Pop Culture

Bad behavior makes it funny

Staff WriterSeptember 20, 2009 

  • "Curb Your Enthusiasm," 9 tonight, HBO

    "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," 10 p.m. Thursday, FX

With so many public figures behaving badly as of late (Kanye, Serena and Rep. Joe Wilson, I'm looking in your direction), it's perfect timing that the new seasons of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" are here, reminding audiences that no matter how jerky these personalities got, there are much bigger tools out there.

And these tools are funny.

Let's start with Larry David, who had me worried there for a minute. The last couple of seasons of his HBO sitcom "Curb Your Enthusiasm" were spotty and uneven at best. This was quite disappointing for me because I've been down with the show since day one.

Watching David get into one awkward, uncomfortable, sidesplitting situation after another was not only funny but all too relatable. David plays a character (also called "Larry David") who is neuroses on wheels, a selfish, cranky curmudgeon who you'd rather get away from than converse with, but I couldn't help but sympathize with him whenever he got into petty misunderstandings with people.

Thankfully, David is back in top form for the seventh season. Just as I thought he was running out of ways to annoy people, both David and his character find inspiration simply by going back to where it all started: "Seinfeld."

As most of you probably know already, David has called on the cast of the immortal sitcom he co-created to appear throughout "Curb" this season. Unfortunately, you won't get to see the Blab Four again until the third episode, when David, with his menschy, meta ways, rounds up the cast for a certain-to-be-disastrous reunion special. But before we see the principal players (Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards), David has to dump another cast of characters from his show.

When we last left David, his long-suffering wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) finally left him, and he began a relationship with Loretta Black (Vivica A. Fox), the matriarch of the hurricane-surviving family staying in his house. The final moments of the season finale were a rip-snorting montage of scenes that showed David living rather happily (albeit loudly) with his new, adopted family.

We knew that wouldn't last.

The season opener (which premieres tonight) has David back in his miserable mode, as he waits hand-and-foot on a bossy, bedridden Loretta, who may be suffering from cancer. Her mother (Ellia English) is talking to the neighbors (a David no-no). Loretta's kids are erasing the shows he TiVoed. And Loretta's mooching, no-nonsense brother Leon (Plymouth native J.B. Smoove) is, well, Leon.

While David tries to find a way to get the Black clan out of his house, he gets into the usual blowups: arguing with a doctor when he takes lemonade from David's fridge without asking, arguing with longtime frenemy Susie Greene (the perfectly profane Susie Essman) about disclosing the guest list for a dinner party, arguing with pal Marty Funkhouser (Bob Einstein) about the meaning of a gesture.

If the first trio of episodes I saw are any indication, then "Curb" is again the "snitcom" I know and love, giving the right balance of cringeworthy gags and byzantine farcicality. I only pray that David had the good sense to include a scene where Richards, who has been lying low since that racial meltdown at a L.A. comedy club in 2006, is in the same room with the outspoken Leon.

Not sunny, just funny

But "Curb" isn't the only snitcom returning to airwaves. Over on FX, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" rolls out its perpetually rotten apples for another season. For the unfamiliar, "Sunny" follows the socially unacceptable exploits of The Gang: wannabe bad boy Mac (creator/co-executive producer Rob McElhenney), dim-witted Charlie (co-executive producer Charlie Day), conceited twins Dennis (co-executive producer Glenn Howerton) and Sweet Dee (Kaitlin Olson) and gun-toting Frank (Danny DeVito), who was once Dennis and Dee's father until they found out he wasn't.

Together, they run Paddy's Pub, a barely frequented watering hole in Philadelphia that's ground zero for their morally reprehensible adventures. The season's first episode (which premiered on Thursday) had the crew exploiting the mortgage crisis (the boys try to flip a house with people still living in it) and Dee freeloading off a couple who wanted her as a surrogate mother. Further episodes have them delving into more contemptible behavior, as they crash the set of an M. Night Shyamalan movie, go on an ill-fated road trip to the Grand Canyon, and stage an intervention for Frank, who slides headfirst into depravity when he attempts to sleep with his creepy step-niece ("24"'s Mary Lynn Rajskub).

Even when you're a fan of the show (as I am), you still can't believe how low these "Sunny" guys go. It's safe to say that, in five seasons, these characters have gone from being drunken, clueless losers to being straight-up sociopaths.

But once you get past the initial shock of these people acting so despicably to each other and everyone else, you may find yourself unable to stop giggling. Just like "Curb," "Sunny" gets a kick out of showing its lead characters acting like justified jerks, making sure we get our fair share of laughs as their chicanerous schemes blow up in their faces. Or you'll just laugh at watching these people act so pitifully, unbelievably awful.

While it's obvious "Curb" and "Seinfeld" influenced "Sunny"'s self-centered, downright nihilistic humor, the show also seems to share the same snarling, satirical, absurdly anarchic nuttiness of "South Park" and the BBC cult sitcom "The Young Ones." "Curb" virtually seems like a sophisticated comedy of (bad) manners in comparison to "Sunny"'s low-brow, low-down good times.

So, whether you like your dark, misanthropic comedy with a touch of class or straight from the gutter, "Curb" and "Sunny" are here to give you some truly inglorious bastards.

craig.lindsey@newsobserver.com, 919-829-4760 or blogs.news observer.com/unclecrizzle

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