The Paul Reiser Show desperately wants to be Curb Your Enthusiasm. Desperately. It even goes so far as to feature Larry David as a guest in its first episode. It even feeds David lines like, “You should do a show like Curb Your Enthusiasm.” I wonder if David would still feel comfortable saying after seeing the finished product.
It is perhaps somewhat unfair to compare Reiser’s show to David’s. Reiser, after all, has to deal with network constraints that David has never had to worry about. And Reiser’s show so far consists of one episode, whereas David’s show has had several seasons to refine its humor. But given that Reiser invites the comparison so heavily, it’s hard to avoid. Sadly, it’s not at all flattering.
Curb Your Enthusiasm is a show with a very clearly defined point of view and purpose. Everyone in the show’s world is a tremendous asshole, and sitting in the middle of it is Larry, who is in fact the biggest asshole of them all. Terrible things consistently happen to him, and he deserves every one. But a big part of the joke is that the terrible things that happen to him aren’t really all that terrible. He’s just too shut off from the rest of the world to know what actual suffering looks like. So every minor offense he suffers seems like the universe conspiring to ruin his life. He’s caught in a karmic cycle of punishment of his own making.
Wealthy people come off horribly in the show, which is part of the point. David presents rich people as out-of-touch fucks, and the show allows the viewer to take pleasure in all the mundane shit that makes them think they’re suffering even though they’re actually not. But at the same time it forces us to acknowledge that we’re not so different. It’s a scathing indictment of David’s culture, just as Seinfeld was a scathing indictment of the culture to which he used to belong, and as such acts as a critique of society in general.
Curb Your Enthusiasm is also rigorously formulaic. It’s true that many of the individual lines are improvised, but the episodes are very much not. Virtually every episode is built around a series of misunderstandings, which is a pretty hoary comic device. Generally, someone does something to Larry that he construes as an offense and in return Larry behaves pettily and it all just spirals from there, leading to an over-the-top comic set piece at the end. The improvisational feel is entirely dependent on this formula. Without it, the show would just seem like a bunch of rich people sitting around acting like dicks for no reason. Or, in other words, it would seem like The Paul Reiser Show.
The problem with Reiser’s show is that it lacks both the narrative and moral focus of David’s show. At least in it’s first episode, it’s just a show about a bunch of stuff happening to Reiser and his wealthy friends. They’re all kind of dickish and they all kind of hate one another. But the they’re not the huge, over-the-top dicks you find in Curb Your Enthusiasm; the episode ends with Reiser affirming his love for his children and a big group hug, for God’s sake.
In a way, the characters actually come off worse for not being as objectively terrible as the characters in David’s world. Whereas on Curb Your Enthusiasm you know the characters are exaggerated to prove a point, on The Paul Reiser Show you can’t help but get the impression that this is really what Reiser and his friends are like. By rounding off the edges, the show ends up like something of a cross between Curb Your Enthusiasm’s biting satire and Friends‘ hanging out with a group of people aesthetic. The result is just unpleasant.
The pilot manages to culminate with a fat guy glued to a car door by the seat of his pants. When it come times for the big group hug, he lunges forward and his pants come off, leaving him in his underwear. It’s not clear how we get to this point or why it happens, other than that it provides a cheap laugh at the end of the episode. And that, right there, is pretty much all you need to know about The Paul Reiser Show.