Larry David got his big break as a writer when his friend and fellow comedian Jerry Seinfeld asked for his help writing a pilot for NBC. The resulting show, of course, was Seinfeld, which topped the ratings and won critical praise and all kinds of awards and became the defining mark of the 1990s. David left the show after seven seasons (it went on for another two) and developed his own series for HBO, Curb Your Enthusiasm. In that show, which is very stylistically similar to Seinfeld – but also, in many ways, very different – David plays a fictionalized version of himself. There’s a lot to compare in the two shows. So, here are 5 Things Curb Your Enthusiasm Does Better Than Seinfeld (And 5 Seinfeld Did Better).
10 Curb Your Enthusiasm: Authenticity
Thanks to the fact that the dialogue is entirely improvised from story outlines that only give a rough guide to each scene, episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm feel much more authentic than episodes of Seinfeld. The actors are just bouncing off each other, reacting how they would genuinely react to everything that happens or gets said, and the result is a show that feels much more realistic than the average comedy. The dialogue of Seinfeld, on the other hand, was always very carefully written, which made the writing tighter, but the situations and conversations feel less authentic.
9 Seinfeld: Ensemble Cast
One thing Curb has always struggled with is doing storylines about anyone besides Larry. A Jeff storyline or a Susie storyline or a Funkhouser storyline is only truly interesting if it also involves Larry. In Seinfeld, on the other hand, whether a storyline was about Jerry, George, Elaine, or Kramer, the audience was equally invested. Plus, apart from a couple of early episodes that taught the writers a lesson or two about servicing their characters, every character has something to do in every episode of Seinfeld. Curb is much more disjointed than that. Some characters are absent for entire seasons.
8 Curb Your Enthusiasm: Dovetailing Story Threads
One of the great storytelling innovations brought on by Seinfeld was the idea of dovetailing story threads. After that, it wasn’t good enough for sitcom episodes to have an A-plot and a B-plot that resolve themselves. They had to have an A-plot, a B-plot, a C-plot, and a D-plot that all converged and paid each other off at the end.
That clearly came from the mind of Larry David, because Curb does it better than Seinfeld – and David writes every episode of Curb (or at least the story outlines the actors improvise from), whereas he had a team of writers working on Seinfeld.
7 Seinfeld: Depicting Terrible People
In both Seinfeld and Curb, the humor comes from the characters being terrible people. However, the difference is that in Seinfeld, the joke is always on them. When George pushes children and old ladies out of the way to get to the door during a fire, he gets his due retribution, as everyone chastises him and his girlfriend breaks up with him. But in Curb, the terrible characters get away with their terrible actions. Jeff always gets away with cheating on Susie. Larry’s friends keep inviting him to dinner parties, no matter how many of them he ruins. The joke is hardly ever on them.
6 Curb Your Enthusiasm: Set Pieces
Set pieces are the big, bold, elaborately staged sequences in TV shows. A couple of examples from Seinfeld are Jerry and Duncan’s race, the softball game with Bette Midler, and the burning of Susan’s father’s cabin. Examples from Curb are Larry tripping Shaq from his courtside seat and being booed out of Staples Center, Bill Buckner saving a baby falling from a burning building, and Larry hanging off the side of a building by Jillian Bell’s exposed midriff. Due to its shooting on location and cable budget, Curb is able to do set pieces much more effectively than Seinfeld ever did.
5 Seinfeld: Coining Terms
Both Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm label social situations that we all know about, but don’t have a name for. But Seinfeld has a lot more, and a lot more memorable ones, than Curb. Curb has some great ideas, like “the stop-and-chat” or “the chat-and-cut” or “a go-home stain.” But Seinfeld takes the crown when it comes to shows coining terms: “yada, yada, yada,” “shrinkage,” “close talker,” “low talker,” “man hands,” “double-dipping,” “mimbo,” “funeral hello,” “sponge-worthy” – the list goes on. Plus, it coined more popular phrases than Curb, like “No soup for you!” and “These pretzels are making me thirsty.”
4 Curb Your Enthusiasm: Originality
The format of Curb Your Enthusiasm was far more revolutionary and influential than that of Seinfeld. Despite its unique writing and comic wit, Seinfeld was just another multi-cam sitcom, shot and edited in a familiar style, albeit with shorter and more frequent scenes than usual. Curb Your Enthusiasm, meanwhile, created a whole new genre of TV comedy. It popularized the improvisational style and single-camera cinema verité shooting techniques that we see in every TV comedy today, from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to Louie to Rick and Morty. So, Curb gets points for changing the face of TV comedy and not just being a great show.
3 Seinfeld: Political Discussion
Both Seinfeld and Curb have tackled political topics in a satirical way, with their characters voicing opinions on hot-button issues. However, Seinfeld does it more subtly – which might just come from the network restrictions, which Curb doesn’t have on HBO. Everyone in Curb blindly hates Republicans and it leads to some funny scenes like Larry pretending to be a gentile Republican who drives a Hummer to get into a Christian country club.
But Seinfeld’s political debates are a lot more rounded. The views are still overtly liberal, but they play into the plot in a more interesting way – and show both sides. For example, Elaine is pro-choice and scorns a pro-life restauranteur. Then later, she’s unsure if she wants to break up with her attractive boyfriend when she finds out he’s pro-life. Elaine has strongly held political views, but her morals are easily tested. It’s more interesting that way.
2 Curb Your Enthusiasm: Focused Humor
Due to the fact that every scene in Curb is prompted by an outline, and those outlines are written to drive forward improvised conversations to give the actors fuel to keep talking, its humor is much more focused than that of Seinfeld. So, while there would be conversations in Seinfeld that contributed nothing to the plot and simply set up a funny idea (like whether or not kidnappers would do their hostages’ laundry or which world leader is the ugliest), every conversation in Curb serves a story. The humor is always drawn from the situation and focuses on telling a story.
1 Seinfeld: Relatability
Ultimately, due to the world Curb is set in and the world Seinfeld is set in, Seinfeld is more relatable. A lot of the humor in Curb comes from the fact that a working-class Jewish guy from Brooklyn wrote a TV show that happened to become huge and then he stumbled into the world of the gentile Californian elite. But only 1% of us can relate to situations like country club etiquette and making $5,000 bets, because most of us can’t afford country club memberships and don’t have $5,000 to flaunt around. But Seinfeld is about New Yorkers who go to job interviews and hatch get-rich-quick schemes – we can relate to those situations a lot more.