Imagine if "Seinfeld" had been called "Costanza" and hapless George had been the focus. That gives you an idea of what "Curb Your Enthusiasm," a new 10-episode HBO series, is like.
It stars Larry David, "Seinfeld" co-creator, as Larry David. Balding, graying, bespectacled and thinner than actor Jason Alexander, David once said he related most to the character of George. "He was a vehicle to act out my baser, sicker thoughts. And there are lots of those," he told Entertainment Weekly in 1997.
David helped Seinfeld create the brilliant NBC series, served as its executive producer, won Emmys in 1993 when "Seinfeld" was named best comedy series, wrote at least 60 episodes and lent his dark side to the finale.
If you park your remote at "Curb," you will find L.A. stories that are reminiscent of "Seinfeld" but not as funny. Then again, what is?
"Curb" is not scripted. Instead, it's "wholly improvised from storylines." As a viewer, you can appreciate the improv, but you also wonder how much funnier it might be if it had been rewritten and polished.
Working from outlines are David and actress Cheryl Hines (playing his wife, Cheryl) and Jeff Garlin (as his manager, Jeff). They also appeared in the 1999 HBO special "Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm."
Appearing as themselves are celebrities Kathy Griffin (of the famous "Jerry Seinfeld Is the Devil" episode), Richard Lewis, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Diane Keaton and lady Elaine herself, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
The opening episode, debuting tonight from 9:30 to 10 and repeating throughout the week, has some stories that could have been Seinfeldized, although the language is more befitting HBO than NBC. "The Pants Tent" deals with Larry's ill-fitting trousers, which bunch up in an embarrassing way when he sits.
The fabric folly leads to a misunderstanding with Cheryl's best friend, who has accompanied Larry to the movies. That's also where Larry has words with a woman who turns out to be Richard Lewis' new girlfriend. If all this weren't enough, Larry manages to unwittingly offend Jeff's parents, who overhear a crack about Cheryl.
The Oct. 22 episode, "Ted and Mary," works better and is funnier, maybe because of the stars, maybe because of the story. Larry loses his shoes at the bowling alley, develops a social crush on Mary and an affinity for shopping, and finds himself awaiting a promised invite to a Paul Simon concert.
The third outing, "Porno Gil," is the raunchiest, as you might expect from the title. Larry and Cheryl are invited to a party at the home of a porn actor and his wife, and a series of misunderstandings and embarrassments ensue. The fourth, "The Bracelet," features the return of comedian Lewis, who is best when served in small doses, as here. An unexpected detour -- Larry and Richard are asked for a favor by a stranger on the street -- is actually a bit zany and the closest the episode has to funny.
Watching "Curb," you can clearly see echoes of "Seinfeld" -- annoying movie patrons, officious store clerks, slights about not seeing the bay-be, goofy hats, new jackets, getting lost, late arrivals at parties, watches, shedding your shoes. Nothing is flat out recycled, but they were fresher the first time around.
One of the strengths of "Seinfeld" was its ensemble: Seinfeld, Alexander and Emmy winners Michael Richards and Louis-Dreyfus. "Seinfeld" may have been the weakest actor of the four, but he provided an appealing center.
Forget "Seinfeld" ever existed, and you may still think Larry David the character is too sour and hapless as a show's center spoke. Better he should be a supporting player, although this is his life and series. And it is interesting to see reminders of his life outside "Seinfeld," such as a poster for "Sour Grapes," the 1998 theatrical comedy he wrote and directed.
I have not seen the episodes with Keaton and Louis-Dreyfus, but "Curb" occasionally approaches or achieves amusing. It never pole-vaults into that rarefied area of laugh-aloud funny.