TV Lists

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Ranking the seasons

Tony Black ranks the first eight seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm...

You get a pretty good feeling watching every season of Curb Your Enthusiasm in preparation for ranking them. Larry David himself would struggle to have an easy time trying to rank a show which, on its day, is just about some of the best American comedy of the last twenty years, possibly ever. Somehow though, we managed it. We found a way to put the (mis)adventures of Larry in some kind of order of quality.

Now we recommend, honestly, watching them all. Curb Your Enthusiasm doesn’t have too much in the way of ongoing narrative, being structured largely as a show where each season tells its own complete story, so in theory you could watch Season Five of Curb before you watched Season One, but regardless of that, start from the beginning.

This is just our perspective on when Curb is at its best. Because even a bad season of Curb is, y’know, pretty good. Pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty good!

SEASON 8 (2011)

Expect, well, maybe Season Eight. The last season. For a while, we assumed, the final season of Curb. Larry David famously doesn’t produce a season every year like many other showrunners, with HBO quite happy to have him back however and whenever he wants (always remember he’s made the TV industry insane amounts of money thanks to Seinfeld). Larry only ever decides to make a season of Curb when he feels like he has a good enough story to tell. If there was one season Larry perhaps should have thought twice about though, it was probably Season Eight.

After seven years of Larry in Los Angeles, the show transplants him to his home city of New York after his divorce from long-suffering wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines), where he gets into the usual dating disasters, scrapes with his old mates Jeff Greene (Jeff Garlin), Richard Lewis (err Richard Lewis), and Marty Funkhouser (Bob Einstein) amongst others, typically a host of celebrities such as Ricky Gervais, Rosie O’Donnell and memorably a finale feud with Michael J. Fox. It just lacks any kind of memorable, standout episode like the previous years had in their droves and by the end, you wondered if maybe Larry should bow out gracefully.

SEASON 6 (2007)

Five years was supposed to be it. Five and done. Larry even wrote ‘The End’ as a finale at the end of the fifth season in which Larry quite literally goes to Heaven (and meets Dustin Hoffman & Sacha Baron Cohen, obviously), but he simply couldn’t resist coming back and throwing Larry into a separation with Cheryl, who finally at long last realised how much of an asshole Larry really is. This coincides with Larry taking in the Blacks, a (yes, black) family who have survived a natural disaster, in his attempts to try and win Cheryl over, all the while flirting with dating other women.

Honestly, Season Six is a mixed bag in places, with a few misfires alongside one or two memorable episodes. ‘The Freak Book’ is a terribly un-PC episode where Larry & Jeff offend Ted Danson by laughing at a book of freaks, while ‘The Therapists’ allows for a fantastically funny guest appearance by Steve Coogan as a shrink Larry literally sends crazy. Plenty of well known guest stars litter the season, including Ben Stiller, John Schneider, Lucy Lawless and even John McEnroe, but arguably Season Six’s greatest gift is JB Smoove’s brilliantly foul-mouthed, amoral Leon Black, who compliments Larry beautifully from then on.

SEASON 1 (2000)

Where it all began. Following an HBO special, filmed in a far more documentarian style which is included on the original Season One DVD, the first season establishes the set up of the rich, privileged, and eternally exasperated Larry David as he gets into a million different social struggles with people from all colours, creeds and backgrounds. It’s by far the most standalone, episodic season, with Larry constructing singular half-hours with no connective tissue, and while the show is still figuring out its post-modern, Seinfeld-ian tone here, we are gifted a few early gems.

‘Beloved Aunt’, for example, where Larry accidentally calls Cheryl’s dead aunt a c*nt in a newspaper obituary, is easily one of the funniest episodes of Curb ever, as indeed is the shockingly close to the bone finale ‘The Group’, in which Larry somehow manages to get away with making child sexual abuse extremely funny. ‘Affirmative Action’ deserves a mention too along the way for really hitting the racial awkwardness head on, but at this stage Curb is primarily a show about these kind of mores as opposed to the heavier doses of farce it would deliver in later seasons.

SEASON 5 (2005)

For a while, the final season, and Larry constructs Season Five with the sense of an ending, to some degree, by having Larry undertake more of a personal soul-searching mission. Most seasons of Curb tend to flip flop between Larry dabbling in show business or undertaking a venture, with more personal reasons for the comedy, and here its the joyous possibility he’s adopted (or a Doctor), his ailing father (played wonderfully by the recently late Shelley Berman) tells him. Larry’s entire mission here revolves around trying to escape the Jewish self-loathing that in many respects has made him the curmudgeon he is today.

Though at times a little uneven, Season Five has some of the most laugh out loud episodes and moments in Curb history, when the comedy just lands. ‘The Christ Nail’, where Larry annoys everyone with his orthotics and persistent refusal to believe in the Tooth Fairy, is just gold (and perhaps contains his best clash with Susie Essman’s volcanic Susie Greene of all their set-to’s). The wonderfully amoral ongoing storyline of not wanting to give Richard Lewis a kidney is dealt with brilliantly, while episodes such as ‘The Bowtie’ where Larry asks the age old question “can a black man wearing a bowtie by a Muslim?” and all of ‘The Smoking Jacket’, where Larry goes to the Playboy mansion, are fantastic.

SEASON 2 (2001)

The first season to experiment with Larry’s penchant for an ongoing narrative he will return to at various points across the season, taking a few pit-stops for standalone episodes pivoted around a specific comedic beat. In this case, it’s attempting to launch a new TV comedy show and consistently offending or alienating the heads of almost every network in American television along the way, not to mention losing star Jason Alexander after a brilliant argument in ‘Thor’ escalates, gaining other Seinfeld alumni Julia Louis-Dreyfus along the way. We would get the full Seinfeld reunion everyone secretly hopes for via Curb in Season Seven, but in Season Two, Larry milks these personalities wonderfully.

‘The Car Salesman’, the season premiere in which Larry on a whim decides he’s going to sell cars for a living, remains among my favourite Curb episodes ever, showing Larry at his random, mercurial finest. ‘The Shrimp Incident’ drops the C-bomb again in hilarious fashion, leading to *the* most awkward dinner party ever. ‘The Doll’ is just Curb at its inappropriate best, again treading dicey waters like ‘The Group’, and ‘Shaq’ allows for just the glorious moment in which Larry realises everyone wants nothing to do with him and is overjoyed with life. Season Two is where the show really figures out what it is.

SEASON 3 (2002)

The third season then absolutely builds on Season Two’s learning curve, moving Larry away from his unsuccessful bid to return to TV and instead focusing on the development of a trendy, upmarket LA restaurant he gets involved in with Jeff, Ted Danson and Michael York amongst a cadre of others. It’s the ongoing narrative on which Larry hangs his comedy of social errors, once again consistently alienating and self-destructing any attempt to get the restaurant off the ground. If Season Two figures out the nature of how the show should be written, Season Three is where we start getting one hit after the other.

‘The Benadryl Brownie’, in which Larry battles Christian scientists and tries to poison someone for good, ‘The Nanny’, which has a wonderfully demented guest role for Cheri Oteri as a Disney-obsessed, crazed nanny who Larry helps inflict mayhem on the Greene household through; ‘The Terrorist Attack’, which skirts bad taste in a big way as Larry attempts to court Alanis Morrisette for a benefit by spreading terrorist attack rumours between two groups of friends, the brilliant ‘The Special Section’ which introduces Larry’s Dad, Nat, and his eccentric Cousin Andy (the great Richard Kind), ‘Krazee-Eyes Killa’ in which Larry makes friends with a foul-mouthed rap star, and who can forget the near operatic profanity explosion at the end of season finale ‘The Grand Opening’? It’s a tremendous season of comedy.

SEASON 7 (2009)

Larry finally gave the people what they wanted with the seventh season – the closest thing to an actual revival episode of Seinfeld through Curb than we’re ever likely to get, indeed there would be no need as Larry manages to both tell a terrific story within the world of Curb while genuinely having his season finale, ‘Seinfeld’, function as a perfectly funny, adequate episode of that show, with Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer all back with genuine scenes of dialogue and story points. The way Curb manages to weave this into a bigger story in which Larry uses a Seinfeld reunion as a way to win back Cheryl is done with expert storytelling precision.

Spending a couple of episodes resolving the storyline of the Blacks (after Larry actually got together with Vivica A. Fox’s bolshy Loretta), though wisely keeping Leon around, Larry sets up the main thrust of the season and if perhaps Season Seven doesn’t quite have the brace of all-round perfect episodes earlier seasons do, the ongoing plot line manages to make terrific use of Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards (he bravely lampooning his own brushes with racism), in episodes such as ‘The Bare Midriff’ and ‘The Table Read’. Season Seven does, however, contain what could be Curb’s finest episode ever – ‘The Black Swan’, in which Larry attempts to cover up a conspiracy at his golf club after he murders a prize swan. It’s dark Curb farce at its absolute finest.

SEASON 4 (2004)

Without question, though, Season Four is Curb’s zenith, and will almost certainly never be topped. This is the season where Larry undertakes what could be his bravest challenge: playing Max Bialystock in the Broadway production of Mel Brooks’ legendary musical comedy The Producers. It’s an ongoing plot line weaved together with the genius hook of Larry, for his wedding anniversary gift, being allowed by Cheryl to sleep with another woman one night only in a specific window of time. Cue a season of Larry struggling not to piss off everyone involved in The Producers while desperately trying and failing to get laid. It’s sublime.

We’re gifted episodes such as ‘Ben’s Birthday Party’ in which Larry makes an enemy of co-star Ben Stiller via car etiquette rules and a rogue cocktail stick; ‘The Blind Date’ in which Larry attempts to set up the blind pianist in his rehearsals with a Muslim, ‘The Car Pool Lane’ in which his attempts to locate medical marijuana for his father result in a bizarre date with a hooker, ‘The Surrogate’ where Larry accidentally convinces a pregnant surrogate to keep the baby, and ‘The Survivor’ which tackles holocaust jokes alongside Larry once again offending Cheryl’s Christian family (their annoyance at Larry is a wonderful, occasional running gag).

A real highlight though is Larry’s antagonistic relationship with co-star David Schwimmer, building to the fantastic finale ‘Opening Night’, which probably rivals ‘The Black Swan’ as Curb’s greatest hour. What a season with just the perfect final episode.

What is your favourite season of Curb Your Enthusiasm? Are you looking forward to the new season? Let us know!

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