Still the kings of comedy?
They were each the funniest thing on TV in their prime, but have our favourite comedy writers managed to keep us laughing?
Wed Dec 4 2013
As Larry David leaves ‘Larry David’ and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ behind by starring with Jon Hamm and Kate Hudson in HBO movie ‘Clear History’, we gauge how he and other comic auteurs have fared after the first flush of success.
One of HBO’s early smashes, ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ took the acute self-absorption and awkward brilliance of ‘Seinfeld’ (which David co-wrote) and boiled the ensemble down to one man. The earliest, best example of a comedian ‘playing himself’, alongside such game celebrity chums as Ted Danson Mel Brooks and Ben Stiller.
More of the same. ‘Curb’ went on too long, while his leads in Woody Allen’s ‘Whatever Works’ and ‘Clear History’ cast him once again as a successful, self-sabotaging misanthrope. He’s still very funny, but the act is growing ever more familiar.
‘The Office’. A showcase for the unbearable manager of a fictional Slough paper merchant? Not an easy pitch, but Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s masterpiece felt like genius arriving fully formed. Did it set the bar too high?
Well, yes. ‘Extras’ had its moments, ‘Life’s Too Short’, not so much. But Gervais’s first solo venture, botched mockumentary series ‘Derek’, is bewildering; as if Gervais has actively set out to embrace all the cliché and lazy emotional manipulation ‘The Office’ so brilliantly sidestepped. In fact, we’re still wondering if it’s a spoof.
Seizing the scatological, scattergun middle ground between ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘South Park’, ‘Family Guy’ brought us the Griffins, hapless mainstays of middle America. Having survived several proposed cancellations, ‘FG’ recently made headlines by killing off laconic boozehound Brian.
Further animated fun followed, with diminishing returns. But even a horrendously misjudged turn as this year’s Oscars host (lowlight: the ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ song), couldn’t neuter the huge success of ribald big-screen debut, ‘Ted’. But can Hollywood really trust this loose cannon?
© Mitchell Haaseth
Scabrous, hilarious and painfully self-aware, ‘30 Rock’ is one of the signature achievements of the age of the comedy auteur. And, as the star, creator and chief showrunner, it’s all Fey’s own work.
Up for grabs. The Sarah Palin sketch was uncanny and the ‘Bossypants’ memoir was a deserved hit but a move into film has produced mixed results. Was ‘30 Rock’ too pointedly self-reflexive to be any more than a brilliant one-off?
Trey Parker & Matt Stone
‘South Park’ left everyone agape upon its arrival in 1997. Like a fearless, double-headed bullshit detector, Parker and Stone spared no one. Traditionalists, progressives, Scientologists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, teachers, cops, parents and the kids themselves: everyone was a target.
Relentless. ‘South Park’ remains fearsomely sharp. ‘Team America: World Police’ offended liberals, conservatives, emetophobes and haters of hardcore puppet porn equally. And ‘The Book of Mormon’ successfully took their satirical carnage to the stage. Bravo.
‘Clear History’ Fri Dec 6, 9pm, Sky Atlantic. ‘South Park: season 17’ Wednesdays, 10pm, Comedy Central. ‘Family Guy: season 11’ Sundays, 10.25pm, BBC3. Series two of ‘Derek’ begins on C4 in 2014.
- Rated as: 3/5
After announcing that ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ was on hiatus, Larry David took some time to make this HBO film about a high-achieving loser whose successes are too often thwarted by his foot and its frequent visits to his mouth.
Read the full review