'Difficult People' and 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' are soothing balms in these awful times.
Photo by John P. Johnson/courtesy of HBO
I can't believe it took me so long to find Curb Your Enthusiasm—but alas, years after the show first premiered, I decided to take a chance on it. In doing so, I discovered that one of television's greatest jerks, Larry David, was probably the only person who would keep me sane and keep my anxiety at bay in this hellish year of 2017.
After a day of being angered about something incredibly narrow and shitty Trump had said (a common and consistent feeling that has stuck to me these days), I thought about what I could possibly watch to unwind. A vague review I'd once read popped into my head about how David plays a version of himself—and that he's the quintessential grump. Good, I needed grumpy. Bring on the curmudgeons, I thought. Give me the harridans, the dolts, the selfish, and the jerks—especially the jerks. I to watch someone who acts the way I want to feel.
The need to get out my pent-up frustration and anger at events I felt I had little to no control over by watching something on TV is not uncommon for me. I find it cathartic and consider it a form of self-preservation. Find the show that echoes your mental headspace and indulge in it. That's been the best way for me to explore my own feelings and feel like I'm acting on them without, well, actually acting on them. That emotional catharsis, that ability to feel seen and to connect with strangers in a somewhat intimate way, is deeply important to my own process for curbing my anxiety. In times like this, when it feels like the shit heap of political and social events regularly aggravates that anxiety simmering within me, watching a show like Curb feels weirdly good.
Watching Larry bicker with a woman in a movie theater because he doesn't want to move his legs so she can pass by, or using the death of his mother to get out of talking to people, felt good because it was so against expectation. Look at this grump! Calling out dumb intricacies of societal norms, scoffing at the pleasantries that diffuse the nonsense, and generally being immune to the crap of daily existence (which he deals with because that's life).
Sure, I myself observe common courtesy and remember to say "please" and "thank you" IRL, but watching Larry rail against bullshit societal norms was like (and still is) being able to constantly exhale in relief for 30 minutes. Even watching Larry try to do something good, like warn his friends about a possible terrorist attack, and watch it go hilariously wrong, made it feel like my own annoyances at the faux-niceties bred by social media or that coming with having to be a pleasant person allowed to move through the world were validated.
It's not just Curb that has this healing effect. Discovering and subsequently plunging headlong into Difficult People for the first time this year had a similarly beneficial effect. The feeling that watching fictional characters be self-serving jerks felt more cathartic because of it's evergreen quality (Curb premiered in 2000, Difficult People in 2015), that a relief to the building anxieties of life will always be present in watching new characters act out your own jerk-tendencies without you having to do the heavy lifting.
In Difficult People, we watch Julie and Billy give a middle finger to societal norms and expect the world to reward them—they frequently misinterpret blind selfishness as bravely suffering to achieve their own goals—while they flounder under the weight of the expectations of adulthood. Julie notably loves her nonexistent career more than her stable boyfriend and eschews kindness or altruism in favor of doing something that only benefits her. Billy is just as self-serving, if not a tad more in touch with reality, and enables Julie's bad behavior. Together, they're smarmy, selfish souls, and, yes, you may be wondering why the hell any of this is worth watching.
Because you can. Because it's indulgent. Because on top of getting to live inside of another world for half an hour, you get to unburden yourself from the weight of expectation, from the weight of playing too nice or too politically correct in your daily life by living vicariously through Larry, Julie, and Billy. It's the best form of self-preservation during these trying times that I can think of if only because it capitalizes on one of TV's great effects (holding up a mirror to society and confronting the viewer) while also allowing you the indulgent pleasure of participating in jerkdom.
You can still be nice and pleasant when you leave your home. You still get through the days, swallowing bitter news pill after bitter news pill with the calm you have slowly trained yourself to feel even though alarm bells are going off in your head. But if there's a way to relieve that pressure, even if it's living vicariously through someone else, then I highly recommend you do it.