Larry David Kicks COVID to the Curb

The new season is strangely silent on the ultimate social-manners struggle of our time

When HBO announced the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, everyone–well, not everyone, but anyone who still cares about Curb Your Enthusiasm–said, “I wonder what Larry David is going to do with COVID?” Was he going to be quarantining with Leon? How would Jeff find ways to sneak away from Susie for a round of golf, or a round with his mistresses? Would Larry be a mask shamer? A mask shamee? With a vast raft of new social codes and potential faux pas, this seemed like ripe ground for David’s unique brand of angry social-foible humor. How would he respond?

The surprising and disappointing answer? Barely at all. The first episode, revolving around a still-alive Albert Brooks throwing a funeral for himself, ended with a joke where someone thought they were going to the toilet in Brooks’s house and instead opened up a closet full of Purell and toilet paper. “He’s a COVID hoarder!” Larry David screamed, a full year and a half after COVID hoarding was an issue, and was never really an issue among the rich. So far, there has one other reference to COVID, in passing, and that’s it. What a cop-out!

Post-COVID, or mid-COVID endgame, TV shows have taken one of two approaches. They’ve made COVID central to the storyline, like The Conners or those lousy but popular NBC Chicago dramas, or they’ve chosen to present a COVID-free reality entirely. The current season of Succession, shot during COVID, doesn’t mention COVID at all, and it doesn’t factor into the storyline. But Curb doesn’t do that. It mentions COVID and then basically ignores it, and that makes the show kind of hard to watch.

In Larry David’s Los Angeles, COVID restrictions don’t exist. People saunter in and out of restaurants and private homes maskless, without conflict or restriction. I don’t know if you’ve been to Los Angeles during the pandemic, but masking is very much ubiquitous, everywhere you go, even sometimes outside. Larry and pals are constantly dining out, taking meetings, sauntering around, with nary a mask or swab to be found.

Last week’s episode began with Larry and Jeff deplaning at LAX and walking through an airport, totally maskless, and so was everyone else. We are literally in an era where people, particularly the bourgeois special people that David likes to satirize, quarantine for three days, or more, after a simple business trip. But in Curb Your Enthusiasm, the only airport travel drama is that Larry doesn’t want a short female chauffeur carrying his luggage.

It’s not that Larry David is blithely unaware of COVID protocols. As journalist Michael Tracey pointed out (and got raked for) on Twitter this week, the show is paying a dozen people salaries to adhere to COVID compliance standards.

So all the extras in the airport scene had to test multiple times to get onto the set, mask until the cameras rolled, and mask and maybe shielded afterward. But the biggest drama for Larry was an argument at the baggage claim. It’s annoying, jarring, and kind of weird.

The new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm is funny in parts. The running gag of Leon trying to find someone named Mary Ferguson to join him on a trip to Asia is especially hilarious. But even that feels discordant. Bopping off to Asia feels like an extreme act of privilege or leap of faith in a world that establishes massive travel restrictions the second someone sneezes in Africa. And yet, ha ha, Larry doesn’t like his (unmasked) chiropractor because he has gross underwear.

I don’t care what Larry David’s point of view is on COVID. If he wants to be a mask enforcer, let him enforce. If he wants to flout the rules, let him flout. If he wants to hypocritically do both at the same time, even better. But in a show that’s essentially the ultimate comedy of manners, to deny the manners of the COVID era is to deny reality.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
‘COVID? What COVID?’ says Larry David.

 

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 11 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

One thought on “Larry David Kicks COVID to the Curb

  • December 8, 2021 at 12:28 am
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    The currently airing South Korean drama Happiness has a fairly novel take on COVID-19. The basic premise is a zombie outbreak that happens a year or so after COVID-19 is finished, whenever that might be. And much of the story is from a public health response perspective, of people who have lived through COVID-19, and refer to those experiences as a guide for what to do. A lot of the perspective is critical too, with characters pushing for certain procedures not in the interest of public safety but just to exert power over others under the pretext of public safety. Other decisions are portrayed ambiguously, with no clear right or wrong answers. Overall a much more nuanced approach than the lightning rod issue COVID-19 has become in English language discourse.

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