January 2, 2004
Sunday, Cranky, Sunday

Larry David with Krazee-Eyez Killa (Chris Williams)

I have a friend—let's call him "the Other Matt"—who refuses to watch HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm because it's "too decadent."

I guess Other Matt feels that the comedic travails of "Larry David"—the crankiest multi-millionaire in Hollywood—all revolve around the perils of money: how hard it is to give people gifts, buying a new house, or hosting a benefit party. Of course, he's right: what Seinfeld did for venality, Curb does for profligacy.

But that's just the TV Larry David, not the real guy. As readers of The Nation know, Larry is "a long-standing reader" and pitch person for the lefty magazine. Larry's real-life wife, Laurie, is a committed environmental activist (which may explain why AAA was made the unlikely villain in one episode). Laurie and Larry recently came in for a Drudge-led conservative drubbing for attempting to host a benefit called the "Hate Bush 12/2 Event." Rich Hollywood liberals? Guilty as charged. Decadent? Probably not.

Say what you will about the decadence of on screen Larry; the offscreen one is fighting the good fight. Okay, he may be trying to screw his former colleagues out of Seinfeld money, but... okay, there's no 'but.' That sucks.

But my point was... what was my point? Oh, that Curb Your Enthusiasm is one of the best shows around and that far from being an exercise in decadence, it's a sly—attention HBO publicists and print-ad writers—brilliant (!) critique of wealth. The way the show skewers rich people's house envy, trouble dealing with working people (particularly those in industries meant to make their lives easier: salespeople, parking lot attendants, cable repairmen), and the limits of their liberal guilt perfectly nails the contradictions of dumb wealth that falls right into the lap of those who seek it least yet changes their lives the most. (This is clearly an obsession for David, who explored the same theme in his feature film debut, Sour Grapes and again in the perpetually-in-turnaround Envy.)

The money not only corrupts—that's obvious—but it also simply confuses. What is the great Susie Essman's character, Susie, if not completely confused by her husband, Larry's manager, Jeff's money? The only sane person on the show is the one who seems most at ease with her wealth. Larry's wife, Cheryl (played by the lovely Cheryl Hines), doesn't feel aspiration pushing her from below and status pushing down from above. The one thing that comes naturally to Cheryl—but seems to elude all the other characters (not least of all, Larry himself)—is class, with a lowercase 'c.' It's the one thing all the money in Hollywood can't buy, and she alone seems to understand this.

Why, that makes Curb Your Enthusiasm downright radical, don't you think, Other Matt? Did I mention it's funny as hell?

Curb Your Enthusiasm begins its new season on HBO, Sunday night at 9:30 PM EST, following a half-hour infomercial for shoes.

Related: Alessandra Stanley unleashes her enthusiasm (within reason) in The New York Times.

Posted in a Shallow fashion.

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