number three sets up a season-long arc that is touched upon here and there throughout the ten episodes, and which culminates in the finale. For this go-round, Larry decides to invest in a new restaurant with his pals Ted Danson and Jeff Greene.

Chaos ensues.

The Evidence

I love this show. Aside from Arrested Development, I can't think of another recent comedy that I can count on for some solid gut laughs. I discovered its first season via DVD, and was immediately smitten. As an eternal Seinfeld fan, I've always found Larry David's writing and overall sense of humor irresistible. Curb Your Enthusiasm is David unleashed.

That being said, I have a hard time thinking of a show with a more polarizing type of comedy. Take, for example, the last episode of season one, "The Group." Here Larry ends up in an incest support group, and is subjected to some insanely awkward, and frank, discussion. This show does not hesitate to push buttons. I've seen this episode with people who couldn't stop laughing, and people who sat tight-lipped, aghast. I don't think it has broad appeal, a fact that the actors admit to in a group interview included on this set.

But I think it's grand, and hopefully you will, too.

So after laughing myself silly from Season One, I hurriedly scooped up Season Two, and, with a fair amount of disappointment, I found it inferior to its predecessor. Apart from a couple of great episodes, "The Doll" and "Shaq," the season as a whole proved to be inconsistent.

With a bit of hesitation I dropped the first disc of Season Three into my DVD player. Would Season One prove to have been a fluke? Or would Season Two? With joy in my heart, I am pleased to say that this third season is just as great as the first, and boasts some of the funniest moments I've ever seen on my television screen.

* "Chet's Shirt"
Larry jumps on board the investment team with Ted Danson for a new restaurant and is put in charge of finding uniforms for the waiters. Meanwhile, he becomes enamored with a shirt that he sees in a picture, worn by the recently deceased husband of one of Cheryl's friends. After buying the last three shirts in the store, he offers Ted one, who refuses it because it's torn. Tension rises between the friends, coming to a crescendo at the birthday party of Ted's son, where Larry refuses to play the Tin Man in a Wizard of Oz reenactment, and somehow ends up with a serious facial injury.

A marvelous start to the third season, with a great set-up for the arc. The restaurant storyline lays the groundwork for the ongoing trouble of securing a chef. Ted Danson is always great when he combats Larry, and the two enjoy some hilarious battles over the shirt. As always, poor choices in the past come back to haunt Larry, and we watch him suffer with glee.
Grade: A

* "The Benadryl Brownie"
Richard Lewis informs Larry that he's found a new girlfriend and "is in love with her soul." Richard's sincerity is put to the test, however, when poor cell phone reception leads to an unfortunate allergic reaction. Larry and Cheryl have Richard and his girlfriend over for dinner, and use the new restaurant's chef to cook, but he fails to get the message of "no peanuts." Richard's girlfriend, quite allergic to peanuts, breaks out into hideous swelling (in time for the Emmys), and her Christian Science faith prevents her from taking medication of any kind, leading Larry and Richard to a high-risk plot of smuggling Benadryl in a brownie.

These Richard Lewis episodes are always fun. Together, Larry and Richard are like the Dynamic Duo of Neuroses, and Lewis's...er...quirks are fully exposed by his fear of parading around the Emmy red carpet with his newly disfigured girlfriend. A less-interesting subplot has Larry accused of racism for firing his TV guy.
Grade: B

* "Club Soda and Salt"
The restaurant is without a chef after the peanut incident, and Larry decides that Ted Danson's nominee makes food that's "too saucy." But this is the least of his concerns. He is troubled by his wife's increasing closeness with her platonic friend Brad. When a confrontation in a store with a pushy saleswoman comes back to bite him, a dinner fiasco erupts.

This episode is a great example of the way the Curb Your Enthusiasm formula works: events in the beginning build up to a raucous finale. Larry is at his loathsome best as he crushes the dreams of an aspiring chef with his ambiguous critique, and the final "club soda and salt" scene (referring to a secret way to get out stains) is priceless.
Grade: A-

* "The Nanny from Hell"
Cheri Oteri guest stars as a mentally unstable nanny whom Larry inadvertently gets fired from the employ of co-investor Hugh Mellon (Tim Kazurinsky). Now the nanny has turned to the Davids for help, despite her persistent psychotic traits. ("I like to take baths with my socks on!") Larry also gets into a fight with Hugh's son, who boasts an enormous...attitude.

Oteri steals this episode, even outshining the always-great Susie Essman (playing Jeff Greene's potty-mouthed wife). Her emotionally unbalanced nanny is a riot, especially when played off of Cheryl David, who always tries to look for the good in people, and here ends up being just creeped out.
Grade: A-

* "The Terrorist Attack"
Larry and Cheryl here from an inside source that a terrorist attack is likely to hit L.A. over the weekend. Unfortunately, this conflicts with a massive benefit that Cheryl is a part of, featuring Alanis Morissette. Though he is sworn to secrecy, Larry, stricken with guilt over offending a friend, spills the beans.

This episode could earn high marks simply for one of the most brilliant moments in the series. Larry and Cheryl discuss evacuating the city, and Cheryl decides to stay for the benefit. Sheepishly, Larry asks "if I can go?" noting that it seems a "bit selfish for both of us to perish." Amazingly, this was completely improvised after someone failed to say "cut." The rest of the episode is pretty damn funny too.
Grade: A

* "The Special Section"
Larry is shocked to discover, upon returning from New York, that his mother has died and a funeral has already taken place. Even more shocking is the fact that, because of a tattoo, his mother wasn't buried in consecrated ground, relegated instead to "the special section" reserved for "villains" and the like. Of course, Larry resorts to grave-robbing, and bribes the undertaker to help with the transfer. In the meantime, he discovers that his mom's death is the best excuse he's ever had to get out of unwanted engagements.

This episode begins and ends on surreal notes. The opening finds a heavily made-up Larry David playing a hard-ass Jewish crime boss in a Martin Scorsese movie (!). And then we have the grave robbery later on. But the funny stuff involves Larry finding out his mother died, and how his father didn't want to bother him in New York. Richard Kind is hilarious as Larry's annoying cousin.
Grade: A-

* "The Corpse-Sniffing Dog"
The grand opening for the restaurant is approaching quickly. Aside from the restaurant stress, Larry must also deal with the fallout after he refused to thank a woman whose husband paid for a recent dinner check. Jeff is tormented by an allergy to his daughter's German Shepard (a former police corpse-sniffing). Larry thinks he can solve both problems: he can offer the dog to the offended woman and her family, and simultaneously free Jeff of his affliction. If only he can convince Jeff's daughter.

These guys really try to get away with anything, as exhibited by the scene between Larry and Jeff's daughter. The rest of the show is good, though I did get a little worn out by the outlandish conflict between Larry and the check-paying woman. Sometimes these characters are just too rotten.
Grade: B

* Krazee-Eyez Killa
Larry hits it off with Wanda's fiancé, rap star "Krazee Eyez Killa." But when the rapper tells Larry about his lecherous ways, suddenly Larry is torn between his sworn secret to Krazee Eyes -- whom he's also a little afraid of -- and Wanda, his wife's close friend.

Here we have the legendary performance of Chris Williams as Krazee Eyez. He and David work so well together, it's supernatural. The juxtaposition of Larry's square, pop culturally-challenged shlub and the profanity-spewing, tough-guy gangsta rapper is priceless. My favorite moment: when Krazee Eyez reads a salacious rap lyric to Larry (another improvised surprise) and Larry offers editorial advice.
Grade: A

* "Mary, Joseph, and Larry"
Larry has mixed feelings about the Christmas celebration he must endure when Cheryl's family comes over for the holidays. Distracted by the gigantic tree in his house, the shopping, and the endless caroling, he takes some time to himself to munch a few Christmas cookies. Unfortunately (gee, that word is used a lot in these capsules, huh?), those cookies were to be part of a Nativity display. Looking to appease his angry wife and in-laws, Larry hires an acting troupe from a local church to come to the house and portray the Holy Family. But when Larry offers an inappropriate remark about Mary, the myrrh hits the fan.

While funny in parts, this episode was my least favorite of the season. The high point was the blowout between Larry and his family over the cookies (which Larry thought were animal cookies; "The Son of God is not a monkey, Larry!" his sister-in-law cries out). A side story involving his housekeeper and the proper tipping amounts to wait-staff does not represent the show's strongest stuff.
Grade: B-

* "The Grand Opening"
The restaurant is opening its doors in three days and is without a chef, after Larry fired the previous chef when he found out he wears a toupee. Plus, an infamous food critic is poised to review the restaurant and possibly put it out of business. When a dodgeball game gets personal, disaster looms even larger, after Larry inadvertently breaks the thumbs of the reviewer with an errant throw. Miraculously, the critic forgives Larry and suggests a replacement chef, a man from New York with an interesting personality quirk. Meanwhile, Cheryl must confront a mean case of diarrhea while trapped in a car wash, and later, Susie Greene.

This is it, the funniest episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm I've ever seen. Funnier that "The Doll." Funnier than "The Group." From beginning to end, there is gut-busting scene after scene. Yes, this show might not be all things to all people, but I'd be willing to guess this episode could double over even the most jaded cynic with laughter. From Cheryl's poorly timed B.M., to the colon cleanse in the pharmacy, to the revelation of who the "survivor" really is, to a great dodgeball game, and finally, to the fantastic grand opening, where, believe it or not, Larry actually enjoys a happy ending.
Grade: A+

The look and sound of the series is unchanged from previous releases. Presented in the original full screen aspect ratio, the picture is crisp. Sound is the usual 2.0 television mix. But, as with previous releases, the extras are woeful. The only bonus is a special from the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival featuring the cast and the crew, but chopped in half to give the illusion of two separate features. Granted, this a very enjoyable and informative program anyway (anecdotes fly and lots of insight into the process is shared), but there are so many missed opportunities on these sets.

If any show is asking for a commentary track it's Curb Your Enthusiasm. But, alas, everyone must be too busy. And how about some behind-the-scenes footage? Or outtakes? In the interviews that are included, the actors repeatedly confess how they are constantly cracking up. Where are those scenes?!

Closing Statement

A great show and a great rebound season. There are some truly classic moments within these ten episodes. If only there were some extras worthy of these accolades

The Verdict

Not guilty, you four-eyed f***.

Review content copyright © 2005 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 85
Audio: 80
Extras: 75
Acting: 95
Story: 95
Judgment: 86

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Interviews with the Cast and Crew

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0264235/combined

* Official Site
http://www.hbo.com/larrydavid