Curb Your Enthusiasm (US - DVD R1)
Jonathan watches Larry David take on the single life in this eighth season..
Larry David is living the bachelor life. With his divorce finalized, Larry's run-ins with celebrities, politicians, and new girlfriends prompt whole new levels of social inappropriateness, even for him. And when a faulty alibi lands him back in the hometown New York, Larry's social assassin skills are let loose on the Big Apple. See Larry hit the dating scene, battle the Girl Scouts, deny a dying dog his last meal, disrupt a Broadway show, deal with "pig parking," and offend everyone from Ricky Gervais to Michael J. Fox to Mayor Bloomberg. Will New York change Larry, or is it the other way around? (From the HBO synopsis)
I've had an on and off relationship with Curb Your Enthusiasm over the years. I've seen the first five seasons, but I've missed six and seven, so maybe some of my observations will be a bit dated. Luckily the chronology of the show isn't very important. Watching the earlier seasons, there were times when I really enjoyed the dry humour and the despicable antics of Larry David, and other times the world of the show was just too frustrating for me. Had I watched an episode a week when it aired I might have felt different, but when you watch a bunch of episodes at once the whole routine becomes really obvious and predictable. Peripheral characters go out of their way to be irrational, just to propel the show into more awkward, confrontational territory. I don't need realism from the characters, but the process became transparent and the contrivances turned from surprising to stale. I had heard great things about this latest seasons from friends, so I was happy to revisit the world of Larry David and see if the show had grown. In many ways, it has.
Season eight begins by taking a departure from the previous installments. Larry goes through a divorce in the first couple episodes. Some might find this a little alarming, as his wife was often there to counteract Larry's ridiculous nature and void of social graces. Personally, despite liking Cheryl Hines, I found the change very welcome. Seeing Larry try to live the bachelor life, have guy time, and attempt to interact romantically with women really gives the character room to stretch. One of the advantages of this situation is more time spent with Larry's friends. Some of my favorite interactions on the show are between Larry and his guy friends. Larry is an amusing idiot on his own, but when you mix this lot together the effects are compounded. Watching him carefully tip toe around racial stereotypes with J.B Smoove or go far and beyond offending Bob Einstein's newfound Jewish faith is incredibly amusing. In one episode, he inadvertently causes Richard Lewis's girlfriend to get breast reduction surgery. Even the more tasteful bits like grilling Jeff Garlin for only seeing The Sting II hit the mark. The celebrity guests have always been a strength of the show, and this season has a couple of great ones. Small roles from Wanda Sykes and the always delightful Paul F. Tompkins are amusing. I also enjoyed watching Larry and Rosie O'Donnell compete over the affections of a bisexual woman they were both interested in. The finale has some great interactions between Larry and Michael J. Fox too. I was disappointed in the Ricky Gervais episode, which underutilized his comedic capabilities and had the kind of uncreative humour of older seasons that required too much suspension of belief for me.
Some of my qualms with the earlier seasons are still present. The show still occasionally goes out of its way to make unconvincing callbacks to jokes from earlier in the episodes with little comedic effect, and it relies on abundantly irrational character behavior to get there, but this season has a many wonderful exceptions. 'Palestinian Chicken', for example, is as good as the show gets. Larry beings to embrace his given title of "social assassin" and is hired by friends to say the things on everyone's mind that nobody would dare say. For instance, he makes a bargain with a friend and has to tell his wife that nobody likes it when she says "LOL" out loud. At the same time there's a hilarious subplot about a Palestinian chicken restaurant that serves amazing food but is openly unwelcome of Jewish patrons. After arguing with his Jewish friend outside the restaurant, Larry becomes widely accepted and romantically involved with one of the women in the restaurant, which leads to awkward hilarity. These two plots each have full arcs that are hilarious on their own, and the show never makes any forced, alienating effort to have them crossover. I would like to see more of this restraint from the show.
Since 2009 the show has adapted to a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and this season is no exception. I've often felt like studios are getting lazy with their DVD transfers these days, dedicating more attention to Blu-ray releases. I'm happy to see that this is not the case with HBO. This is a good looking standard definition transfer. There are no signs of post-processing effects and digital tinkering. The show is shot on digital and maintains a very clean look for the most part. Quality takes some occasional dives, with lots of visible, blocky noise. Oddly, it seems isolated to specific scenes, so I'm ready to chalk it up to the filming process and not a fault of the DVD. It kind of resembles an image that has been digitally zoomed in. Without the resolution advantage of a high-definition disc, details remain fairly soft but free from artefacts most of the time.
HBO releases this season with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that suits the nature of the series just fine. This isn't Game of Thrones. Nearly the entirety of the show is music and dialogue, very little else to liven up the sound scape. The rear channels are mostly used for background noise and the occasional dispersion of music, but for the most part everything stays strictly in the front of the room. Dialogue is very easy to understand and make out, as it's typically the only thing in the sound mix. The show has a very modest production style that suits it well, and this track does its job representing that without any noticeable flaws.
Leon's Guide to NYC (09:35) is a short feature, and how much you enjoy it depends entirely on how much you like J.B. Smoove. Playing his character Leon from the show, he goes around NYC giving advice on things to buy and places to visit. I usually find him amusing, but ten straight minutes of his rambling comedy styling proved testing.
Roundtable Discussion: Live from NY's 92Street Y (01:28:29) is a very long interview discussion with Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines and Susie Essman. As you can imagine, in 90 minutes they cover a wide variety of topics. They mostly discuss this season and a lot of the jokes pertaining to it, and what some of the inspiration was behind those jokes. They talk about why Larry moved the show to a New York setting. They talk about being on set and how much fun they have shooting the show. I was surprised to find out there is some degree of improvisation to the dialogue, which always felt strictly scripted to me. At one point Hines is asked what its like to share a bed with Larry David, and he interjects to point out that his breath is always good. "Do you swear as beautifully in life?", the interviewer asks Susie Essman at one point. It's a very fun special feature that dedicated fans will want to take the time to sit through. Subtitles are included.
I've missed some of the more recent seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but season eight feels like a marked improvement over the show's earlier episodes. Enough so that I will be making an effort to catch what I've missed. Some inspired celebrity guest appearances and less forced humour make for a very memorable season. Fans should be content with this release which has a solid 90-minute extra feature and a strong standard definition AV presentation.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Release Date: 5th June 2012
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Leon's Guide to NYC, Roundtable Discussion with Larry and the Cast
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman
Length: 300 minutes
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