On the Curb Your Enthusiasm Finale: What Did You Expect?

“No Lessons Learned”

Larry David, in black and white

I’ve always had a certain trouble with the idea of writing on Curb Your Enthusiasm, because the show has always so effectively brought itself home with its music.

You know what I mean. The walls close in, and the episode ends, as the music rolls in with the credits. You know the song.

And, the thing is, the move is terribly effective. So often, over the course of 12 seasons, we’ve not seen the ultimate comeuppance of Larry’s actions so much as that tuba has left it to our imaginations—buh buh buh…

Jeff looks on

There’s always been a question as to how much you empathize with Larry David (by which I mean the fictional Larry David of Curb, leaving aside any question of how similar or different he is from the man in real life).

I’ve always tended to binge the show, season by season, and I’ll start out thinking Larry is an asshole but end up being on his side. It’s an interesting example of the trick that can be pulled through our bias for the protagonist.

But, honestly, I am always largely in agreement with Larry when it comes down to it, or if we take things as matters of principle. I wouldn’t say the things he says, or start the arguments he starts, but I tend to think that’s the level where he’s being an asshole. You just need to let some of these things go.

Suzie, yelling from a balcony

I honestly don’t know if other viewers are with me on that, but, in one way or another, Curb Your Enthusiasm has entertained us for almost 25 years, which is mind-blowing. I remember the context of seeing its first episode in 2000, and it makes me feel very old. And the fact that Seinfeld ended only a couple of years before that kind of scrambles my brain.

Regardless, it was no surprise that the finale of Curb paralleled that of Seinfeld in a meaningful way. In its first episode, Season 12 set up a legal problem for Larry, and over the course of the season it became clear that this case was going to trial. If you didn’t see it coming that the Curb finale would involve a string of character witnesses taking the stand, I don’t know what to tell you.

What’s striking is that this works just as well as it did with Seinfeld. Larry has been our protagonist, so we’ve left these people behind, but when you bring them back and present their stories from a neutral point of view… he looks awful.

Larry in a stairwell, with framed pictures on the wall

But also, as with Seinfeld, the things that Larry has done over the course of Curb Your Enthusiasm haven’t really been criminal. The joke, once again, plays in the space of the difference between someone who violates social norms and someone who deserves punishment through the criminal justice system.

In Seinfeld, the law in question was entirely fictional, if plausible, as actually existing Good Samaritan laws don’t work in the way the show portrays. In Curb, meanwhile, the law in question is all too real, if equally absurd—they put it on the books that you can’t give water to a person waiting in line to vote.

In both cases, though, the target of the joke is the way that legal proceedings are divorced from the law. Rather than asking whether the defendant is guilty per the letter of the statute, we engage in a run of character witnesses. And, while the law in question is ridiculous itself, that gets pushed to the side.

In terms of the law, Larry is guilty. In the real world, one might hope that he’d appeal and get the law overturned, or something like that, but that’s not at all what Curb gives us. Rather, after he’s found guilty, Larry gets off on a technicality. Jerry Seinfeld saw one of the jurors in a bar breaking the sequester, so they got the judgment thrown out.

Larry tells Jerry that this is how they should have ended Seinfeld, and while you could read that in reference to the discontent fans have expressed about that ending over the years, I think that misses the point.

Larry David has always defended the ending of Seinfeld, because it’s a good ending. If the ending of Curb is better, it’s not because Larry gets out of jail, but because he gets off the hook for a stupid reason.

This has always been the space that Curb Your Enthusiasm has interrogated: how social mores line up with what should be banned and what shouldn’t be. Should a man who likes to have sex on the floor because he doesn’t like to cuddle be shunned?

Or should we, as good liberals, be accepting of that even if we don’t like it? (Or is it OK to like it?)

All over the place, Curb has pushed us to ask questions about ourselves we’d maybe prefer to ignore.

I don’t know if this was the best finale ever, but as it resonated with Seinfeld and brought those questions back around, I’d have to say that it was pretty… pretty good.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos

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