Against his better judgment, Judge David Johnson will give in to his enthusiasm.
Our reviews of Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete First Season (published February 11th, 2004), Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Second Season (published November 24th, 2004), Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Third Season (published February 2nd, 2005), Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Fourth Season (published September 5th, 2005), Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Sixth Season (published February 6th, 2008), Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Seventh Season (published June 8th, 2010), and Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Eighth Season (published June 5th, 2012) are also available.
One of the funniest half-hour comedy romps ever returns with its fifth season. Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm has consistently proved to be a wellspring of acerbic wit. But can these 10 episodes match the brilliance that was last year's Producers-themed arc?
Facts of the Case
If you're new to the show, here's the basic outline: Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld worked with his friend Jeff Garlin to produce an hour-long special for HBO in 2000, detailing his return to stand-up comedy, documentary-style. Largely improvised and loosely plotted, the special, titled Curb Your Enthusiasm impressed the suits, and David was offered a series. And that's how one of the most gut-wrenchingly funny shows ever came into existence. Since then, Larry, playing a version of himself, and his wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines), his manager Jeff (Garlin), Jeff's foul-mouthed, obnoxious wife Susie (Susie Essman) embark on misadventures rooted in the idiosyncrasies of day-to-day monotony and social norms. In the middle of it all is Larry, hapless and clueless, a magnet for all manner of societal dysfunction and crushing humiliation.
Each season features a season-spanning arc that is introduced in the beginning and culminates in the finale. Last season, Larry was recruited by Mel Brooks to star in The Producers. For season five, there are two storylines running: 1) Larry is stunned to learn from his father that he might have been adopted and 2) his dear friend Richard Lewis is on death's door, in need of a kidney transplant. As we march towards the jumbo-sized season ender that ties these two stories together, Larry offends his father in-law with his sacrilegious home improvement, gets a sandwich named after him that he despises, pisses off the entire lesbian community and endangers his standing as a "friend o' lesbians," pisses off a World War II Japanese kamikaze veteran, pisses off everyone at a Seder when he invites a convicted sex offender, steals Hugh Hefner's smoking jacket, adopts a racist dog, attempts to bribe the head of the kidney consortium with a ski getaway, and induces mass vomiting at a friend's outdoor wedding.
Ten episodes, two discs:
Here's the good news: Curb Your Enthusiasm Season Five is very, very good, and completely up to the lofty standards Larry David and crew have set for the show. David, miraculously, has found even more social situations to wring laughs out of, and more often than not, his machinations yield ripe, comedic fruit. I still consider the fourth season to be the show's strongest—overlong finale aside—but this batch of episodes is more than good enough, and far better than the show's clunkiest stretch, Season Two.
At first, I wasn't sold on the whole adoption storyline. Larry hires a private investigator to find out the truth of his heritage, and goes through a huge rigmarole in the process, even though a simple DNA test could have cleared it all up. Yeah, I know this is just a goofy sitcom, but what makes the show funny is that it has one foot in the real world, and plays off those sensibilities for the humor. This particular angle didn't jive, and subsequent episodes just made passing references to the ongoing investigation.
At the halfway point, however, we get the storyline of Richard Lewis's deteriorating condition and his need for a kidney. It is here where the season really hits its stride, and the moral quandary that presents itself to Larry in all his selfish glory is fertile ground to plow. After losing a contest to Jeff over who should give up the kidney, Larry tries as hard as possible to evade his responsibility, and the lengths he is willing to go to are hilarious. Like, say, waiting day after day at the bedside of Richard's comatose cousin, hoping with desperation that the guy takes a turn for the worst. Or crafting an elaborate plan to get in the good graces of the head of the kidney consortium, a Yankee-loving, wannabe skier Orthodox Jew, which leads to one of the most memorable ski trips ever to grace the small screen.
The kidney narrative quickly becomes the overriding thread, with the adoption stuff almost forgotten—until the finale. Showing once again his incredible foresight and ability to tie multiple stories together for supreme laughs, Larry blends the two threads in a superb culmination, a finale that towers over others that preceded it (especially the fourth season's), despite a weird and exceptionally trippy stretch with Dustin Hoffman and Marilyn Monroe. You'll see. Regardless, the 40-minute episode collects all the balls David has in the air and delivers a great capper to a great season.
And now, even better news: for the first time since these seasons arrived on DVD, there is bonus material worth a half a fig. Two features on the making of the show, "The History of Curb…So Far" and "The History of Curb…Even Further," provide an insightful glimpse into the making of the show. From its genesis as a special to the writing and acting process (read: anything goes) to the cast and subject matter, these two segments reveal all, and, put together, total about an hour. Interviews, candid footage, all of it is here. Finally.
Not having HBO, I was caught completely off guard by this set's release. What a pleasant surprise to digest ten brand new episodes of one of the funniest sitcoms ever devised during the dog days of summer! Content-wise, this is a great season, highlighted by some fantastic moments and deftly wrapping up its two arcs with impressive precision. The accompanying documentary is a long time coming.
Not guilty. This should be enough penance to make up for the Seinfeld series finale.
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Scales of Justice
• "The History of Curb...So Far"
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