Post #16: ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ for a ‘Seinfeld’ Reunion
By Vincent Tomasso
Originally posted Saturday January 31 2015
“It’s like going back in time or never leaving the past...or something.”
--Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “The Table Read” (Curb Your Enthusiasm 7.9)
The New York Times film critic A.O. Scott pronounced that American television circa 2010 was better than film because the former didn’t produce “remakes and reboots and rehashes” but rather pursued “daring, topical” ideas. In the seventh season of HBO’s comedy TV series Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David puts this opinion to the test. Even though the 10-episode run hinges on the production of a reunion episode for the hit show Seinfeld (1989-1998), we catch only small glimpses of the actual episode that airs in the final Curb episode. These episodes acknowledge the desire--even insistent demand--for a Seinfeld reunion in popular culture at large, and rather than bowing to this demand the Curb season criticizes the audience’s desire for re-visitings of old material.
Larry’s manager Jeff first mentions the idea of a reunion in the third episode, appropriately titled “The Reunion”:
JEFF: I know I brought it up a million times, but NBC is still harping me about doing a Seinfeld reunion.
LARRY: Again? Don’t they give up, these people?
JEFF: So, what do you think?
LARRY: You know, those reunion shows, they’re so lame, really. They never work. The actors are ten years older. It just doesn’t look right. You know, I don’t think so.
In this scene Larry objects to a reunion episode on aesthetic grounds, as opposed to the profits-driven motivations of the media executives--the age-old (and misguided) division between art and commerce. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the actress who played Elaine Benes on Seinfeld, echoes Larry’s reservations: “Every time you see one of these reunion shows, it feels like they’re doing it for the wrong reasons.” But when Larry mentions the idea to his ex-wife Cheryl, she responds enthusiastically: “People love reunion shows! How much would people love to see that cast back together? See what they’re doing now, years later, and how they look?” Although he was dead-set against the idea, by the end of “The Reunion” Larry decides to go forward with the reunion idea (figure 1), not because he has lofty artistic ambitions or financial concerns, but because he thinks it will give him the opportunity to get back together with Cheryl.
Another ironic facet of the Seinfeld non-reunion is that we see only about ten or fifteen minutes of the reunion episode over the course of the season. In “The Table Read” there’s a scene in Jerry's apartment featuring Jerry, George (Jason Alexander), Kramer (Michael Richards), Elaine, and a confrontation with Newman (Wayne Knight)). In the last episode, “Seinfeld”, we see part of Jerry’s opening monologue about miscommunication in relationships, a scene involving George’s reconciliation with his ex-wife, and the final scene set in Monk’s Café, in which George blows his nose into a restaurant napkin. In an additional snippet from “The Table Read” we see Jerry insulting Kenny Bania (Steve Hytner) about the latter’s unemployment. These scenes, of course, are what the audience “really” wants to see, and the fact that they’re upstaged by the petty disputes between Larry David and the Seinfeld actors is a big part of the joke. Julia accuses Larry of leaving a ring stain on her table, Jason borrows a pen from Larry, who refuses to take it back after he sees Jason chewing on it and using it to scratch his ears and chest (figure 2), and Jerry and Larry argue over whether or not Jason and Cheryl should be cuddling in a scene.
The content of the reunion that we do see echoes earlier fears that it will be unoriginal. The script recycles plot elements from earlier Curb episodes, and the scenes of the production around the reunion re-tread Seinfeld plots. For instance, when he catches Jason trying to seduce Cheryl, Larry quotes George’s paranoid “laughing and lying” line from “The Pool Guy” (Seinfeld 7.8), while Jason uses Curb Larry’s “prettay, prettay, prettay good” quip in the same episode. Kramer takes a prostitute to a sports game so that he can use the carpool lane in an echo of “The Carpool Lane” from season 4 of Curb. Leon tells Michael Richards that Groat’s Syndrome (a fictional disease first mentioned in Curb 2.5) made him think everything tasted like peaches, a crib of “The Doodle” (Seinfeld 6.20).
Larry’s desire to get back together with his ex-wife eventually messes up the production, with Larry re-writing part of the episode so that George and his ex-wife don’t get back together, Jason Alexander walking off the set, Larry taking his place (figure 3) and then quitting, and finally Jason returning.
Larry David intentionally constructed season 7 of Curb Your Enthusiasm as a rejoinder to demands for a Seinfeld reunion as well as to popular culture’s current obsession with its own past. The season teases the audience’s nostalgic desire by showing glimpses of the reunion while at the same time making the squabbles around the production the dominant focus. The cast truly gets the last laugh when most of the reunion’s content turns out to be recyclings of older plots. Contemporary audiences are hungry to re-live popular culture’s past, but Larry David gestures at and then frustrates this desire, pointing up the (in his view) inadequacy of the past in the present.