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On the Tube: Enthusiasm still high for HBO's 'Curb'

Friday, January 02, 2004

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Oh, the humor! Oh, the pain!

HBO's cringe-inducing comedy "Curb Your Enthusiasm" returns for its fourth season Sunday at 9:30 p.m., and it still has that unique ability to make you laugh through your wincing. Or wince through your laughing. Regardless which reaction takes precedence, most viewers will do a little of both.

This season Larry gets corralled by Mel Brooks to appear in his Broadway musical "The Producers" alongside Ben Stiller, whose hostility toward Larry is thinly veiled at best.

Larry's also counting down to his 10-year wedding anniversary with wife, Cheryl (Cheryl Hines). When they married, Cheryl promised him he could have sex with another woman for their 10-year anniversary, a promise Larry reminds her about. To his shock, she's OK with the prospect of his one-time infidelity, as long as it's completed before their anniversary date.

This plot threatens to run the full season -- the anniversary is three months away -- but by the second episode, it appears to be mercifully derailed.

Larry and "The Producers" continues, however, as Larry fails miserably at learning the choreography for his role. His relationship with Stiller deteriorates hilariously, he ruins the romance of the show's blind rehearsal pianist and he corrupts children while playing the telephone game at a party.

"Curb" is an acquired taste to be sure, and for some viewers it no doubt proves too abrasive to acquire. But with its attention to picayune details (why can't patients use the phones in doctors' exam rooms?), it's the closest thing to a successful "Seinfeld" spinoff on the air. For that alone, we can muster a good bit of enthusiasm.

'SEX AND THE CITY'

"Sex and the City" (9 p.m. Sunday, HBO) has never been my favorite, but I certainly prefer it now in its final days to its wilder first season.

The characters have matured, the stories are more grown up. There's still sex and especially sex talk, to be sure, but it seems less smutty. Or maybe I've just become inured to it. Either way, the series and its characters have aged well.

The show may actually get too serious for some viewers as it nears its conclusion. An illness threatens the life of one of the good-time girls and another makes a major life change.

Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) has taken "a lover," Aleksandr Petrovsky (Mikhail Baryshnikov). Charlotte (Kristin Davis) bides her time before attempting another pregnancy. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Steve (David Eigenberg) confront an angry Robert (Blair Underwood), who's still upset about losing Miranda to Steve. And Samantha (Kim Catrall) may be tiring of Smith (Jason Lewis).

The show's maturity is far more evident in the second episode of the season. It's starts in expected "Sex" style with Sam considering breast implants ("Not the watermelon freak show kind, something tasteful," she says), but grows more serious as Carrie's relationship deepens and other characters tiptoe down previously unexplored paths.

"Sex and the City" has its series finale Feb. 22, and at that time millions of fans will shed a tear at the passing of television's most reliable fashion prognosticator. That doesn't matter to me, but I am happy to see a show that's grown up go out on top.


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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