A Tale of Two Larrys
The ideological schizophrenia of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The mass exodus from the crumbling People’s Republic of California continues apace - at least to judge by a relatively small number of individuals who happen to be on my radar. Recently, when I emailed a friend of mine, a lifelong Angeleno, to ask what he was up to, he replied that he’d just pulled up stakes and resettled in Montana. Not long ago, veteran Hollywood screenwriter and PJ Media founder Roger L. Simon, whom I’ve known for years, fled Lotusland for Nashville. Both Joe Rogan and Elon Musk have relocated to Austin, Texas; and at this very moment, podcaster Dave Rubin is busy transferring his operations from L.A. to Florida.
The Golden State is emptying out - or, more correctly, it’s losing much of its Los Angeles and Bay Area tax base while hanging on to the millions of freeloaders, legal and illegal, who swell the welfare rolls. While high-end stores have lost inventory through organized mass looting, the parks have become tent cities for maniacs and junkies - all of them pitiable, some of them dangerous - whose feces and used syringes fill the streets. And yet the worst aspects of this new reality go totally unacknowledged in the brand-new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which for the most part feels like a time capsule of southern California in the year 2000, when the HBO series began.
In some ways, to be sure, Larry David, the series’ creator and star, persists in trying to keep it moving with the times. But for the proudly progressive Larry - who in August was observed publicly bawling out his old pal Alan Dershowitz for daring to be chummy with Mike Pompeo, whom Larry considers haram because of his association with Trump - keeping his series au courant doesn't mean faithfully reflecting current social realities so much as catching up with the latest trends in left-wing virtue signaling. For instance, Season 9, the first to air after Obergefell v. Hodges, included a lesbian wedding (as well as a subplot involving MAGA caps); Season 10, which aired early last year, foregrounded a couple of transgender characters, a category of human being that hadn’t been on the series’ radar during the preceding nine seasons.
Similarly, in the opening moments of Season 11 (which premiered on October 24 and aired its final episode for the first time on December 26), Larry flaunts his anti-Trump bona fides by expressing sympathy for an HBO executive named Don Winston, Jr. (Reid Scott): “Trump really has ruined it for all Don Juniors.” While much of the season is blessedly free of such overt anti-Trumpism, it resurfaces in a big way in the last episode, in which Larry hosts a party for “an American hero,” Colonel Alexander Vindman, the former National Security Council member whose “heroism” consists of having instigated the ridiculous controversy (and impeachment) over that phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
So it goes: in the world of 2021 according to Larry David, Trump is (still) horrible, Biden is great, and California governor Gavin Newsom, apparently, is a knight in shining armor who valiantly overcame a vile campaign by fascist conspiracy theorists to remove him from office. Yet even as Larry strives to reassure us of his continued allegiance to the most au courant, reality-defying PC pieties, and to keep the most apocalyptic elements of contemporary California life out of sight, almost all of the humor in Season 11 of Curb derives - oddly enough - from its often hilarious, spot-on mockery of leftist shibboleths.
One example. In the first episode, a burglar escaping from Larry’s house stumbles and drowns in the backyard swimming pool. When the cops come, they tell Larry that a Santa Monica ordinance requires five-foot-high fences around all pools. Shortly thereafter, the dead burglar’s brother Marcos (Marques Ray) summons Larry to his taquería, where he threatens to cause Larry big trouble over the fence issue unless Marcos’s spectacularly untalented daughter Maria Sofia (Keyla Monterroso Mejia) is cast in Larry’s new TV series, Young Larry, which is in pre-production.
“He could sue me for everything!” an anguished Larry tells his best buddy and loyal manager, Jeff Greene (Jeff Garlin). “And bring criminal charges!” Now, if Larry lived in any one of a number of other states, he could tell Marcos to go fly a kite. But in California, the land of onerous laws and Soros-backed prosecutors, rich violators of frivolous local codes can’t afford to be sanguine. Needless to say, California sorely needs its own Ron DeSantis - not that Larry (the character) or Larry (the creator) connects these dots, let alone invites us to do so.
There's more. At the beginning of Season 11,Young Larry is at Netflix, where Larry meets with a group of four young executives: a white lesbian, a black guy, a fat black woman in a wheelchair, and a white guy (the aforementioned Don Junior). When the Netflix deal falls through, Larry takes his project to Hulu, where he meets with another group of four young executives: a white Jewish guy, a fat black lesbian, a gay guy of East Asian extraction, and a woman of South Asian ancestry. These two faces-of-Benetton teams are plainly meant as a dig at Hollywood's preoccupation with group identity. But, again, does either the real or the imaginary Larry David recognize the link between his own politics and the practices he’s making fun of?
Then there’s the scene in which Larry complains to his dentist, Dr. Thanapapalous (Mitch Poulos), about the loud Greek music playing in his office. “It’s the music of my ancestors!” the dentist protests, to which Larry replies: “But it’s not necessarily the music of your patients!” In short, Curb gives multiculturalism - gasp! - the finger. Later we see Woody Harrelson, in an Academy Award acceptance speech, decrying the human exploitation of cows and calling for "interspecies equality" - a send-up of Joaquin Phoenix’s idiotic 2020 Oscar speech on the same topic, and, by extension, of inane showbiz cause-mongering in general.
Still later, there are amusing gags about the pointlessness of recycling, the reluctance of stereotype-conscious black people to admit that they like watermelon, and tiny women being hired for physically demanding jobs more suited to hulking stevedores. When a black woman calls Larry racist for not giving her special treatment, he retorts: “Treating somebody differently because of the color of their skin is racist!” Repeatedly, Larry finds himself in conflict with the new woke mores.
Indeed, in the whole season, there's just one sequence in which the jests are aimed rightward. Strolling through Westwood, Larry encounters a KKK rally - yes, a KKK rally - where he inadvertently spills coffee on a Klansman's (Marc Menchaca) white robe, thereby initiating a fresh plot strand. It's curious: during the nearly two years since the previous season of Curb, there's been a lot to see on the streets of L.A. Aside from the swelling ranks of homeless people, there’s been the daily chaos wrought by Antifa and BLM. Surely the real Larry David has glimpsed at least some of this mayhem. But has he ever encountered a KKK rally? Has he met a Klansman? Of course not. It’s as if Larry, desperate to balance out his reality-based digs at the left, felt obliged to concoct a KKK rally straight out of an MSNBC host’s feverish fantasies.
What’s going on here? While I was pondering this question I happened to read an essay by Gerald Frost in the November issue of the New Criterion. It was about the Swedish crime novelist Henning Mankell (1948-2015), who in real life was a devout leftist but whose most popular novels, featuring the detective Kurt Wallander, seem consistently to endorse the protagonist’s impatience with official Sweden’s see-no-evil take on mass immigration and immigrant violence. How, asks Frost, to explain the total disconnect between “Mankell’s imaginative world” and the opinions Mankell articulated in “public statements and media interviews”?
“One possibility,” suggests Frost, “is that Wallander expresses Mankell’s inner fears, that Wallander is Mankell’s alter ego.” Another possibility: Mankell chose in the Wallander novels “to sub-contract the task of acknowledging an unpalatable, ideologically inconvenient, but for him highly profitable, state of affairs - to his fictional hero, a task which he evidently believed to be unworthy of a liberal intellectual.” I couldn’t do a better job of trying to make sense of the divergence between the real-life Larry David’s oft-stated opinions and the worldview implicit not just in Season 11 of Curb but in the entire series and, for that matter, in much of Seinfeld (which, of course, he famously co-created, wrote, and produced).
To be sure, one line spoken by Larry in Season 11 does reflect, in all its dreadfulness, the political philosophy in which the real-life Larry David professes to believe. Turning Mark Twain on his head, Larry says: “I hate people individually, but I love mankind.” It’s not entirely clear whether the real-life Larry David realizes it, but this sentiment is the very essence of Communism, whose history of coldblooded mass murder requires no explanation beyond that chilling formulation. It’s too late, alas, for Henning Mankell, who was a very gifted writer, to come clean. Let’s hope that at some point before his career - and Curb - run out, Larry David, one of the most brilliantly funny men of our time, works up enough courage to put his ideological house in order.