Larry and Cheryl encounter a ticketing issueInstagram/curbyourenthusiasm

What does the bog-standard sitcom look like? Generally, a handful of character tropes lurch around a perpetually-unchanging set, usually a flat or an office, cracking unfunny one-liners and achieving nothing in particular throughout. All before the sound of a bundle of people incomprehensibly cackling with laughter. Or so I thought.

For a long time, oppressed by these illusory preconceptions, I shied away from the majority of sitcoms - especially US ones.

Curb Your Enthusiasm is an intriguing name for a TV show. It’s ostensibly counterproductive; a sort of an ‘anti-name’, and deploys an unusual, harsh-sounding verb in an unusual context.

With the viewers’ curiosity piqued, the show begins in a similarly-tempting manner. We are thrust immediately and without background or prologue into the world of our protagonist, the fictionalised Larry David, with a story about a misinterpretation over the bunching-up of Larry’s new trousers. We get all the major characters from the outset, very few ‘jokes’ per se, and no distracting audience laugh track.

"I came to appreciate just how well-rounded a sitcom it manages to be"

It is, then, the individuality and memorability of the show’s central character that fires the audience through the first few episodes. Larry is immediately impudent, pugnacious and cantankerous - traits that will only heighten over time. He speaks what’s on his mind: though a worrisome expression, the show takes time to demonstrate that this is all in a self-aware, irony-heavy spirit. He’s an old, white, rich man - one of the successes of the programme is that invites us not only to laugh with him but also at him. It’s a show that seemingly defies odds to hold up in the face of all the social and political changes of the last two decades.

Any of Larry’s most minor interactions and inconveniences will be analysed and deconstructed to death; it’s impossible to detail the thousands of dinner etiquette-related situations this show has turned a forensic eye to over the years. (What can you say when your friend’s tap water is absolutely undrinkable? How do you react if someone uses ‘the worst swear word’ at a dinner party? Do you have to queue if you’re going back for seconds at a buffet?)

So it was that Curb slowly grew on me, and I came to appreciate just how well-rounded a sitcom it manages to be. In many ways, it’s completely classical: the escapades; the observational comedy; the character tropes. It also manages to achieve a remarkable level of meta. It tackles, with a dry, cynical tone reminiscent of certain subsections of classic British comedy, not only day-to-day affairs, but also big issues: racism; religious antagonism; a ‘fatwa’ (of Season 9); Israeli-Palestinian relations - always in a manner curious above all, and dependably amusing.

"It’s like witnessing a kind of artistic process, and it’s thrilling"

Perhaps the outstanding feature of this comedy, however, is its ability to construct near-perfect episodes. At its best, a Curb episode weaves together the threads of seemingly-unconnected events and storylines into a tapestry whose picture only becomes completely clear in the very last moment of the half-hour. This moment always immediately precedes that famous theme. It’s like witnessing a kind of artistic process, and it’s thrilling when it pays off. In a personal favourite episode, the Season 3 finale, a series of random occurrences to various chefs (a chef firing related to baldness; another’s freak dodgeball double thumb-break; the accidental hiring of a chef with severe Tourette syndrome) culminates in one perfect, ecstatic moment.


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All this is not to mention the incredible number of cameos from celebrities and comedians. Larry stabs Ben Stiller in the eye with a wooden skewer; gets in trouble with John McEnroe at a concert; competes with Rosie O’Donnell for a woman. In Season 9 alone, Bryan Cranston is a wonderfully-deadpan therapist who ‘gets the better chair’ than his client, and Lin-Manuel Miranda stars in ‘Fatwa: The Musical’.

So, twenty years after the release of the show’s first season, 43 Emmy nominations and countless glowing critical reviews later, Curb Your Enthusiasm returns this week on HBO. For my money, it’s one of the best sitcoms ever, and criminally-unknown among UK audiences. Watch it, laugh heartily, and forever suffer the urge to shout the phrase, ‘pretty, pretty, pretty good’...

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