Do you remember Phil Silvers? Many of us do, fondly, from his television show and a performance in the classic comedy film, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. He was hard to forget.
Phil Silvers forever remains fixed in my memory as an endearing, loudmouthed con man, always working an angle. If someone had adapted Neil Simon’s great screenplay of The Fortune Cookie for TV instead of The Odd Couple, Silvers would have had as successful a 1970s run as Jack Klugman (playing Oscar Madison), and Silvers could have played that Walter Matthau, Oscar-winning movie role.
Now, do you remember Woody Allen? Of course, we do. He is witty, nebbish-y, and endearing (to a lot of people; to others, who read supermarket tabloids, perhaps, not so much).
Larry David stands with one foot squarely in the Silvers camp — think of the character of Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm — and the other as the Wood-man (George Costanza, anyone?).
Sometimes Larry morphs into both characters in the same show, as he does in A Fish in the Dark, his new Broadway show. It is playing to packed houses and setting the Great White Way on its collective ear.
This was my review on Facebook:
“I just saw Larry David’s Broadway show, A Fish in the Dark. As a fellow New York Jew who loves Larry’s humor in Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld more than clean water, I can say that the play is pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty underwhelming. But I’m glad I saw it.”
Larry David is a comic genius. Just watch the consistency and brilliance of Seinfeld and Curb. He is a visionary. No one has had such an impact on television in modern times. He has nothing left to prove.
I can understand why he wanted to give Broadway a shot. In a 2007 interview on the YES Network show CenterStage, he said his career highlight was performing on an episode of Curb as Max in The Producers. He was terrific in it, too. Maybe he thought that since he has conquered television (twice, no less), had a star turn in a (not so great) Woody Allen movie called Whatever Works in 2009, and then made a well-received HBO movie called Clear History to boot, why not try his hand next on Broadway, in his hometown?
Ultimately, Larry David is a creature of television. He is at his best writing and acting, in bite-size chunks. I didn’t like his work much in the Woody Allen movie because he didn’t hold my interest for a solid 90 minutes. On the other hand, I really enjoyed Clear History, in which he starred.
A Fish in the Dark is pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty underwhelming. But it has its classic Larry David-esque signature pieces (he even recites that “pretty, pretty…” line in the show, to the howls of an appreciative audience). At one point, Rita Wilson, who portrays Larry’s disenchanted wife Brenda, challenges Norman (Larry’s character) about why they haven’t been having sex: “Because you don’t want to spoil the friendship?” Norman asks ironically.
There are other moments like that one — smart, funny, and self-aware. But alas, Larry is not Tom Stoppard. He is a brilliant representative of TV. And that’s enough for me.