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He’s annoying, yes, but heroic

Times Staff Writer

Against all reasonable expectation, we are facing a fourth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry David’s brilliant, cinema verite-style, semi-improvised sitcom, in which the “Seinfeld” co-creator plays what he calls, incredibly, a “more likable” version of himself.

Notwithstanding near-universal critical support and mainstream official nods -- the third season received 10 Emmy nominations (and one win, for director Robert B. Weide) and a Golden Globe as the year’s best comedy -- the show will not be everybody’s idea of fun. (“It’s a sad day for the Golden Globes,” David said, accepting his trophy.) While it bumps along to a soundtrack that calls to mind the gentle works of Laurel & Hardy or Jacques Tati, “Curb” is a comedy of hostility, resentment, paranoia and obsessiveness. There are no feel-good moments, no life-brightening epiphanies, nothing, in fact, even vaguely resembling a resolution; things get as bad as you feared, and then the credits roll. (Like life itself, some might say.)

David’s Hollywood is a small town of taken-for-granted privilege, a place of misread signs, imagined slights and constant gossip, where one man’s dental plaque becomes the stuff of dinner-party conversation. The show’s more outlandish conceptions are made believable by its improvised rhythms, documentary feel and the use of real locations -- Canter’s, Opaline, the Mint and the Pantages all appear in this year’s first episodes -- and famous people cast as slightly twisted versions of their famous selves. Mel Brooks, Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer and old favorites Richard Lewis and Ted Danson are on board this season, with the likes of Shelley Berman, Paul Mazursky and Philip Baker Hall in what I suppose would be called “dramatic” roles. Cheryl Hines plays David’s wife and after three years seems actually married to him; they have a kind of frighteningly honest relationship that does not preclude insult, but one can imagine they amuse each other. Jeff Garlin, who plays David’s agent and best friend, is similarly bonded to him.

The new season finds, among many other devilishly intertwined story lines -- like “Seinfeld,” each episode of “Curb” contains enough incident for a month of ordinary sitcoms -- Brooks persuading David to join the Broadway production of “The Producers” opposite Stiller, who finds him insufficiently committed. “It’s not that I’m not working as hard,” David says of their rehearsals, “but it looks more effortless, maybe.” “It does look like less effort,” Stiller responds.

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If David is vain and self-centered and complaining (“You’re such a baby,” Stiller tells him, “you’re a grown-man baby”) and paranoid -- believing, for instance, that the weatherman has been predicting rain to keep the golf course clear for himself -- he is also, much of the time, right, the most logical man in the room. The problem is that he’s right about the wrong things, about hypocritical or pointless social conventions the rest of the world accepts. He’s like a small child who will not stop asking questions everyone else has decided it is pointless to answer.

But as a man of principle, even of misguided principle, he can be regarded -- from a certain angle, in the right light -- as heroic. David’s David has a deep, if wayward, sense of loyalty and a lack of prejudice that sometimes expresses itself as a kind of democratic insensitivity -- yelling at a man in a motorized wheelchair, “You almost hit my car! Learn how to drive that thing!” Or telling a blind man whose girlfriend has lied about her looks, “What’s the difference what she looks like? You can’t see her anyway.”

It also means he thinks nothing of bringing a Muslim woman (Moon Zappa in a chador) to a delicatessen, or happily sitting down there with a party of developmentally disabled men who have earlier done an earnest but bad job of washing his wife’s car. And he is thoroughly, almost helplessly honest, except when he’s afraid of being hit.

“There’s something about this middle-aged bald guy that is thrilling,” Brooks tells his skeptical associates. It’s strange but true.

*

‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

Where: HBO

When: 9:30 p.m. Sunday, beginning Sunday.

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Rating: The network has rated the show TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under 17, with advisories for adult content and adult language).

Larry David...Larry David

Cheryl Hines...Cheryl David

Jeff Garlin...Jeff Greene

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Susie Essman...Susie Greene

Patrick Kerr...Michael

Executive producers Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Gavin Polone, Robert B. Weide, Larry Charles. Directed by Robert B. Weide and Larry Charles. Story by Larry David.


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