The most unpredictable phenomenon in nature is the arrival of a new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Putting shame to the very idea of a regular programming schedule, creator and star Larry David seems to haphazardly decide, every couple of years, “Sure, let’s do another.” Several weeks of improved kvetching later, we have a show. So, the lot of us fans are waiting for that next batch of Curbs: a string that could take Larry to Paris (as suggested in the Season 8 finale), or well beyond the confines of the reality to which you and I are anchored. In the meantime, however, a newly generous David has decided to sate his fan base’s craving with Clear History: a chance for the artist to do something different… although, in essence, not at all different. Not even a little.
In the HBO movie, Larry plays a bearded marketing genius who leaves his prosperous automotive conglomerate in a huff when he disagrees with his boss (Jon Hamm) on the name of the new model: the Howard — an act performed in a very Larry David fashion (didn’t he do this in real life, actually? When he was working for Saturday Night Live? Are you sure this isn’t just a Curb episode we missed?). After that, the Howard takes off, and a disgraced Larry — oh, I’m sorry. Nathan. His name is Nathan in this — moves from Los Angeles to Martha’s Vineyard to live under the radar in a new, quiet, decidedly curmudgeonly but sweetly fulfilling existence. He leaves the upper crust society types with whom he didn’t really belong (including a nameless, much younger, much more attractive wife who seemed perpetually frustrated with him — so, Cheryl) to join the everymen of the Massachusetts island with whom he also doesn’t really belong. Location notwithstanding, the Curb similarities increase.
We meet Nathan (under the guise of “Rolly”) 10 years down the line. He has wrangled Danny McBride as his Jeff, a schlubby second in command who at once resents and admires his partner. He insults local business owners, ex-girlfriends, and town newcomers, incurring no true ramifications in any ordeal. Only when Jon Hamm’s character moves to Martha’s Vineyard in a stroke of coincidence does Larry’s life take a real tumble.
In his effort to get rid of, ruin the life of, or somehow otherwise eradicate the problem that is Hamm’s character, Larry explores zaniness to a new degree. Stepping beyond the confines of Curb, Larry’s character entertains plans like blowing up his house and stealing his wife — things even Curb‘s Larry wouldn’t consider doing. In this cartoonish fashion does Clear History stray from the HBO series… and only here. Otherwise, we’re just treated to a long line of observational diatribes, ceaseless whinings, and celebrity cameos. The sort of thing we find on an episode of David’s show.
And to be honest, that’s just fine. No, we shouldn’t ask for more Clear Historys. David’s comedy works best in the half hour format, and with his established persona pulling the cart. Clear History only works, in fact, if you’re willing to treat it as a Curb movie with the names changed. Under a different attitude, it’s quite messy and senseless, something that you cannot say of David’s succinct and neat little show. But until said show comes back, sure, we’ll take this. Larry David complaining in a new location? Alongside John Hamm, Danny McBride, Michael Keaton, and Bill Hader? Yes. That’ll tide us over for now.