So, we are overdue for some lightness. That would be the announcement that “Curb Your Enthusiasm” will be returning to HBO for its ninth season, after a five year hiatus.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” is unabashedly Jewish, even more than its progenitor, “Seinfeld.”
“Seinfeld” was, of course, deeply Jewish — so much so, that entire American time zones had difficulty understanding its comedic sensibility that never ventured any further west than Riverside Drive.
But, in other ways, it’s Jewishness was understated or even unstated.
Take the characters.
Of course, Jerry Seinfeld is Jewish, but it was rarely a topic of conversation. As for his parents, who lived in Del Boca Vista, please — do you even have to ask?
Kramer had no apparent ethnicity.
Her Alsatian Jewish family includes Alfred Dreyfus, the French army officer, falsely convicted of treason, whose trial inspired Theodor Herzl to create political Zionism. The family traces its history back to the medieval commentator, RASHI, and according to legend, King David himself.
And yet, alas: Julia L-D does not consider herself Jewish.
But their on-air ethnicity is vague,though at one point Jason Alexander suggested that they were Jews who were in the federal witness protection program.
The Jewishness is much more upfront in “Curb.”
Here, then, are the most “Jewish” moments on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
- “The Ski Lift.” Larry is desperate to find a kidney for his friend, Richard Lewis (so that he doesn’t have to be the donor). He ingratiates himself with an influential Orthodox man and his daughter, and invites them to his ski lodge for the weekend. Watch Larry feign Yiddish and knowledge of Jewish observance.
The humor: Larry tries too hard. He wears a black funeral parlor style yarmulke, which no truly Orthodox Jew would ever wear. He refers to the Sabbath as “the Sabbath,” rather than the true insider’s “Shabbat” (or perhaps more accurately, Shabbos). He is so deracinated that his pseudo-religiosity comes off as mere anthropology.
- “Palestinian Chicken.” An expedition into the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, played out in a Palestinian restaurant.
Larry hits it off with a Palestinian waitress. Larry is turned on by someone “who doesn’t even acknowledge your right to exist, who wants your destruction — that’s a turn on.”
Yeah, for some Jews, it is.
- In “The Larry David Sandwich,” Larry scalps tickets for High Holy Days services. It’s not only the use of tickets; it’s the absurd idea of scalping them, as if the services were a performance. Which, come to think of it, worship has become for so many Jews.
- In the fifth season finale, Larry “discovers” that he was adopted. He searches for his birth parents. They are a nice, elderly gentile couple in Arizona. Larry tries on being a gentile, complete with being told to practice love and forgiveness a la Jesus, fishing, duck hunting, bar room drinking games, and horseback riding, complete with cowboy hat. An obvious satire on Jewish stereotypes of gentile culture.
- “The Seder.” Larry invites a sex-offender to a Seder, which, of course, raises the unasked question: are there actually limits and boundaries to the fabled Passover hospitality of the Jew — “let all who are hungry come and eat?”
- “The Baptism.” Larry inadvertently stops a baptism, preventing a Jew from converting to Christianity. The Christians who are present our outraged; the Jews are grateful (“Will you speak at my daughter’s bat mitzvah?”) Larry becomes an unwitting, temporary poster boy for Jewish continuity.
And, of course, what I consider to be one of the most profound, though disturbing, statements about Jewish identity and history in popular culture…..
- “The Survivor.” Few “Curb” episodes deal with so many Jewish themes. Larry is tempted to have sexual relations with an Orthodox woman, which brings up stereotypes about Jews and sexuality. A Shoah survivor and a survivor from the “Survivor” series get into an argument about who is the “real” survivor. A great reflection on the meaning of memory and its distortions.
So, welcome back, “Curb.”
As we say, may you live to have 120 seasons!