The TV industry, like any other big business enterprise, consists of many hardworking, intelligent, and occasionally brilliant people laboring with varying degrees of creativity, cynicism, and timorousness. Greed, fear, and exhaustion of imagination can produce lots of stupid or bland television shows, making the good stuff seem almost miraculous and the mediocre stuff common.
To see what someone can do to reinvigorate the sitcom, look at HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, (Sept. 11), where Larry David, co-creator of ”Seinfeld,” plays Larry David, cocreator of ”Seinfeld,” in semi-improvised plots that invariably place our easily enraged protagonist in the worst, most hilarious light. Whether house-hunting with his wife, Cheryl (the marvelous Cheryl Hines), and moaning that they’re all too big (”This place is, like, for the Osmonds”) or telling a man who’s shaved his head, ”We don’t consider you part of the bald community,” the shiny-domed David is fearlessly self-righteous in a way the characters on the WB could never be, lest they alienate the family audience they must try to attract.
Unshackled by a network mandate, David portrays himself as an L.A. layabout living off his ”Seinfeld” money (”I’ve got ideas [for shows] but I choose not to carry them out,” he says proudly). Rather than envy or despise him, we identify with his infinite capacity to be annoyed by petty slights. Last season, it took me a while to get used to the shambling pace imposed by the show’s improv strategy, but by now, ”Curb”’s inventive riffing is like good jazz music. Just seeing David, in the second episode, begging passersby (aggressively, pathetically) to show him how to use the jack to repair his car’s flat tire is funnier than anything any other show will devise all season. Sometimes the most intelligent people come up with the simplest ideas, and they work like a charm.