A Curb Your Enthusiasm for Millennials

Eighty-Sixed, a new web series from the HBO comedy creator’s daughter Cazzie David, taps into an uncomfortable brand of humor for a new generation.

Courtesy of Eighty-Sixed

It was pretty, pretty, pretty exciting to learn last week that one of cable’s favorite curmudgeons will return to television this fall. After six years off the air, Larry David—the Seinfeld co-creator known more recently for his Bernie Sanders impression on Saturday Night Live—will bring his hit HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm back for a ninth season on October 1. But if that release date seems too far off for those avid fans counting the days, there’s another comedy that could fill the void until then.

Cazzie David, the 23-year-old daughter of the Curb creator, has teamed up with a friend from college, Elisa Kalani, to make a web series called Eighty-Sixed. Though just six episodes have been released on YouTube this year, Eighty-Sixed already fits well into a new generation of shows channeling the mockingly self-centered humor that defines Curb. When it premiered in 2000, Curb Your Enthusiasm was unlike anything on television, though some of Seinfeld’s comedic sensibility came through. Shot in a cinema-verité style and largely improvised, Curb followed a fictionalized version of Larry David as he managed to alienate just about everyone he ran into. With his obnoxious nitpicking and disregard for basic etiquette, David’s character was comfortable being self-righteous and offensive at the same time.

Eighty-Sixed, which came out with its first four episodes in April and another two earlier this month, clearly comes from the Curb school of dry, cynical humor. The still under-the-radar series wryly comments on narcissistic, social-media-obsessed millennial life by following Cazzie David’s character, Remi, as she recovers from a break-up (hence the title). Remi lives in her own bubble in L.A., a world where work or interests outside her small circle of two friends, Owen and Lily, seemingly don’t exist. The episodes, which are well-produced and mostly shorter than 10 minutes, so far feature Remi lounging about at home in pajamas, taking hikes, eating out, and going to parties. But at the center of this rather mundane existence is her fixation on portraying a deceptively carefree image of herself on social media in order to convince her ex she’s over him. As Remi explains to a friend in the first episode: “I care because I’m kind of trying to curate an image of me not caring.”

Like Curb, Eighty-Sixed delights in uncovering and ridiculing the subtle hypocrisies of social conventions. While the series may take a little while to grow on its audience, it’s clever, with plenty of entertaining and cringe-worthy observational moments. Some of the funniest bits cover the informal rules that dictate the digital habits of Remi’s age group: recreating certain moments to capture them perfectly for Instagram (it’s okay to re-light birthday candles if it’s for a Boomerang), taking the necessary steps when someone else accidentally posts something that’s too revealing (driving over to demand access to their Facebook isn’t overkill), and determining how many people per table can be on their phones at a restaurant. In one scene, Remi begs her friend to get off his phone, so that she can go on hers: “We’re literally a table of three millennials on their phones. It’s, like, a really embarrassing stereotype I’m not trying to perpetuate.”

In a Vanity Fair article from last fall, Cazzie David detailed the similar balancing act that goes into maintaining her very popular personal Instagram. Photo captions, for example, should “show how ‘little thought’ went into posting the photo, even though a ton of thought went into it because you are following these rules,” she wrote, offering a glimpse into her peers’ preoccupation with the illusion of social media and a preview of Eighty-Sixed’s premise.

In the third episode, when David and Kalani’s writing really starts to hit its stride, Eighty-Sixed parodies the delicate dance of who can upload what photo from what party on what platform (and what message that action sends). Not wanting to seem desperate by posting a party photo too soon after her breakup, and after her friends refuse to ruin their carefully arranged Facebook and Instagram profiles with such a posed, “basic” photo, Remi ends up asking a total stranger to upload and tag her in the photo. By taking it to ridiculous, but familiar, Curb-level extremes, Remi’s character is both critiquing the shallowness of a screen-centered existence and fully admitting to her own complicity in it.

Indeed, some scenes play like Curb redux: In one, the germaphobic Remi refuses to share her water with a thirsty hiking buddy: “I just don’t know why I should be punished because you forgot to bring water.” In another, Remi scolds her friends Owen and Lily for not getting “solidarity [ice cream] cones” in sympathy as she grieves her breakup. Minutes later, as her friends console a friend who’s just learned that her mom has a tumor, Remi stares straight-ahead, nonchalantly licking her ice cream cone.

This scene calls to mind a similar and classic Curb scene from Season 6: Larry David licks his own ice cream cone, while pausing to guilt a friend in mourning for not returning a condolence call, and to complain trivially about his ice cream melting. When the friend tries to pay back Larry some money he owes, Larry refuses to take it—not because of the nominal amount or because his friend is grieving—but because he’s disgusted that the friend pulls the bill out of his sweaty running shoe. The younger David and Kalani’s writing often seems inspired by a formula the Curb creator laid out for his show: “I like to take the small things and make them big. And I like to take the big things, like disease and death, and make them small.”

Remi, too, likes to flip social norms. While she obsesses over the filters she puts on her online persona, she lacks any in real life, often delivering lines in a dyspeptic monotone. She’s hyper-aware of how she’s perceived online, but rarely notices how her actions affect others. Like Curb’s Larry, Remi is blunt and pushy, with little consideration of boundaries. Larry David has said his character is how he’d act if there were no social constraints, and that the caricature is a mouthpiece for “all the things that we think about that we can’t say.”

A much younger misanthrope, Remi navigates a shifting, contentious relationship with those closest to her and doesn’t hesitate to call others out for behavior she’s also guilty of. When a friend pulls out of plans, she scoffs at his excuse: “Oh you don’t feel ‘100’? Who ever feels ‘100’? I’ve never felt above 72 in my life.” To leave a party early when her friends won’t oblige, she tries to sabotage the mood by switching the music from Migos to classical. And Owen’s suggestion to call a Lyft offends Remi: “Honestly, I can’t believe you would just like throw me in a car with a pink mustache on it when I’m this vulnerable.”

Though Eighty-Sixed shares comedic DNA with Curb (as do a ton of other shows), it’s very much in line with the current comedy landscape. The genre has been particularly kind to web series by young female creators like David lately: Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl was developed by HBO into Insecure, whose second season returned Sunday. Curb’s home network also picked up the web series Brown Girls, which is debuting its first season this fall. Next month will bring the fourth-season premiere of Comedy Central’s Broad City, formerly a popular web series by Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson; that show’s self-absorbed millennial characters call to mind Eighty-Sixed’s Remi, but also the leads of acclaimed shows like Girls and You’re the Worst.

While fans wait for Curb’s return—and for two new episodes of Eighty-Sixed arriving in September—it’s fun to watch the two series together as a sort of generational box set. As David Sr. mines the humorous tension between propriety and brutal honesty, the entertaining tension in Remi’s character comes from her caring what people think of her online but not caring what they think of her in real life when, perhaps—as Larry repeatedly finds out—that might be a good idea.