Last season's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" centered on a "Seinfeld" reunion, offering some of the funniest episodes in the decade-plus history of Larry David's comedy of bad manners.
But this season, which ends Sunday, can lay a strong claim to being the closest "Curb" has come to recapturing the "Seinfeld" spirit.
Much of that claim rests, of course, in setting half the shows in New York, the ancestral home of "Seinfeld," the classic angst-fueled sitcom David co-created. David also enlisted some former "Seinfeld" writers for this go-around, leading to episodes that familiarly wrap in not-so-neat packages built on unlikely coincidences that make New York seem like a small town (even if the season’s best installment – the Palestinian chicken imbroglio – took place in Los Angeles).
But the most striking – and perhaps most Seinfeldian – aspect of the season is that in Manhattan, Larry David comes away looking almost normal. He's been outscored on the neurotic scale this season by cab-stealing "upstreamers," a name-dropping shrink and a hot-headed, profanity-spewing softball team sponsor who thinks he's George Steinbrenner (a role David performed, back to the camera, on "Seinfeld").
In this New York role reversal, David has played a part more akin to the sane-by-comparison Jerry Seinfeld than to his self-destructive TV stand-in George Costanza. Not, as it turns out, that there's anything wrong with that.
Truth be told, we were a little worried before the beginning of this eighth season that the return to his hometown (explained away as Larry wanting to avoid participating in an LA charity event) and the large lineup of celebrity guests were signs of David running out of ideas. But despite the lack of a strong story arc, and a couple misfires (a takeoff on "The Fugitive" fell flat, and an encounter with a Girl Scout during an awkward moment turned creepy), David has given us much to laugh about in recent weeks.
The guest stars certainly helped: Ricky Gervais, in full faux-pompous mode, parried mightily in the duel of the two masters of uncomfortable comedy. Rosie O'Donnell hilariously outperformed Larry as a romantic and softball rival. Red Sox World Series goat Bill Buckner got to redeem himself in best baseball comedy cameo since, well, "Seinfeld," and the epic Keith Hernandez two-part episode nearly 20 years ago.
Sunday's finale promises a clash with Michael J. Fox, a battle Larry can only lose. But overall, he’s produced another winning season for HBO, leaving us wanting more of another show about nothing. And, as he might say, that's pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.