2016 was a very, very bad year no matter how you slice it. In tough times, comedy is often a form of escape that people turn to when they need comforting. With that in mind, we asked our contributors to pick the one piece of comedy in any form that they turn to when they really need cheering up. We’ll be sharing their choices throughout the week in a package we’re calling “The Best Medicine.”
In the aftermath of an incredibly negative year like 2016, there’s a kind of knee-jerk reaction to seek out positivity. That’s human. A search for a hopeful, forward-looking yin to the abominable yang through which we’ve all just suffered, and there’s nothing wrong with a desire to “find a happy place” as we embark on a very uncertain next year, and beyond. Having said that, I’d like to offer a counter opinion.
What if the thing we need in 2017 isn’t more positivity, but more negativity? What if all of us who were so affected by the travesties of the past twelve months (the violence, the intolerance, the election of an utter buffoon) need to do the opposite of making sure we keep our heads up and smile? What if what we really need to do is let the cosmos know that everything’s not okay, that this won’t just stand, man? What if what we need to do is bitch a fuck of a lot more?
Enter my ringing endorsement for Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Season 2. Before Leon, before the Seinfeld reunion episode, before the show became more about Larry David living his life as a beloved TV mega-celebrity than as a cranky man in Los Angeles, Curb’s 2001 contribution laid the groundwork for what I’m advocating as our 2017 “mantra of negativity”. Unmatched in its justified cynicism, its grounded assault on a society that’s conditioned to put up with crap because “Well, what’s the use in complaining?” these ten episodes – more than any other season – saw Larry look a cadre of those who offended basic principles of human dignity right in the eye and said, hands splayed, “No, this is crazy. This…is too much.” Did he ever win? Not really, no. Was he met with resistance – disdain even – each step of the way? Yes, he was, but aren’t most crusaders? Aren’t most innovators? I think so.
When episode 201 premiered on September 23, 2001, the United States and the world was reeling from the horrors of 9/11. Fifteen years later, the voices of a divided nation are conflating into a doomsday din, and – I think – it might behoove us all to prepare for intellectual challenge by challenging our own predisposition to “look on the bright side.” Curb Season 2 tells us that, while there isn’t always a bright side, basking in negativity can help us express our true emotions, avoid repression, and, at the very very least, feel pretty damn satisfying.
Here are my top three “feel good” eps from what I believe is the smartest, most cathartic season of television ever produced.
Episode 201, “The Car Salesman”
Selectively out of work, Larry asks Jeff’s Toyota dealer if he can moonlight for a few days as a car salesman. Despite criticism from his wife, manager, and best friend, all of whom want him to “Do what he’s best at,” he defends his entirely selfish pursuit with incredible tenacity, and bounds forth to test drive an endless stream of bullshit on the showroom floor. Is it the “right” move for his career? Is it benefiting society in any way? No, but it’s the right move for his out-of-whack headspace at that point in time, and he dives in, bald head first, on a quest to achieve some sort of personal equilibrium.
Episode 204, “The Shrimp Incident”
This episode can be summed up in three words: “Fuck Allan Wasserman.” While visiting HBO to pitch a Julia Louis-Dreyfus vehicle that seems like an all but done deal, Larry faces up to a fictitious HBO Executive named Allan Wasserman who Larry believes stole his shrimp when their Chinese takeout orders were mixed up just a few nights prior. Instead of keeping his mouth shut and cow-towing to a man who could buy Larry’s show, he lets loose in the meeting, accusing Wasserman of thievery. Julia’s does not get picked up, but Larry gets it out. He’s cleansed.
Episode 205, “The Thong”
Recognized for its A-story, wherein Larry decides to terminate therapy after seeing his shrink in a thong at the beach, the true message of this installment lies in the B-plot. Rob Reiner asks Larry if he’d be willing to go to lunch with the highest bidder at a fundraiser to benefit Groat’s Syndrome. He reluctantly agrees. While at said lunch, Larry is criticized by the auction winner for starting to eat his meal before the winner is served. It’s a stunning indictment of a formality, a societal distraction that simply doesn’t matter and, frankly, should be railed against.
Always speak up, even if it’s not popular. It may be the only way to fix this whole mess. Negativity in 2017!
Luke is an executive producer at CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.