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Posts tagged ‘television’

My new favourite television show is Curb Your Enthusiasm.

I watched a few episodes in its early seasons when it was being shown on one of the commercial channels. The strong language was all bleeped and I found it almost impossible to follow — certainly not possible to enjoy. My impression was that this is a show that is almost completely made up of bad words and I lost interest. (I don’t really mind strong language in a program but if it’s every second word, it’s just tedious. Trailer Park Boys, I’m looking at you.)

I have long been a fan — and a self-proclaimed expert — of Seinfeld. Most days, I watch it more than once; sometimes, I watch the same episode more than once in the same day. I don’t know why — I know most of the lines by heart at this point — but I never seem to get tired of it. I can answer all the trivia quiz questions and in fact, I think I could make up a few quizzes myself.

Last year, I read somewhere that the Seinfeld cast would be guests on Curb Your Enthusiasm doing a quasi-reunion show. I pretty well had to see that so we subscribed to HBO Canada and I became a dedicated watcher of Curb Your Enthusiasm. (A little sidebar: The language is raunchy but not unlike what you’d hear in most social circles and not nearly as tiresome as Trailer Park Boys – or the movies my teenage son and his friends watch. My conclusion: The bleeping gives a false impression and makes the language sound more offensive than it really is.)

Somewhere along the way, as I watched, I developed an intense fascination — bordering on a harmless obsession — with Larry David, the show’s star and creator.

Larry David
Larry David

I had seen the name “Larry David” for years, at the beginning of every Seinfeld episode as co-creator, and at the end — during the first seven seasons — as executive producer. I was vaguely aware of the parts he played as the voice of New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, as Frank Costanza’s lawyer, as a news vendor. I knew that he was considered to be the person that George Costanza’s character was based on.

And that was about it.

Once my obsession developed, I read everything I could find about him, I watched countless interviews and clips from talk shows on YouTube, I checked him out on news reports every day. I was relieved and quite pleased to learn that he’s a pretty nice guy — intelligent, kind, compassionate and, of course, funny.

I liked it when I heard that when he was doing stand-up in the comedy clubs, all the other comics who were in the club would gather to hear him do his act. He didn’t really like the audience most of the time — he likes undivided attention and patrons in a comedy club are drinking alcohol and often distracted. One night, he came out, looked slowly around at everyone, said, “Never mind,” and walked off.

Knowing everything I’ve learned about him has changed the way I watch — the way I see — Seinfeld and has given it a whole new life.

Larry David plays a version of himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm, as a multi-millionaire writer/co-creator of the most acclaimed sitcom in television history — which he is. The episodes are unscripted with each of the characters — some of them playing themselves, others playing a role — being given an outline of what the situation is and they play it off the tops of their heads. He is described in this part as the “reigning curmudgeon of television.” He is a curmudgeon but it’s more complicated than that. He says and does outrageous things. Some of what happens in Curb is truly cringe-worthy.

And yet, he usually seems so innocent and vulnerable that it’s hard to hold the outrageousness against him. If he asks a supremely insensitive question, it doesn’t seem that he’s mean or malicious — just that he really wants to know the answer. The answer often annoys him terribly and he expresses his annoyance honestly and openly and quite often, embarrassingly.

I don’t know why this should be so funny but it is. It makes me laugh out loud and I assure you, things that are embarrassing and humiliating and cringe-worthy are not my usual sources of amusement. It’s just something about Larry.

You can read as much about him as I have — this piece from the New Yorker‘s archives is really interesting and you can watch interview after interview and lots of clips from the show on YouTube. This is the first of a series of interviews about the show and the characters and their methods. They’re interesting and entertaining.

An eighth season of 10 episodes is in production now and will be available on HBO in 2011.

There’s a television show that airs on the Food Network called The Best Thing I Ever Ate. I’ve never watched it but I’ve seen its promo, many times. It involves Food Network chefs reminiscing about something wonderful they’ve eaten while a variety of culinary samples are paraded across our screen.

I don’t think any of their choices look particularly appealing but it’s all a matter of taste, isn’t it? Literally.

And I began to wonder what my response would be if I were asked: What’s the best thing you ever ate?

Well, let me tell you.

Years ago, on a trip to Portugal, we had landed in Lisbon late in the evening and decided to get up early and head for Faro, the capital of the Algarve, much to the south. We got to the train station just in time to be herded aboard — we heard the conductor use the word “Faro” so we assumed we were in the right car — and in spite of a crushing crowd, we managed to get a seat. A wooden seat, if I remember correctly. We figured that once we got going, there would be some kind of vending service available — we’d had nothing to eat or drink since the night before — and we’d be able to get a cup of coffee, at least.

About 15 minutes into the trip, all the people around us began hauling food out of their bags from under their seats: spicy, garlicky sausages, cheeses, chunks of crusty bread. Bottles of red wine and water. They looked at us very kindly and offered to share their food but we didn’t really know quite what to do and we thanked them and tried to look as if we had already eaten.

The train was old and slow and a milk-run. It chugged through the Portuguese countryside and stopped at most towns and villages. If we hadn’t been in such need of food and coffee, it’s possible we might have enjoyed the scenery and the atmosphere. At one point — I have no idea how long into the trip it was — when the train stopped, most of our fellow passengers stampeded off and returned minutes later laden with food and drinks from a platform outside the station. If only we had known what they knew!

It was early evening when the train pulled into Faro. I picture us being the only passengers getting off but we probably weren’t although many of our fellow travellers had disembarked at different stops along the way and the train had definitely emptied out. Faro seemed quiet and dusty and deserted. I felt we should have been riding in on horseback.

(This is a generic picture of Faro. It still looks quiet.)

We walked from the station to the centre of town — exhausted from sitting on those wooden seats all day and, of course, hungry and thirsty — and went into a dim little bar. The waiter brought us cold beer and we managed to communicate to him that we’d like some food too. He was solicitous but we were able to understand that the kitchen was closed. He gestured encouragingly, however, and seemed to say the equivalent of, “Just a minute, I’ll see what I can do.”

He disappeared and came back in a few minutes and placed a plate on the table. There was a crusty roll with a piece of meat inside — meat fried in olive oil and garlic. The oil was soaking into the bread — and that was it. Bread, a piece of meat, olive oil. The meat was not melt-in-your-mouth but it was not tough. It had texture and resistance. It could be chewed.

I cannot begin to describe how good that sandwich was. I can taste it to this day, as I write about it, and I can hear the crunch of that crusty roll as I bit into it. I have tried many times to duplicate it in my own kitchen but I’ve failed. I never expect to succeed.

I’ve eaten in many fine restaurants and been fed by family and friends who are excellent cooks — and I’m a pretty good cook myself. But I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything that I remember and can describe with such relish as that simple sandwich in Faro. It’s the perfect case in point for the expression, “Hunger is the best sauce,” — which I’m interested to see is usually attributed to Cervantes in Don Quixote.

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