In the new issue of The Atlantic, James Parker looks at the upcoming eighth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, set to premiere on HBO next month, and makes a compelling case that, for all his grave-robbing, swan-killing and shrimp-stealing over the first seven seasons, Larry David (or at least his premium cable alter ego) is, at heart, a softie. Parker compares the worldview of Curb Your Enthusiasm with that of Seinfeld, which David co-created for NBC in 1989.
Curb Your Enthusiasm is full of disasters and crudities, and swearing too, but the irony is that Seinfeld—three-wall, laugh-track, sitcom-happy Seinfeld—was actually the darker show. The Seinfeldians lived their lives in triumphant immunity to the transcendent: nothing, not love, not prison, not sex, not death, could break the spell of triviality that bound them all together. Buried in the jazzy bass-clicks and synth-parps of the Seinfeld theme was the authentic snickering of dead souls...The puffings of buffonic tuba that announce Curb Your Enthusiasm, on the other hand, tell us that we are entering the big top. Larry the clown will go down, get up, go down again, in a species of affective slapstick.
In a 2010 interview with The Guardian, David made a similar argument in defense on his on-screen persona. "I don't find the character to be cranky or rude," he said. "I find the character to be honest. And honesty comes off as cranky or rude, I suppose. But that character is way happier than I am. I'm cranky. He's not cranky. I'd be much happier if I were more like him."
Seinfeld is famous for spawning catchphrases, observed Lucy Berrington and Jeff Onore in an essay for Nerve last year, but what really stands out in retrospect is "the bloodlessness and superficiality of its characters, their moral nihilism." Berrington and Onore go on to argue that darkness was David's contribution to the show, but we're not so sure. Here's how David described his state of mind to 60 Minutes II correspondent Bob Simon back in 2004:
"Yeah, I’m happy, OK. What do you, what do you want. OK, I’m happy. I’m happy. All right? I’m happy. Whaddya want? Leave me alone. I’m happy. Stop asking. You want me to be happy? I’m happy."
Because it came from Larry David, this observation was yelled and sounded vaguely like a threat, but the sentiment still comes through. "In Season Eight," promises Parker, "you will see Larry rail at a man whose car is taking up two spaces, calling him a 'pig parker.' You will hear Larry declare that it would take $3,000 to make him see Eat, Pray, Love. And you will watch Larry and Jeff [Garlin] further develop their thin/fat double act by driving around New York, shouting, in a small car fitted with a prototype periscope."
But he'll do it, you know, nicely.