Last night, Danielle and I watched the first episode of season 1 of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I rented it from Netflix around the same time I rented Purple Rain, so I definitely needed to watch it. Wasting money renting movies I don’t watch is stupid. So we watched it last night.
Our goal was to enjoy it. If it was good, we’d stick it out and rent more episodes. That was the plan, but the first episode didn’t live up to its hype. Fifteen minutes in, neither of us cared enough to continue. It made us laugh a couple of times, but only random laughs. The show seems to be more about presenting a joke, then presenting another, without the comedic hilarity of situational buildup. Take away the bluster and it’s simple. The show didn’t grab us and refuse to let go. If the creators can’t hook me with the first episode, I’m not going to bother with more.
Throughout the first episode, I thought the show failed because it didn’t make me care about it. That’s true, but too shallow. It didn’t make me care because the show wasn’t honest with me. Improv is good comedy, but it has to be honest. The actors must play it straight or the gimmick fails. Curb Your Enthusiasm felt as if the actors’ egos couldn’t wait to get confirmation that they were funny and brilliant and hilarious and brilliant. They were too needy.
For an example of how the improv process should be done, they should’ve rented Waiting for Guffman. As Corky St. Clair, Christopher Guest is honest with the audience. He is Corky. He embraces Corky’s exuberance over community theater. He makes Corky’s story about his wife Bonnie believable. As the viewer, I trust that the residents of Blaine are sincere in their acceptance of Bonnie’s existence. I care whether or not Mr. Guffman will appear at “Red, White, and Blaine“, even though I know he will not. Literally and figuratively, Corky dances as if no one was watching.
Corky St. Clair is Corky, not Christopher Guest as Corky. That’s what every actor must strive for in his performance. Where Waiting for Guffman succeeds in treating its pact with the audience with proper respect, Curb Your Enthusiasm fails to honor its pact. Perhaps it tried to write a different pact, but I don’t think so. When the actors ooze superiority, that creepy expectation that the audience should be honored to be in the vicinity of their genius, involvement in the farce isn’t possible. Fiction is illusion, not lies. Where Waiting for Guffman is magic, Curb Your Enthusiasm is a con.