Perspective | Larry David lives in hell


In the 1940s, the German playwright Bertolt Brecht spent five years in exile, most of them in a tidy white house in Santa Monica, Calif. He didn’t love it.

And so he wrote “Hollywood Elegies,” a lyric cycle about a city that chewed up writers and spit them out. “In these parts,” Brecht lamented, “they have come to the conclusion that God, requiring a heaven and a hell, didn’t need to plan two establishments but just the one.”

Nothing captures this doubleness, the sense of the Westside of Los Angeles as paradise and perdition, better than the product of another writer-in-exile: Larry David.

“Seinfeld,” the Manhattan-set NBC series that made David rich enough to live in these parts, famously captured that other west side as a land of improbably large one-bedrooms, sticky diners and strivers driven to hilarious forms of madness. Its successor, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” now nearing the conclusion of its 12th and final season, stars David (as “Larry David”) and renders L.A.’s Westside as the endpoint of all that neurotic New York aspiration — a heaven of greenery, blond wood and square footage and a hell of cranks in Rivians who seem to have lost some essential tether to the world.

I know this because I, too, am an exile in David’s neck of the (well-landscaped) woods. I walk or drive past “Curb” locations every day; I’ve been to the restaurant with “the Ugly Section” and attended a dinner party up the block from Larry’s faux-Tuscan castle. The show’s sharpest stabs at the Westside vibe may be more spiritual than physical, but in this city so often reduced to cliché, “Curb” has been admirably precise about the geography, too. By now, David’s series has spent nearly a quarter-century constructing one of the great L.A. stories, and it nails the milieu gloriously: a realm of tremendous ease and perpetual irritation.

In Los Angeles, neighborhoods north of the I-10 (effectively a historical redline) can be defined by their relationship to Hollywood. The farther west you go, the more money residents tend to make out of that relationship. Young aspirants populate the hipster Northeast, writers cavort in Silver Lake and Los Feliz, and actors climb the hills of Hollywood. But the Westside belongs to the producers, the possessors of Tesla Model S’s and overall deals.

Larry’s domain is even more specific. The Curb Belt is a crescent running from the northern parts of Brentwood and Santa Monica up through the coastal canyons of the Pacific Palisades. There are palm trees on “Curb,” but its predominant vegetation is more varied and lush: crooked coral trees sprouting brilliant red flowers, fig trees fractaling into manicured florets, bougainvillea and birds of paradise. The houses are similarly florid and eclectic, if not always as pleasing to the eye.

At the start of the series, Larry and his wife, Cheryl (Cheryl Hines), live in something like the lair of a giant hobbit; soon they move into a monstrous palazzo. His manager, Jeff (Jeff Garlin), trades an ultramodern metallic box for a metastasized Cape Cod. “L.A. is an incredible architecture city,” novelist and longtime Westsider Antoine Wilson says. “And yet the houses that these characters live in reflect this weird kind of tastelessness and conformity.”

This sense of ersatz style — eclecticism flattened into pastiche — permeates the many real places featured on the show: the fake Tudor facade of upscale Italian spot Amici Brentwood clashing with the Connecticut barn decor of the Brentwood Country Mart (a mall), the New York-style pizza place that owes its authenticity to the owner being the son of an actor in “The Godfather,” the cozy-sounding Palisades Village (another mall) that resembles nothing more than a hamlet of Apple Stores, the vaguely neo-Victorian mansion housing a restaurant called the Victorian. Everything is so studiously different, yet exactly the same.

Larry is not a cog in this machine; instead he throws sand in the gears. On “Curb,” he expresses his individuality by making a nuisance of himself at dinner parties (“Do you respect wood?”) or berating “pig parkers” along the Curb Belt’s retail corridors. In doing so, he punctures the Westside’s surface of ease. He makes Wilson think of “Trickster Makes This World,” Lewis Hyde’s classic study of mischief makers as the engine of literature.

But what is Larry really tilting against, beyond his own inconvenience? For one thing, an alien culture in which the frankness and frisson of New York are replaced with mysterious rules and empty niceties.

No setting epitomizes this contrast quite like a golf club, a setting in several episodes of the current season. (It’s closely modeled on David’s own Riviera Country Club.) In Episode 3, Larry eavesdrops on a golf lesson intended for Oscar-winning deaf actor Troy Kotsur. Fortified by the lesson, Larry soon launches a ball way down the fairway — and it hits Troy square on the back. Larry waves silently, figuring Troy wouldn’t hear “Fore!”

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The usual ruckus ensues, then an argument. To make amends, Larry offers Troy a free meal via Postmates. The golf pro whose lesson he has just stolen scoffs: “‘Deeply and profoundly sorry’ — and you offer him Postmates?!” Larry has broken several (literally) unspoken rules. His way out of this etiquette conundrum: exposing his testicles to repulse the club’s irate owner.

Sure, the setting is rarefied, but what makes “Curb” a hit is that his cathartic rebellion is contagious and universal. It’s safe to say every human on the planet, Westsider or not, has at some point wanted to Larry out — to snap at a minor slight that also reflects the existential crisis of living among other humans.

This happens to me a lot in Santa Monica. Not too long after bingeing Season 7, I narrowly avoided being clipped by a Maserati SUV in a Whole Foods parking lot. Inside the store, all I needed was corn on the cob. But the produce guy was occupied in a long conversation with a shopper who was sharing his expert opinions on apples. This amateur fruitier was blocking my access to the produce guy, and I had to wheel my cart halfway around the vegetables to interrupt — only to learn there was no corn on the cob. Crossing over to buy chicken breasts, I was blocked again by the apple expert’s cart — abandoned in the aisle while he shared his wisdom with the meat guy. I had no recourse but to shove it aside.

Was I the Larry? It’s a relevant question, because in the Curb Belt, everyone is someone else’s Larry. “It’s like the red zone outside the ice cream place at the Brentwood Country Mart,” Wilson says. “People will park in the red zone — ‘I’ll just be a minute. I’m not that kind of person; this is a slight exception I’m asking for.’”

This ouroboros of privilege is one of the things Dan Marshall, a Santa Monica-based memoirist and screenwriter, loves most about “Curb.” At the beginning, Marshall points out, you think “Larry’s the victim of everyone else’s insanity, right? But then you start to realize, ‘Oh no, everyone else is the victim of Larry’s insanity.’ And then it’s like, ‘Oh, everyone’s just the victim of everyone’s insanity.’”

On “Curb,” the insanity manifests itself in outlandish ways. Larry wears women’s panties to cover up his friend’s affair, he hires a sex worker to use the carpool lane, he opens Latte Larry’s solely to spite a neighboring coffee purveyor. In the real Curb Belt, the insanity is beneath the surface, but not buried all that deep.

I met Marshall on Montana Avenue, a retail strip with some great stores and also a ketamine clinic, a clock shop and a store selling only balloons. Suffice it to say that Susie’s latest venture on the show, Catch as Caftan, would fit right in. “A rich person’s bored,” Marshall explains, “and they’re just like, ‘I should open up a shop on Montana.’ Go off and start a balloon shop, you know? That’ll give you something to do. At one point before you moved here, there were three balloon shops on Montana. That’s too many balloon shops.”

In this universe, a spite store seems like a reasonable proposition. Say what you will about spite — at least it’s an ethos.

And it’s an ethos we can all understand, really. While the frictionless wealth that allows Larry to indulge such petty whims can feel hard to relate to, the impulses unleashed by his privilege — and his boredom — make him a strange kind of Everyman. A fish out of water, sure; also a cynical individualist who rebels against societal constraints both good and bad. In short, an American, circa 2024.

To close the circle of art imitating life, “Curb” launched the final season by hosting two Latte Larry’s pop-up shops on the Westside this winter. During the promotion’s third and final day, a TikTok user named RyanTheLeader shared a “Curb”-worthy story. He had waited for Latte Larry’s in a line marked with signs reading “No chat and cuts” — a nod to an etiquette infraction that drives Larry nuts. Naturally, a woman chatted up the group in front of Ryan and cut in line. He let it go, but two minutes later her friend did the same.

“I couldn’t take it anymore,” he recalls in the TikTok. “I had to become Larry David.” He appealed to the crowd: “She’s gonna chat and cut! Are we gonna stand for this?” No one had his back, and ultimately a barista waved her in. “Moral of the story is, you lose,” he says. He did come away with a great story, but now he hates a bunch of strangers he’ll never see again. Just another day in heaven and hell.


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