'Curb' appeal: Seinfeld-like Comedy Clicks

by Mike Duffy

Larry David just might be the world's funniest grump. He's an almost blissfully bitter man, wallowing in the neurotic paradise of his own everyday disgruntlement.

As co-creator of the classic sitcom Seinfeld and the inspiration for its Crabby Big Appleton, George Costanza, the former stand-up comic isn't faking his deadpan, almost casual crankiness. It's really him.

And he's captured that dyspeptic Larry David emotional state with hilarious precision in Curb Your Enthusiasm, the most original new comedy series of the fall season.

The series debuts at 9:30 p.m. Sunday on HBO, after the season finale of Sex and the City, and then moves to 10 p.m. Sundays beginning Oct. 22.

It's no surprise David is on HBO. His innovative 1999 comedy special Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm -- a sort of cinema verite account of the mopey man's awkward little celebrity encounters and embarrassing lifestyle screwups -- served as a blueprint for this wonderfully acerbic half-hour series.

The best part? The tall, bespectacled and bald David may be a grump, but he's never shy about looking the fool. The man's a natural, a bubbling fount of nonchalant sarcasm and bad social karma. And he's wickedly witty.

So, for anyone who's been searching for a fresh infusion of loopily sophisticated Seinfeldian humor since the original series ended, Curb Your Enthusiasm is it.

But this is Seinfeld as directed, possibly, by the John Cassavetes of Faces or Husbands, with big snatches of the show cleverly improvised as the actors follow an amusingly warped story line whipped up by David.

It's also Seinfeld as merged with The Larry Sanders Show.

David plays a bemused, cynical sad-sack version of himself. And his show business pals -- including comics Richard Lewis and Kathy Griffin on the series premiere -- also portray themselves, further blurring the line between reality and make-believe.

In future episodes, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Diane Keaton also will be popping up for droll, off-the-wall guest appearances.

As for the show's regulars, they include Cheryl Hines as David's wife and Jeff Garlin as his manager. Both were featured in the original HBO special.

The series opener revolves around one of those signature Seinfeld bits of cockeyed neurotic banality: David becomes obsessed with the extra material that bunches up on the lap of his new slacks.

"This is a 5-inch bunch-up," David kvetches to his wife. "I've got a tent." From that little scrap of mundane lunacy, "The Pant Tent" episode dizzily meanders off in several directions. Like any memorable Seinfeld episode, it also arrives at a satisfyingly bonkers conclusion, with colliding coincidental embarrassments smacking David upside the head.

But Curb Your Enthusiasm isn't just copycat Seinfeld. This unique show offers a fresh comic perspective. It's unlike any conventional sitcom wandering around the airwaves. There's no laugh track, no studio audience, no formula punch lines. And it's filmed like a movie.

Sitcom, shmitcom. This one's really a deliriously inventive comedy of bent show-business manners. And, with lanky misanthrope Larry David as its comic fulcrum, Curb Your Enthusiasm merrily explores the very amusing life of one copacetic sourball.

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