As Curb Your Enthusiasm season nine approaches, we look at the shows it inspired.
Much of the comedy of Curb Your Enthusiasm comes from the viewer thanking their lucky stars that they’re not Larry David. When Larry’s stamping his way through social situations with all the care and consideration of a bull elephant let loose in the Louvre, it’s the schadenfreude we get off on. Unless you’re a comedian with ambitions for your own show, of course. Curb inspired a whole host of shows in which comedians and actors played fictionalised versions of themselves so, as Curb Your Enthusiasm season 9 approaches, here’s six of the best (and worst).
Ostensibly on a pan-continental road trip to review Europe’s best restaurants, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon rarely do any actual reviewing in Michael Winterbottom’s modern classic The Trip. Instead, playing mildly exaggerated versions of themselves, they conducted gladiatorial battles of impersonation over their duck confits, bickering endlessly over who could do the best Michael Caine, Bobby De Niro or Alec Guinness. The humiliations of Curb were replaced by a wry, melancholic self-knowledge, but the stamp of Curb was all over The Trip.
Although Ricky Gervais played struggling actor Andy Millman in his series about those selfless folk kindly referred to in the TV trade as ‘background artistes’, he did rope in a vast array of uber-celebs to play versions of themselves they might not recognise in Extras. So Patrick Stewart portrayed himself as a seedy voyeur dreaming of having the superhuman ability to make women’s clothes fall off, Kate Winslet became the world’s worst phone sex expert and David Bowie appeared improvising a song called ‘Chubby Little Fat Man’, tearing apart Andy’s life before a bar full of cackling tormentors.
As the UK’s very own misanthropic Larry David, Jack Dee was a natural to front a British take on Curb. In Lead Balloon he played a cynical comedian stumbling through a series of embarrassing and annoying scenarios – sound familiar? Although playing a low-level club comic rather than a Live At The Apollo regular, Dee’s character shared many of Larry’s hallmarks, right down to the sensible wife and utter inability to get away with the tiniest white lie.
The Paul Reiser Show
Not everyone, it seemed, had a Larry David inside them, griping to get out. Mad About You’s Pail Reiser had a pop at his own version of Curb, playing himself as an ex-TV star clambering his way back into showbiz. With David’s acerbic antagonisms replaced by Reiser’s generally ‘nice guy’ demeanour, viewers were unimpressed - ratings started low and tanked quickly from there, as critics called The Paul Reiser Show a “weird copycat” and “direct steal” of Curb. The show was (ahem) kicked to the Curb after just two episodes.
Between snippets of his stand-up routine, Louis CK’s self-titled show followed the American Hustle star in his semi-autobiographical situation as a divorced father of two. The similarities to Curb extended into the real-life guest stars, including Matthew Broderick, Joan Rivers, Paul Rudd and Susan Sarandon playing themselves while the likes of Robin Williams, Chloe Sevigny, David Lynch, Ricky Gervais and Parker Posey took bit-parts. Curb’s “brother in bald”, it’s been said.
Before he became the new Jeremy Clarkson, Matt LeBlanc satirised himself as the arrogant, overpaid star of a US version of a hit UK sitcom called Lyman’s Boys in Showtime’s Episodes. Ironically, LeBlanc won a Golden Globe for best actor for, um, being himself. Nice work if you can get it.
For more on Curb Your Enthusiasm season 9, read our preview.