Curb Your Enthusiasm, the new series from Seinfield co-creator Larry David has the familiarity of a strange, looping dream. Larry David himself was the basis for Seinfield's character of George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander, and both men (or should we say, all three) share the same owlish stare. David is as tall as Kramer and stands with a similar stoop and when he speaks he sounds like Kramer or Jerry. When he shouts, it's impossible not to think of George. When he whines, you can hear Jerry with an Elaine rising.
The similarities between David and his co-creations becomes both the premise and the challenge of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Jason Alexander appears in the debut episode as himself ("a great actor") discussing how audiences still see him as George. "They think I'm the schmuck, the idiot, the jackass!" Alexander smiles, ignoring his mentor's crushed expression. Larry David is hurt, of course, because if the fictional character of George is seen as the schmuck then the real George - Larry himself - must be seen the same way.
The joke is delivered fast, mumbled so quick that you could miss it. Like Seinfield, it's up to you to keep up with the rhythms of neglect, bitterness and insensitivity. David is a writer first and performer second. His best Seinfeld teleplays were simple expressions of complex characters trapped by their own psyche - tragedies, in fact, were they not so funny - and he has an ear for phrases that inspire the giggles. In tonight's episode when his on-screen wife Cheryl Hines dismisses a twittering noise as "a house sound" you're smiling before he picks up on it. "A 'house sound'?" David says with his eyes sparkling. "What's 'a house sound'?" By the time he's finished repeating it over and over, the term is immediately consigned to the lexicon alongside "spongeworthy," "bubble boy" and "close talker."
Curb is produced by HBO, the subscriber network behind The Sopranos and Sex and the City, and the emerging creative force in mainstream television. Tonight's episode kicks off the second season: a third is underway in the States. David is philosophical about its success. "When you're not concerned with succeeding, you can work with complete freedom," he says.
Filmed as a cheap reality show and ad-libbed by its celebrity guests, the show pokes fun at fame and the cruel reality of its passing. The fact that Seinfield has finished and its magic has been dismantled might seem like a good reason to avoid its stars and its co-creator but this depressing grimness is part of the series' bite. Even the show's title - "Curb your enthusiasm, folks!" - is an old stand-up dig at an audience that isn't clapping. Larry knows you're not expecting to enjoy his new show, but this is why you may.
-- NZ Herald, 2002