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‘Curb’ Spotlights the George Costanza in David

TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Hard-core “Seinfeld” fans know fictional George Costanza was largely an extension of Larry David, the former NBC hit’s gloomy co-founder and creative spine who was a stand-up comic before scoring mightily in prime time.

With at least some of his famed dark personality tics and neuroses intact, he comes to HBO Sunday night in his own mockumentary, “Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm,” a show within a show about how he got and prepared for this show.

Believe it at your own risk.

How good a mockumentarian is David? His pockets of stand-up here (at times a sound-alike for despairing Richard Lewis) are ragged and uneven. Except for occasional belabored moments, the rest of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” ranges from genial to hilarious, with the self-spoofing David as himself amid a company of actors convincingly playing his manager, wife, friends and associates. Helping them are some other performers who appear as themselves.

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In addition, the hour seamlessly intercuts apparently straight comments about David from Jerry Seinfeld; his “Seinfeld” alter ego, Jason Alexander; “Seinfeld” writer Larry Charles and others.

Alexander recalls George being “as shameless a Larry David imitation as I could muster.” And Glenn Padnick, president of Castle Rock TV, says that when “Seinfeld” began soaring on NBC, David “was stuck with success for the first time in his life.”

Assisted by director Robert B. Weide, he battles it from start to finish in “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The journey begins with David and his manager, Jeff Greene (Jeff Garlin), pitching the show to HBO executives named after the actors (Allan Wasserman and Judy Toll) who play them, as the faux documentary records this industry ritual for posterity.

Although “Seinfeld” mavens will instantly recall another pitch--Jerry and George describing their show about nothing to NBC executives--the tone here is closer to HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show.” With Greene touting the concept (a chronicle of David’s activities leading to his stand-up show in Los Angeles), David sweating thick beads of self-hatred (“Stinks, right?”) and the HBO pair faking laughter at his every utterance, this funny display of insincerity could not have been staged better by Garry Shandling and company.

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The format also has David doing warmup gigs in clubs in New York and Los Angeles. More of a hoot, though, is a series of George Costanza moments in which he moves from abuse to abuse.

One has him reluctantly trying to help someone get a job, a task naturally doomed to failure. Another has him trying to explain to a friend of his wife (Cheryl Hines) his presence in Central Park with a young cutie who is actually the extramarital partner of his manager. And later, his panicky attempt to shamelessly fib his way out of a dilemma of his own making is just a classic, the sheer outrageousness of the lie recalling George at his most two-faced and funniest.

What a crushing burden this triumphant conclusion to “Curb Your Enthusiasm” must be on David. Just when things were going so well, rats!

More success.

* “Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm” will be shown Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO. The network has rated it TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17).


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