Sunday night was the season finale (and possible series finale?) of one of my favorite shows, Curb Your Enthusiasm. This was the harshest of seasons. Even for a show so adept and influential in the realms of provocation and discomfort, no other season has been so raw. Larry David all but undressed in front of his viewers, letting us see past his misanthropic acumen to a sprawling vulnerability. This was the season of remorse and of self-loathing. Earlier this year, David separated from his wife of fourteen years. And in Curb's fictionalized version of the event, Cheryl (played by Cheryl Hines) walks out on him as well. In one of the bleaker episodes, Larry's friends choose sides, and all but Jeff -- his manager -- choose Cheryl.
The most difficult aspect of Curb's sixth season is that those of us who identify with Larry (I include myself in this group) are now forced to wonder if we too are really this intolerable. Previously, it always helped to have Cheryl there as the sympathetic and arguably more stable partner. As the audience's translator, Cheryl reconfigured even Larry's most egregious foibles into excusable, or at least forgivable, misunderstandings. As long as Cheryl tolerated and loved Larry, then we Larrys of the world were worthy of love as well; all we needed was an understanding boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, who got us and even appreciated our OCD, hypochondriacal, chaos-courting ways. But this season, Cheryl finally had enough. When she called on an Airfone from a harrowing plane ride, Larry hung up. The TiVo guy was there, and we all know how hard it is to get one-on-one time with any customer service rep. Couldn't Cheryl's needs be deferred until a more convenient time? Didn't she understand? Of course she didn't, and really, why should she have? Watching this season, I actually wanted Cheryl to leave, to find someone better, to move from a role of comedic triage nurse to a character in charge of her own disasters.
What I love about this show is that it's as sinister as any TV drama. As Alessandra Stanley wrote about the fictional Davids' relationship clashes in The New York Times, "that they are played for laughs on this faux cinema verite comedy only makes them sharper-edged." Agreed. Not every show is willing to go, or has a character that allows them to go, towards peaks of hysteria--that place where sad and happy merge in a tremor that resembles crying as much as it does laughter.
The character of Larry David has always extracted the absurd from situations as if it were a rotten tooth. What he pulls out is ugly to look at, but it's also an indication of an underlying sickness. David drags the mundane kicking and screaming towards the insane. And in a time when what we've come to accept as mundane is really quite insane, it's good to remember what we can learn about ourselves when we acknowledge all that is unhinged--both within us and in the world at large.
Thanks to Curb Your Enthusiasm, some of my own outbursts and mishaps feel validated. Like when my car door nicked a sedan in an airport loading zone, and I found myself daring its driver--an eighty-year-old man in a leg cast--to come out and punch me. It wasn't my finest moment, but it was a Larry David moment. And, sometimes, those are nearly as good.