Josh Kaplan

Curb Your Enthusiasm finale review: A rocky ending to a once-great show – and era of Jewish comedy

Larry David’s Curb was one of the last great examples of Brooklyn Jewish humour


Larry David in the season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm season 12 (HBO)

April 08, 2024 23:31

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Sky Atlantic | ★★★✩✩

Reviewed by Josh Kaplan

The era of Larry David has now drawn to a close. A man who dominated TV comedy for nigh on 30 years has bowed out after two of the most acclaimed shows in American TV history. But as the lights come down on Curb Your Enthusiasm for the final time, does Larry David leave behind a legacy of which he can be truly proud?

The finale of Curb, a 26-year-old righting of a Seinfeld wrong was, like its inspiration all those years ago, a warmly nostalgic walk down memory lane, a highlights reel of some of the best moments of Larry and his extended world as they bumbled through life in their elite Los Angeles bubble.

For the last few years, common opinion has held that Curb and David could do no wrong. Liking them was firmly on the list of “correct” opinions to have along with loving Hamilton and thinking Hillary should’ve won. There are even favourite episodes. For cultural simpletons (controversial, I know) the Palestinian Chicken one became a thing of legend.

But for me it felt in the last few seasons that Curb was losing its real essence, the heart of what made it great. Early Curb was dark, it was malicious, it was truly and deeply misanthropic. Later Curb was a vehicle for a million cack-handed celeb cameos, crowbarred-in catchphrases and humour that had been so sanitised as to lose their edge entirely. When the recency bias subsides, the last few acts of Curb will not be remembered fondly. They will be remarked upon solely for their poor imitation of the seasons that came before. This is not uncommon. By the end of a successful run, sitcom characters are often 2D manifestations of their earlier selves. Shiny pebbles where once there were spikes. It is to Larry David’s immense credit that this didn’t happen to Seinfeld. But it did happen to Curb.

However, the last few seasons have not sullied my memories. There are certain moments, flashes of genius that can never be taken away. Larry pretending to be Orthodox to get his friend higher up a transplant list so he wouldn’t have to give up a kidney: inspired. Larry’s decades-long beef with Ted Danson, manifesting in fights over women, sandwiches and God knows what else: incredible. Accidentally bringing a sex offender to a seder: high art.

This dichotomy between Old and New Curb is ironically highlighted throughout the last episode. As we witness the trial of Larry David, we journey through much funnier scenes, reminded of the incident with Marty Funkhouser, (a presence who has been sorely missed since Bob Einstein’s passing) as well as the origins of Leon Black, each of them jolting a realisation that Curb has fallen from its previously lofty perch.

And it doesn’t feel hyperbolic to say that the ending of Curb is tinged with a greater bitterness than just losing a once great show. Larry David bowing out is a reminder that the era of New York Jewish humour is coming to a close. David is in his late 70s, Mel Brooks is 97, the great Richard Lewis died before the show’s finale aired. The old guard of great Catskills-style Jewish comedians is moribund. The Jewish comedians who follow them are a little less Yiddishe, a little more assimilated, and a little less distinctive.

For almost a century, this abrasive brand of comedy has delighted millions of Jews and gentiles alike. The sardonic wit of a generation raised in the shadow of the Holocaust gained a relatability and a ubiquity of which the Ellis Island immigrants could never have dreamed. But times change and so do Jews. The next generation of American Jews are arguably the freest and most prosperous in history, but country clubs and houses in the Hamptons rarely produce edgy, daring comedy.

And just like the new Jews, David has softened over time. While he plays the grump for laughs, he is part of the comfortable Hollywood world he’s given up satirising. He has hundreds of millions in the bank, beautiful houses and his very own nepo-baby.

In its final seasons, Curb disappointed me, but I’ll never forget what we’re losing. So this is how the world ends, not with a bang but with a kvetch.​

April 08, 2024 23:31

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