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HTF REVIEW: Curb Your Enthusiasm - The Complete First Season.

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#1 of 15 Herb Kane

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Posted February 08 2004 - 11:59 AM

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Curb Your Enthusiasm – The Complete First Season



Studio: HBO
Year: 2000
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 360 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Standard TV
Audio: DD 2.0
Color/B&W: Color
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $39.98
Package: Slide out 2 panel digipak





The Feature:
Another show about nothing…? Well, chances are, if you were a fan of Seinfeld, you will be a fan of this show or at least be familiar with it. HBO has just released The Complete First Season of Curb Your Enthusiasm which basically chronicles the life of Seinfeld co-creator and executive producer Larry David. Larry David was obviously a huge influence over the character of George Costanza and was the driving force behind Seinfeld. In Curb Your Enthusiasm he appears as himself, a socially awkward, paranoid, hilariously neurotic man who manages to say the wrong thing at the wrong time over and over.

Much like Seinfeld was a show about nothing, this is a show about Larry doing nothing but living his life, and getting into trouble. He always finds himself in a jam, and he usually makes matters worse by lying to cover something up and then winds up caught and entangled in a web of deceit. Also similar to the Seinfeld show is the character’s almost neurotic ability to over analyze each and every mishap to a point of incredulity. Obviously a veteran of standup comedy, it’s interesting to see how he and the show manage to convert the talents and its character from a particular monologue into a situation comedy.

In the show, the lead character Larry David, is joined by a series of characters, most of whom play themselves in real life, including Wanda Sykes, Kathy Griffin, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nia Vardalos, Paul Dooley, and David's longtime friend, Richard Lewis. Other key figures include his wife Cheryl (played to perfection by Cheryl Hines), and his manager Jeff, (played by Jeff Garlin).

The show has a different feel to it that in my opinion differs greatly from that of Seinfeld. That’s probably due to the manner in which it is filmed (with hand held video cams) but also due to the whimsical music with an almost satirical feel that accompanies much of the show. The show is very interesting in that it doesn't use scripts. Obviously, there's an outline or an idea of what should happen, but most of it is improvised as is discussed at great length in the Larry David interview. Think of it as a show which is somewhat reminiscent of Seinfeld in its delivery, one where the characters aren’t quite as colorful as Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer. Picture Seinfeld based in California with no holds barred on the use of expletives and you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Similar to other HBO offerings, the packaging for this release is very unique. When you open the front flap of the case, you’ll find a "pull here" tab at the bottom. When you pull this, the one disc will pull out from the packaging as the other one slides up from the top. Although mine worked fine, when I turned it over, it appears as though the main cardboard sheet had been torn and repaired (and the screener set I received was sealed). It’s interesting that this set arrived (at least for me) after the set streeted, so I have to wonder if repairs were made to faulty sets… (?). Rarely are these things sent after street date. Finally, one last detail, unfortunately there isn’t a play all option feature with this set.


The following episodes are included on Season One:

1. The Pants Tent **COMMENTARY**
Airdate: 15 Oct 2000

2. Ted and Mary
Airdate: 22 Oct 2000

3. Porno Gil
Airdate: 29 Oct 2000

4. The Bracelet
Airdate: 5 Nov 2000

5. Interior Decorator
Airdate: 12 Nov 2000

6. The Wire
Airdate: 19 Nov 2000

7. AAMCO
Airdate: 26 Nov 2000

8. Beloved Aunt
Airdate: 3 Dec 2000

9. Affirmative Action
Airdate: 11 Dec 2000

10. The Group
Airdate: 17 Dec 2000



Video:
The HBO series is shown in its native 4:3 TV aspect ratio and with Larry David not wanting the whole TV sit com set thing going on, much of the show is shot using handheld video cameras which adds to an almost live or reality feel to it. And while the show has a unique “feel” to it, unfortunately the video presentation isn’t quite on par with many of the recently released TV to DVD sets. Let me explain.

The Good:
Starting with the good, blacks looked great and in contrast, whites were exceptionally crisp and nicely defined. Colors were vibrant although the skin tones had a red push to them most of the time. Grain was at an absolute minimum and the prints appeared to be clean and free from any debris or scuff marks etc. There were minimal traces of haloing during a few (and only a few) of the many outdoor scenes, but thankfully I didn’t find them overly bothersome.

The Bad:
Image detail…..! Unfortunately, most of the episodes I watched showed a rather poor level of image detail. Sure there were infrequent examples of a nicely defined image but frankly I was left rather unimpressed. Even when that was the case, objects in the background usually looked terribly out of focus. Unfortunately, this fault may be part and parcel with what’s up next.

The Ugly:
Well, maybe not exactly ugly but make no mistake about it, it wasn’t pretty. If anyone out there is collecting discs to show off digital imperfections or the inherent limitations of DVD, let Curb Your Enthusiasm be your example for jagged edges (or stair-stepping). It’s without question, the poster child for jaggies and can be placed right next to your copy Giant (which can be used during your edge enhancement seminar). Now getting back to my last sentence in “The Bad” category, quite often a quick fix for jaggies is to soften or blur the image to eliminate the definition of the quirk, which may very well be the cause of the poor image detail – if that was their intent… if it was, it didn’t work. At this stage, I should probably qualify that I’m watching on a 96” screen with a FP which is obviously going to exacerbate the problem. Those viewing with 50” - 60” RPTV’s (or smaller TV’s) shouldn’t find it quite so bothersome. Good (or bad, depending on how you look at it…) examples to look for are the clay tiles on Larry’s roof as well as “The Wire” in the episode of the same name.

Unfortunately, the image was downright disappointing and at times difficult to watch.



Audio:
Unlike the video presentation, I have mostly good things to say about the audio track which was encoded in DD 2.0.

Most importantly, the dialogue was always clear and intelligible. It was a moderately forward track – more than I anticipated with a rather impressive (at least for TV) dynamic range. And it shows off a pretty impressive soundstage that’s as wide as I’ve heard from a TV to disc set. Much of the show is accompanied with a wide selection of music ranging from Tango to Rumba, from zither music to an almost circus like theme song (perfectly described by Bob Costas as “Fellini-esque”) with a tuba downbeat; all of which adds to the quirky texture of the show, eliciting the somewhat morose and eccentric feel of Larry and the show. The scoring on this show is a prime example of the role music plays and how it contributes to the atmosphere of a film or a show. In this case, it’s absolutely brilliant.

The show doesn’t really require much more than it offers in terms of necessity but the soundstage allows the music (which in the case, is essential to the feel of the show), to be shown off quite nicely.



Special Features:
Though the set is not inundated with special features, they are:
[*] The first is a Commentary which features Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines and Bob Weide who provide the commentary on “The Pants Tent” episode of the series. It's rather interesting, but there is some dead time which occurs… all in all it’s rather informative.
[*] The next feature is a TV Special. As he prepares to return to stand-up, Larry David shows up on the doorstep of HBO to do a documentary (albeit simulated) which his manager, Jeff, has convinced him to do. The special follows Larry David for 44 days and we hear from many of his old friends, who discuss and share past experiences. This special is the show which was the inspiration for the award winning series. Duration: 58:57 minutes.
[*] The final feature is entitled Interview With Larry David. This is a very solid interview with Larry David, which is hosted by the always intense Bob Costas, who asks some great questions and manages to stump the guest on more than one occasion. Larry and Bob go into great detail as to how the show is taped and the lack of scripted material and his expectation of the show’s participants. Many of the discussions are complemented with brief clips of the show. I know there are many who require a certain taste for Costas but I’m not one of them. I’ve long been a fan of his and always find him fascinating to listen to and enjoy watching him interview. This is a meat and potatoes interview with very little frivolity which shouldn’t be missed if you’re a fan of the show. Duration: 29:18 minutes.



Final Thoughts:
My experience (or lack thereof) with Curb Your Enthusiasm was similar to another recent HBO offering, The Sopranos. I recall people at work talking about the show and how hilariously funny it was comparing it to Seinfeld. Needless to say, I was curious. Unfortunately (and unlike my experience with The Sopranos) I was left a little disappointed. That’s not to say I didn’t find the show funny as it certainly had its funny moments. It just lacked the same chemistry that seemed to be the difference behind the huge success of Seinfeld. Having said all of that and comparisons to Seinfeld aside, the show is at times hysterically funny but seems to have to work harder and suffers frequent bouts of anticlimax.

I suspect the show won't be to everyone's taste although (and here we go with the comparisons again) fans of Seinfeld will probably enjoy its unconventional approach and texture. One last detail worthy of mentioning; while I was working on the review, I went back the next day to finish up the special features and decided to watch a couple of other episodes, and it does seem as though the show has to “grow” on you, so don’t be too quick to dismiss it after only watching an episode or two. There really are some funny funny moments…!!

Though I am rather ambivalent about the show itself, my feelings about the presentation are decidedly clear. The audio portion on this set exceeded my expectations, however, the video portion was clearly a disappointment.




Released: January 13th, 2004
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 15 Casey Trowbridg

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Posted February 08 2004 - 12:11 PM

Herb, thanks for the review, I am definitely going to check this out sooner or later.

#3 of 15 Anthony Neilson

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Posted February 08 2004 - 12:20 PM

This is a very entertaining show but it falls short of Seinfeld's standards for me. The main problem is that it's overly reliant on co-incidence. There's no reason for every situation to be tied into the main plotline by each show's end, but David insists on doing so. The results are sometimes funny but, just as often, seem painfully contrived.

The other odd thing is that much is made of David's character being abrasive and forthright ; yet many of the stories are based around his embarrassment at small social faux-pas. It doesn't seem consistent somehow.

That said, this is still an amusing and intelligent show, and very easy to watch. I'd recommend it, especially given its low price.
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#4 of 15 Nick Sievers

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Posted February 08 2004 - 02:44 PM

I always wanted to watch this show but it was never on at a reasonable hour here, so I just decided to wait for the DVD. I laughed a few times in the first episode but felt a little let down from all the raves I had heard. After the next episode I was hooked, once I caught onto the show’s wave length I couldn’t stop watching it I only got to the episode in which Julia Louis Dreyfus appears before I had to call it a night. I haven’t laughed so hard at a TV series in quite sometime, hopefully the DVD’s won’t be a year apart like most HBO product.

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#5 of 15 NeilK

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Posted February 09 2004 - 02:50 AM

Does anyone else here find the packaging to be rather annoying. The pull tab on my box broke the second time I tried to open it up. I noticed that the whole contraption is held together by a measly piece of plastic which is begging to be ripped, which in my case it did.

#6 of 15 Tim_P_76

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Posted February 09 2004 - 09:50 AM

I think it's safe to say you either love it or hate it. I am just watching this set and I find it histerical. I made a blind purchase after seeing one episode and through word of mouth. I'm pretty sure since it was shot on DV which always gives a softness and shows aliasing, accounts for your video problems. But after seeing many DV projects put to DVD or blown up to 35mm its better than usual.

It reminded me of Seinfeld and maybe thats why I enjoy it.

I like the "me first" policy or the sleeve shake...classic.
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#7 of 15 KevA

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Posted February 09 2004 - 09:59 AM

In contradistinction to Anthony's comments, I would say that Curb Your Enthusiasm exceeds the standard set by Seinfeld. Free from the unnecessary constraints of broadcast television, Curb allows the extraordinarily creative mind of Larry David free reign and it's a joy to watch. The show is original, the comic ideas are brilliant, the execution is fresh and -- most importantly -- it's hysterical.

#8 of 15 Steve Felix

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Posted February 09 2004 - 01:12 PM

The jaggies problem isn't a DVD compression issue -- as Timmy said, that comes out of the camera. Lowering the shutter speed in a DV camera (to achieve a film look) cuts the vertical resolution which accentuates the jaggies on lines. I'd guess that's what's occurring here. The effect is worth the trade, in my opinion, but I agree it's occasionally very distracting on this set (and I have a 32" TV).

My case broke on my first use, and fell apart completely shortly thereafter. I was gentle with it, so it's definitely a design misfire. Good thing the show makes up for these problems!
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#9 of 15 Herb Kane

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Posted February 09 2004 - 03:52 PM

Quote:
Lowering the shutter speed in a DV camera (to achieve a film look) cuts the vertical resolution which accentuates the jaggies on lines. I'd guess that's what's occurring here. The effect is worth the trade, in my opinion, but I agree it's occasionally very distracting on this set (and I have a 32" TV).

Steve, the problem is, it looks nothing like film. Cause and effect aside, the fact remains, it's not very pleasing on the eyes. If you find it "occasionally very distracting" on a 32" set, imagine my disappointment on a 96" screen. "Ugly" might be too harsh a descriptor (which is why I didn't use it, I'd prefer to save that for the many PD releases that exist), but it's certainly one of the poorest video presentations I've looked at.

Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#10 of 15 Nick Sievers

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Posted February 09 2004 - 08:10 PM

I've been watching it on a 105" screen and it does look ugly but the show is so good i'm willing to look past this. I noticed the exact same thing with the Family Guy sets, thought not to the extent of CYE.
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#11 of 15 Steve Felix

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Posted February 10 2004 - 02:45 PM

Quote:
the problem is, it looks nothing like film

Very true, but the real goal is to not look like 60i video, and it succeeds! Posted Image
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#12 of 15 Jeffrey_K

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Posted February 18 2004 - 03:58 AM

A great DVD. What upset me though, was that Blockbuster rented only the first disk. I missed episodes 7-10. Posted Image
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#13 of 15 Jon B NY

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Posted February 18 2004 - 05:49 AM

Jeffrey - buy it. It's worth it. The 2nd disc has the one hour HBO special that was the inspiration for Curb Your Enthusiasm. It's brilliant.

#14 of 15 TedT

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Posted February 19 2004 - 04:42 AM

Got this and have seen the first 3 episodes. Man, do I feel uneasy watching these! Very funny.

#15 of 15 Jeffrey_K

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Posted March 04 2004 - 05:50 AM

Jon: Agreed. I thought it was as funny as "Seinfeld". 100% George, thought. Posted Image
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