After dealing with seemingly never-ending restrictions and two jabs to the arm in 2021, the announcement of the 11th season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” was the best news I received all year. Not only would I finally get new episodes of the show I binged repeatedly throughout the pandemic, but I’d see how Larry David, the true king of curmudgeons, survived (and probably thrived) during quarantine.
Finally, last October, my friends, family and I got our answer — and it wasn’t much of an answer at all. Spoiler alert if you haven’t binged season 11 yet: The main plot of the season revolves around developing Larry’s new show “Young Larry” and him being blackmailed into casting the worst actress known to mankind. Episode one acknowledges the pandemic by referencing “COVID hoarders,” also known as the people who stocked up on sparse supplies at the beginning of quarantine (rewind to the global lack of toilet paper). After that, the plot quickly moves along into the problems of the near future.
I watched every episode from then on looking out for more potential COVID quirks, maybe even a flashback to Larry at the height of quarantine, but there were none. After spending my quarantine imagining all the ways Larry could have been handling the pandemic, it was disheartening to see none of them played out. If any show could find humor in the darkest of times, it’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Seeing the pandemic through Larry’s glasses could have helped me and other “Curb” fans feel less alone in our various handlings (or mishandlings) of these unprecedented times.
My parents raised my brother and I on “Seinfeld.” We staged an impromptu Festivus on vacation and my mom used to have a soup business called “The Soup Nancy.” As adults, we graduated to “Curb Your Enthusiasm,”where we found levity in the variety of Larry-isms that regularly happen to us, such as the “stop-and-chat,” the “chat-and-cut” and people who say “Happy New Year” a week (or four) too late. Growing up with these shows and watching the origins of my family’s jokes made them into go-to comfort television.
In April 2020, Larry starred in a PSA from the government of California that gave fans like me a glimmer into what a pandemic-centered season of “Curb” could look like. From that point on, my friends, family and I started to hypothesize the many ways the show could make light of the new normal; my friend even came up with a bingo card of hypothetical situations to use while watching. Not only did this brainstorming hype us up for the new season, but it soothed us in a time of universal despair. There was something comforting knowing even Larry David (both the person and the character) had to figure out how to adjust to the restrictions.
While it’s fun to imagine how our favorite celebrities and fictional characters adjusted to the pandemic, especially someone as unique as Larry David, it’s also fair to argue that doing so defeats the purpose of turning to television as an escape from reality. Maybe a part of why my family and I indulged so much in “Seinfeld” reruns over quarantine is because it took us back to the seemingly simpler ‘90s.
However, I love how television can also mirror our reality back to us, allowing us to understand perspectives that are not part of our daily lives. This has been done most often during the pandemic on the news, by documenting the experiences of people suffering the most. I also believe television can validate the sometimes silly ways in which societal norms and personal preferences have changed during the pandemic.
As a show semi-grounded in the real world, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” season 11 could have easily continued to show its viewers the humor in the new normal of pandemic life, as they did with the COVID hoarder plot line in episode one. To quote special guest star Jon Hamm, it’s now “a shunda” to have a closet full of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, whereas in 2019, it would be a normal order from Costco. There were so many more opportunities for us to have pandemic habits reflected back to us and validated in season 11. Larry could have faked a positive test to get out of plans. He might have found some people better-looking with a mask on. If anyone could have reassured me of my need to buy specific types of hand sanitizers (because regular ones smell too much like vodka), it would have been him. These are all missed golden opportunities that could have had us laughing at ourselves and accepting COVID-centric lifestyle changes instead of resisting them.
There’s nothing funny about the millions of deaths that have happened because of COVID-19, the lack of vaccine equity and the toll these past two years have taken on countless people’s mental health. However, I believe the best way for our favorite pieces of pop culture to find humor is from how the pandemic has changed the subtleties of daily life. The writers and producers of “Curb” (and many other returning shows) may have just thought now is not the time when the rest of the world wants to see it — and they’re probably right. With the recent surges brought on by the rampant omicron variant, we’re still very much in the thick of it. The beginning of COVID-19’s transition to endemicity is uncertain.
I am looking forward to the day where I get to watch a show that will let me laugh at some of the new habits my family, friends and I had to adopt because of COVID-19. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” season 11 was not the one I imagined last October, but I still got plenty of laughs and Larry-isms (some of which my family have already adopted) to survive as the pandemic rages on.