Watching an HBO one-off starring Larry David and Jon Hamm was such a no-brainer for me that I think I expected to like it too much. Clear History – which first aired Saturday night and is available now on HBO Go – works better as an extended all-star episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm than as a full-length feature.
But would any Curb fan turn down a feature-length episode? Hell to the no! The film’s complicated backstory and confusing arc (are we really to believe the cantankerous Rolly – basically Larry David playing himself – is considered the nicest guy on Martha’s Vineyard?) can be overlooked if you decide to just sit back and enjoy the performances from David, Hamm, and co-stars Kate Hudson, Amy Ryan, Danny McBride, Eva Mendes, Bill Hader, Michael Keaton, J.B. Smoove, Philip Baker Hall, and an uncredited Liev Schreiber. (Maybe he thought Ray Donovan would put a hit out on him if he figured out he’d jumped from Showtime to HBO to play a long-haired Chechnyan criminal?)
Below, Clear History’s Curb-iest moments:
–Well, the whole premise, really – that marketing exec Nathan Flamm (David) missed out on a billion dollars because of his stubborn insistence that “Howard” is an unsuitable name for Electron Motors’ new model. “It’s like naming a restaurant Hepatitis!”
–The incredulous excuse Nathan gives after getting pulled over by the police: “I got swept up!” Simple, innocent, relatable. So very Larry. Who among us isn’t always getting swept up? I love that.
–Nathan’s big push for eye-level electrical outlets: “What, are they like genitals? We have to hide them?”
–Nathan’s refusal to let the topic go after learning his boss’ nanny shampoos her hair only once a week. “Ehhh…. [LONGEST PAUSE EVER] … Try a second shampoo.” As always, Larry knows best!
–Larry (now as Rolly) and J.B. Smoove maintaining their signature incendiary Curb banter throughout the movie. Rolly: “I think I would find the black dwarf just as cuddly as the white one. You are way off-base there!”
–“I WAS THE BRAINS BEHIND EDIBLE ARRANGEMENTS!” – ha! I had to look it up and make sure there wasn’t already a Curb in which Larry himself insists on exactly this.
–Rolly matter-of-factly announcing to well-intentioned friends that it’s his policy not to reply to birthday emails. “It turns the birthday into a job!”
–Why not put the diner silverware on the napkin? “Gladys, the rag is a filthy animal,” says Rolly. “Rags are dirty. Rags, by their nature, are filthy.”
–The moment at the fair when Smoove realizes – with slapstick, over-indulgent horror – that Rolly is actually Nathan.
–Key background visuals: The swing set Rolly had assembled, collapsing behind Kate Hudson as Rolly struggles not to react … and later, Rolly nearly drowning in the ocean behind his former boss (Hamm) as he reveals that he regrets mistreating Nathan. “Where am I gonna find this guy?” (That whole water-skiing scene and much of the film struck me as very What About Bob?)
–Rolly’s absolute inability to let it go once he hears a rumor that two women in his life (Amy Ryan and Eva Mendes) orally stimulated the entire band Chicago at a concert years ago.
–Rolly’s wood-paneled wagoneer vs. Kate Hudson’s coral-colored Howard at a stand-off on a narrow vineyard road. “You back up!” “No, you back up!” – amusingly, the exact opposite of the “No, you go” scene in IFC’s Portlandia.
Clear History is really a project about the acting, the all-star cameos, and the hyper-focus on behavioral oddities we already know and love from Curb. It wasn’t perfect, but was it worth watching? Of course. It’s a great cast (Keaton’s Beetlejuice-esque bad guy was especially hilarious) and they’re doing something different. It’s not like Larry David owes us more of the delightfully crabby same, year after year after year. We’ll take what we can get.
That said… more Curb Your Enthusiasm, please! Whenever you get a chance.