TV revivals are bad ideas.
I can’t wait for Sunday night’s Curb Your Enthusiasm revival.
These ideas aren’t irreconcilable. There are exceptions to my revival rule — Twin Peaks: The Return being among the year’s most memorable (if occasionally frustrating) TV events — and Curb is exceptional in many ways, in addition to being one of the greatest comedies TV has ever seen.
Let me explain:
1. This isn’t really a revival.
Larry David doesn’t need the money. He doesn’t need the work. He doesn’t need any of this. The moment he left Seinfeld, he could have retired to a secluded location — only not the beach or a lake or a forest or… well, he could have found something that didn’t annoy him if he looked long enough — burned residual checks for warmth, and never wanted for anything for the rest of his life.
So the deal he made several HBO administrations ago was this: the only person to decide when, or if, Curb would continue would be Larry David. If he had a new idea for a season? Great. If he needed to wait a few years? That’s fine, too. If he was all done? The show’s legacy needs no adding to.
The first three seasons aired on a more or less regular schedule, in the falls of 2000-2002. There was then a gap of 14 months between seasons three and four, 18 months between four and five, and about two years between the next several seasons. Nearly every time the show went away, no one knew if it would come back. And then it did. That it’s been over six years since Larry and Leon fled to Paris is only a matter of degree, not kind. Curb is a show that goes away until it’s ready to come back.
David has already written multiple season finales that would work as series-enders — Larry dies, Larry and Cheryl divorce, Larry stages a successful Seinfeld reunion (which worked as a stealth apology for the real Seinfeld finale) — and then started things up again. This is a thing Curb does, and has always done. It’s not like Will & Grace having to erase its original series finale from existence in order to tell stories where the title characters are still friends and have no children.
2. Even if it is a revival, the usual danger signs don’t apply.
Revivals don’t tend to work because successful TV shows are a product of a specific moment in time of the lives of the people making them, the people watching them, and the characters whose stories are being told. Change any or all of those three, and you wind up with a thirtysomething Rory Gilmore making the same mistakes she did as a teenager, or Mulder and Scully exploring alien conspiracies in a much more terrifying real world, or the 24 writers reaching into the same bag of three or four tricks they were using a decade earlier with Jack Bauer.
None of these are really issues with Curb. Yes, David is 70 now, but he’s been old since he was young, and not just because he’s been bald for so long. As both writer and actor, his persona and his interests — or, in most cases, his disinterests — have always been that of a cranky septuagenarian, even when he was a middle-aged guy making America’s most popular sitcom, or a supporting player on an unsuccessful Saturday Night Live imitator. Like George Burns or Patrick Stewart or Wilford Brimley, he’s seemingly been old for so long that he can get away with doing things (like the various age-inappropriate love interests TV Larry has had since the marriage to Cheryl ended) that would seem stale or embarrassing if someone else was doing the same kind of business all these years later.
The show, like Larry, has also had a tangential interest at best in modern life in America. Politics, pop culture, and advances in technology all come into play at various times — Larry becoming obsessed with Palestinian chicken, Larry heckling a jerk with a Bluetooth at a restaurant — but for the most part Curb‘s focus on the minutiae of daily existence has always existed in a bubble separate for what’s happening to people with fewer luxuries available to them. The Will & Grace revival leads with a (terrible) episode filled with Trump jokes and even a trip to the White House; if there are references to contemporary politics at all in the new Curb episodes, they’re likely to be throwaway insults in the midst of Larry offending Susie over some minor issue.
At this writing, I haven’t seen the new episodes. It’s entirely possible they’ll feel like a shadow of what Curb once was. Honestly, that’s how I felt about a good chunk of the 2011 season, even if it had a few all-timers like “Mister Softee” or the aforementioned “Palestinian Chicken.” But I keep coming back to David’s arrangement with HBO. He didn’t need to do this, and has said several times during this longest hiatus so far that he wasn’t sure if he still had either ideas or enthusiasm for Curb. For him to come back makes me believe that he just might have something else like this up his sleeve:
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com. He discusses television weekly on the TV Avalanche podcast. His next book, Breaking Bad 101, is out 10/10 and available for preoder now.