It's no secret that comedian Larry David, the co-creator of Seinfeld, was the model for George Costanza--one of the most selfishly obnoxious characters ever. What many people might not realize is how truly watered-down and TV-safe George was in comparison to the real Larry. Or at least, perhaps people didn't realize it on Seinfeld, for in his own HBO show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry displays himself in all his, well...I guess you'd have to call it glory. The man we see is petty and self-centered to an astounding degree, unabashedly so, with precious few pangs of remorse and little empathy for anyone else. Yet watching his neurotic misadventures as a midlevel celebrity in Los Angeles is an odyssey of hysterics. The show has finished four seasons, with the first two now available on DVD, allowing those without HBO to catch up with the inspired brilliance, and allowing rabid fans to watch incessantly.

Larry, playing himself, is surrounded in supposedly autobiographical misadventures by his wife Cheryl (played by Cheryl Hines) and business manager Jeff Green (played by Jeff Garlin). Many Hollywood types have cameos, usually as themselves, including semi-regulars like Richard Lewis and Ted Danson, appearances by Seinfeld alum Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and everyone from Shaquille O'Neal to Alanis Morissette. One of the most remarkable aspects of the show is the largely improvisational dialogue, similar to Christopher Guest's big-screen ensembles (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman). Larry David and company fit the improv perfectly into the sitcom format, never coming across as contrived and helped immeasurably by a lack of commercial breaks or laugh tracks. There are some very clever plot lines, but the dialogue is left almost entirely to the cast.

If there's a basic formula, it boils down to this: Larry does or says something in what he assumes is an accepted manner--maybe tells a joke nobody finds funny in a particular setting, or just shows his general attitude--only to find he's offending somebody, be it friend, family or stranger. Rather than apologize, Larry tries to explain his motivations, invariably becomes entrenched in his point of view, making the situation more and more socially awkward as he refuses to admit he's wrong. Watching Larry caught in the most uncomfortable predicaments is not frustrating but liberating. We've all stuck our foot in our mouth and had to suffer the consequences, but seeing Larry David do it over and over again, never learning from his experience, is cathartic. And that may be the real secret of the show. (Aaron Fuller)


The Best of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello: Volume 3--Two-disc collection featuring the eight films by the brilliant comedic duo, including 1948's Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, one of the top five funniest movies of all time.

Hidalgo (2004)--Silly but entertaining adventure film with Viggo Mortensen suffering from heat stroke.