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Curb Your Enthusiasm Is Better With Cheryl — Why Larry David’s Show Needs His Ex-Wife Cheryl Ruth Hines
The worst thing ever to happen to Curb Your Enthusiasm occurs in season six, episode seven. Cheryl David, Larry David’s long-suffering wife, reaches her breaking point when she calls Larry in a panic from a turbulent flight, thinking she’s about to die a violent death, only for Larry, preoccupied by a visit from a TiVo service technician, to ask that she call him back later. Consequently, Cheryl leaves Larry (can you blame her?). The show has never been the same since.
Hear me out: Curb was an infinitely better show when Larry was married to Cheryl. With Cheryl, Larry is incorrigible, to be certain, but also human, adaptable, striving. Though his natural impulse is to squirm out of taking responsibility for his actions, Cheryl inspires Larry to do the right thing, however begrudgingly. Cheryl pushes Larry to socialize, to play nice, to make amends. With Cheryl in the mix, you think, “Well, if she can love him, he must not be that bad.”
Take, for example, the third episode of season six, titled, “The Ida Funkhouser Roadside Memorial.” In this episode, Larry has pissed off everyone in a 20-mile radius, as per usual, necessitating that he make apologies. When a sweaty 50 dollar bill given to him by frenemy Marty Funkhouser is deemed no good by a florist, Larry has a bright idea while driving by the roadside memorial dedicated to Marty’s mother, who was killed while traversing a crosswalk in her wheelchair. Larry pulls over, snatches a few bouquets, then distributes them to the women with whom he’s in the doghouse. When Cheryl realizes that Larry has given her secondhand flowers from a dead woman’s memorial, she is understandably disgusted, and joins with Marty in insisting that Larry return the flowers to their rightful place. It’s a textbook Curb set-up—in an effort to atone for one sin, Larry commits another. That said, without Cheryl around, you can bet your bottom dollar that Larry wouldn’t put himself through the social agony of rescinding a gift. This is Cheryl’s stabilizing influence on the show, and on Larry—she serves as an engine of added drama in forcing Larry to be better.
In the season ten premiere, Larry / Cheryl (Larryl?) shippers were given a gift: for the first time since Larry self-sabotaged his way out of winning Cheryl back in season seven, there seems to be hope for a reunion. With Cheryl’s beau Ted Danson out of town, Larry offers Cheryl a ride home from a party; upon pulling over at her house, they kiss in the car and go inside to sleep together. In the second episode of season ten, Cheryl ends their brief dalliance, while in the fourth episode, her relationship with Ted hits the skids when Ted discovers she and Larry have slept together. With six more episodes to go, I’m not convinced it’s truly over. Curb knows better than to dangle such a huge reunion, then refuse to see it through. Yet as much as I want them to reunite, I’m not sure Cheryl could stand to be married to the man Larry has become without her.
Back in season six, as Cheryl packs her bags to leave her marriage, she says to Larry, “People ask me all the time, ‘How do you stay with him?’ I always tell them, ‘There’s another side to Larry that you don’t see.’ I just realized today—there’s no other side. There’s no other side. This is it.”
Cheryl was right—there’s no other side. Four seasons later, we know now that Larry without Cheryl is unhinged, unmotivated, amoral. Larry without Cheryl is a man who moves to the opposite coast to avoid doing a few hours of charity work, who claims to be “on the spectrum” to explain away his bad behavior, who tries to make a woman sign a non-disclosure agreement while in bed with him. He’s a man who dates a wheelchair-bound woman to exploit her access to front-row seats, who teaches a child to draw swastikas, who tries to manipulate his girlfriend into breaking up with him after her cancer diagnosis.
As much as I want Cheryl to get back together with Larry and restore moral order to the show, at the same time, I wouldn’t wish that on her. Cheryl seems like a pretty cool person to be around, after all—a committed environmentalist, a foodie, a tennis maven. She deserves better than the guy who answers the phone during sex, who horrifically botches her aunt’s obituary, who blows up her sister’s engagement. As Ted Danson says of Larry way back in the first season of the show, “I could kind of take or leave him.” Clearly Cheryl was right to leave him.
Yet even if Cheryl doesn’t need Larry, Curb needs Cheryl. Larry and Cheryl’s “will they or won’t they” energy calls to mind the same propulsive energy that Seinfeld derived from Elaine and Jerry’s on-again, off-again flirtation. Cheryl may be too good for Larry, but when Larry is fighting for her, whether it’s to keep her happy in their marriage or get her back after their divorce, it makes him a better man. It makes him the kind of guy who does favors, who offers rides, who lets the small things go (well, under duress). Don’t look for Larry to turn into an altruist overnight, but with Cheryl around, Curb has forward motion—and Larry has an impetus to change. Change is the engine of drama, after all—and if the years without Cheryl have taught us anything, it’s that Larry sure as hell won’t change without a shove.
Adrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.