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TV Review: 'Curb Your Enthusiasm,' 'Bored to Death'

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Curb Your Enthusiasm
8 p.m. Sunday on HBO
Three stars

Bored to Death
8:30 p.m. Sunday on HBO
Three stars

On Sunday nights, HBO has cornered the market on shows about people you would never be friends with.

Larry David is beginning his seventh season on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and yes, it's awe-inspiring to think that there is no end in sight to this man's petty complaints. You've probably already made up your mind about Larry, and whether you can tolerate him in your circle of fictional acquaintances. Like the tuba music that starts the show, I can take Larry in small doses. But a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" marathon could spark a suicide epidemic.

Larry is still split from saintly, spunky wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines), but the Hurricane Katrina-displaced family she insisted they take in are still living with Larry. In fact, Larry is dating one of them - an imperious Vivica A. Fox - and he is anxious to break up with her, except for one small problem: She's waiting to find out if she has cancer.

"You gotta break up with her before she gets those test results," advises pal Jeff (Jeff Garlin), who is used to these kinds of situations.

I do admire Larry for his fearless approach to topics that, in any other household, dare not speak their name. He blithely explores black-white relations (Fox's character's name is Loretta Black, in fact), the likelihood of getting a good apricot, vacuum-sealed packaging and lyme disease. And all with equal concern.

By the time the old "Seinfeld" gang gets back together in the third episode, you understand why they might have been reluctant for a reunion.

Larry would instantly lose patience with Jonathan, the blocked novelist with Jackson Browne hair in "Bored to Death." He's played by Jason Schwartzman, who was made for roles like this. He's crippled by overthinking things, and seems permanently stunned.

Jonathan had a successful first book, but has been lost in a "white wine regimen" since then. His girlfriend has left him, but he still has his lumpish best friend (the vaguely brain-damaged Zach Galifianakis of "The Hangover") and his swashbuckling, mentoring magazine editor (Ted Danson, who repeatedly warns, "Don't be a milquetoast.").

Jonathan never cracks a smile, and is extremely literal. He's the kind of guy who confesses, "I'm not good with anger. I go straight to depression." He's like Woody Allen's overeducated, anguished grandson.

He pulls himself out of his pot-paced life - slightly - by placing an ad on Craigslist as an amateur private investigator. He's not sure if this is legal, but if it's good enough for Raymond Chandler . . .

The first case? Jonathan is hired to find a missing girl, which leads to accidental antics that HBO has termed "noir-otic." It is funny, once you have adjusted yourself to the existential rhythms and embraced the offbeat. If the prospect of a Jim Jarmusch cameo excites you, this show is for you.

Maybe all this detective work will lead to material for a new book. Maybe Jonathan will earn his girlfriend back. Maybe he will find the meaning of life. Maybe he will take a chardonnay-soaked nap.

In the end, it all amounts to pretty much the same thing: a half hour with a self-sabotaging wit. A nice side effect is that both "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Bored to Death" make you feel better about yourself. You may have a bad day now and then, but you will never need the kind of intensive primal scream therapy that Larry and Jonathan are destined for.

It's easy to laugh at them, but if you're honest with yourself, you'll admit that, deep down, a tiny evil part of you identifies with them, too.

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This page contains a single entry by Paige Wiser published on September 18, 2009 4:45 AM.

Friday TV highlights, 9/18/09 was the previous entry in this blog.

Weekend TV highlights, Sept. 19-20, 2009 is the next entry in this blog.

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