If a six-year hiatus weren’t enough to test your nerves, Curb Your Enthusiasm resumed work last fall the morning after the presidential election. In New York City, Susie Essman was “under the covers in a deep state of mourning,” grateful she wasn’t working that day. Cheryl Hines wasn’t on set, either.
First up were Larry David and J.B. Smoove, who tried to rekindle the L.D.–Leon magic on a day when neither of them was feeling particularly bright. “It was a rough day,” Smoove told Vulture. “Oh Jesus, man. It felt crazy ’cause the country was in turmoil — we were split on Hillary and Trump and Larry had done all the Bernie Sanders stuff. That first scene, we all had to shake it off a little bit, but after that it opened up and we got right back in the flow.”
Because of David’s insistence on no spoilers of any kind about the new season, Smoove couldn’t describe their struggles in detail. But he agreed with the creator and star of the show, who said at an August press event that he was on edge. “I had trouble with the first take, and I thought, Jeez, I’ve lost it,” David said. “How am I going to do this?”
“I felt it too,” Smoove recalled. “But you get back in your wardrobe, start walking around that house again, and it comes right back. Larry slow-pitches you these amazing, funny concepts and all you gotta do is hit the ball. After that scene, it was like, We’re back, Larry baby!”
Nobody expected Curb Your Enthusiasm to be back at all. Sure, David had taken lengthy hiatuses before — the first season aired in 2000. But six years? Essman says she had grieved her character, Susie Greene, and let her go. Hines, who regularly saw David socially, said the topic never even came up. Smoove would occasionally call up David and ask, “What up, fool?” and receive a “What’s up, motherfucker?” in return, and that would be the end of that.
Somehow, ten new episodes are airing beginning this Sunday night, and by all accounts, nothing has changed. If the clips HBO has shared are the evidence, TV Larry has aged, but not grown or matured. Neither has the rest of the ensemble, which is all returning, including Jeff Garlin as Larry’s manager Jeff Greene. “These people keep making the same mistakes, the same stupid things, over and over,” Essman said. “There’s no life lessons here. We’re all older, but we’re the same, just in different situations.”
The last time Curb viewers saw TV Larry, he was in Paris with Leon, accusing a Frenchman of being a “pig parker.” The new season picks up six years later and will fill viewers in on what everyone’s been up to. Leon’s still squatting at Larry’s, and Larry and his ex-wife Cheryl are friends. Jeff and Susie are still married, and there’s still plenty of yelling.
“It would be great to say Larry’s character evolved, or his relationships evolved,” Hines said, “but that is not the case. [Real life] Larry is crankier and couldn’t care less. I mean, he couldn’t care less before, but now it’s at an all-time high.”
David recently appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and said he did notice one major difference in his interactions with the cast. “Every show someone’s yelling, cursing, everything. You know, usually, it’s, ‘You bald bastard,’ things like that,” he said. Now, it’s “old bastard.” “The ‘bald bastard’ used to make me laugh,” he said. “But the ‘old bastard,’ I didn’t like that at all…Boy, do I miss being called bald!”
That may be, but Essman says it was obvious David relishes being yelled at as much as he always did. Since the actors on the show work off of outlines and improvise their dialogue on the spot, no one ever knows what to expect. “Whenever I start screaming at him, he gets the giggles like if you’re in the third grade and the teacher is yelling at you,” Essman said. “He ruins all my best takes, always. He’s the worst perpetrator of the giggling for all of us.”
On her first day back at work, Essman realized she had really missed yelling at David and Garlin. “There’s nothing more fun,” she said. “I don’t have to memorize lines, I show up, I yell and tell everybody to go fuck themselves, and then they give me money and I go home.”
Hines plays the only regular Curb character that has never yelled at Larry – Cheryl says everything she needs to say with her face. “All of mine is internalized,” Hines laughs. “I’m yelling on the inside, but I know it’s pointless to actually raise my voice. When I went to audition for Curb, the very little direction I got was that I’d heard it all from Larry before. So there’s no point at yelling at him. But on the inside, I am really annoyed.”
Other familiar players, who TV Larry regularly irritates, will appear in the season, including Richard Lewis, Ted Danson, and Bob Einstein. The season will also feature Bryan Cranston as a therapist, Judge Judy as herself, Lauren Graham as a love interest, Jimmy Kimmel, and Elizabeth Banks.
“An interesting thing about Curb is that sometimes you get guest stars who are great actors but they’re not good improvisers because it’s two different talents,” Essman explained. “But then people come on and surprise me. Bryan was just thrilling, and Elizabeth Banks was amazing.”
The seven-time Emmy-nominated Curb returns to a completely different TV landscape, one in which the competition has almost tripled, identity politics dominates the headlines, and the show contextually exists in a vastly different world, politically and socially. The question now is whether viewers will still laugh along with Larry’s brute honesty and cringeworthy worldview.
“There’s definitely going to be some issues tackled in true Larry David fashion,” Smoove said. “The show’s got to have a balance of real human emotions and controversial topics — things that make you raise your eyebrows or make you go, holy shit. That’s the formula that’s always been Curb. No matter how much time has passed, or what’s happened since then, Curb is an honest take on the world and human emotions, and he always finds a way to mirror these things.”
Hines thinks the show’s timing couldn’t be better. “I think people are really ready to laugh right now,” she said. “With everything that’s going on in the world, Larry approaches most everything in a very fearless way — he makes fun of subjects where I think, Oh no, this is the end of HBO, and people love it. People know what they’re getting into. The show this season is hilarious and really crazy, and it will be a little shocking — I think that’s what the fans hope to get.”