"Curb" Your Language!

Editing show for basic cable could make viewers lose enthusiasm for Larry David

By Jere Hester
|  Thursday, Nov 12, 2009  |  Updated 2:34 PM EDT
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Larry David probably won't like what TV Land will do to his show.

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On the most recent episode of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry David confidently declares there are only two ways to end up in neck brace. One is a car accident. The other – well, let's just say the description involves the kind of language you might not ordinarily hear on TV Land.

But with "Curb" heading into the final two episodes of this often-hilarious, and possibly final seventh season, it was announced this week that repeats of the ribald show are bound for syndication, first on the TV Guide Network, then TV Land.

The move could gain the show the wider audience it deserves. But editing “Curb” for basic cable runs the risk of watering down a program based around a man who sees the glass as half empty – and expresses his pessimism in frank, often-profane terms.

It’s hard to imagine “Curb” without the foul-mouthed rants of Susie Essman’s Susie Greene character, who pelts Larry with every imaginable variation of a popular four-letter vulgarity; without Larry’s graphic conversations with his permanent houseguest Leon; without children calling Larry a “bald a------.”

Pity the editor forced to cut whole scenes or insert so many bleeps, the show will sound like a half-hour traffic jam (broadcasts of beeping sounds, as we know from the early "AAMCO" episode of “Curb,” can cause one kind of accident that leads to neck injuries).

In the wrong hands, to paraphrase Larry, the results could turn out pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty bad.

Take HBO's “The Sopranos,” which just isn’t the same on AMC without the powerful, raw language that helps define the often-fearsome characters. There’s nothing frightening about Larry, though the viewer sometimes gets a little scared for him as he verbally digs himself into ditches.

"Curb," of course, is the bastard (to use a bleepable word) offspring of "Seinfeld," the show David co-created. This season's storyline, centering on a fictional “Seinfeld” reunion, has brought into clearer relief the similarities and differences between the shows.

The routine where Jerry Seinfeld and Larry argue about who should schooch over to let Richard Lewis into a diner booth could have been a scene out of Monk's with Jerry, George and Kramer.

“Seinfeld,” one of broadcast television’s last huge hits, had fun with euphemisms – Are you the master of your domain? Is he Sponge-worthy? R-rated Larry, meanwhile, uses his HBO freedom to say exactly what's on his mind, and usually acts on it, to cringe-worthy effect.
                  
The “Seinfeld” stars, so far, have been bit players amid Larry's shenanigans this season, which have included mistreatment of women in wheelchairs, refusing a piece of pie from Ted Danson and inadvertently splashing a painting of Jesus with his urine (it's a long story). This is very much Larry's world, and he doesn't much like it.

Larry David's humor doesn't rest on bad language and coarse plot points alone. Like Richard Pryor and George Carlin, the primary potency of his comedy derives from unflinching honesty and a less-than-sanguine view of the human condition. But telling what he sees as the truth sometimes demands blunt, crude terms.

“South Park” gets away with a lot at night on Comedy Central. But unless TV Land is planning big changes, it’s hard to imagine “Curb” running unexpurgated between repeats of “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Bonanza,” or even amid the network's reality shows.

Not everyone has HBO, or can buy the show's past seasons on DVD. So here’s some advice those who have yet to catch “Curb”: Try Netflix or go watch with a friend who has HBO, because to miss "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in the form it was meant to be seen would be a @?#*% shame.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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