Why ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Ended by Doing “the ‘Seinfeld’ Finale on Steroids”

Why ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Ended by Doing “the ‘Seinfeld’ Finale on Steroids”

“He did what he thought was funny. And if you didn’t like it, tough shit.”

Those words may very well be inscribed on Larry David’s tombstone one day. In the meantime, they’re a testament to the Curb Your Enthusiasm creator’s comedic sensibility, as articulated by David’s longtime collaborator Jeff Schaffer. They also explain David and Schaffer’s approach to Curb’s series finale, which aired Sunday night on HBO. 

As many onlookers predicted, the episode—tellingly titled “No Lessons Learned”—wound up being a cheeky amendment to the polarizing 1998 finale of Seinfeld, which David also wrote. Both conclusions put their shows’ protagonists on trial, bringing back a host of memorable guest stars to testify about said main characters’ cruelty, pettiness, and inhumanity (in a funny way!). In Seinfeld, Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer wound up being sentenced to prison for general misanthropy; so did Curb’s fictionalized version of Larry David. 

In Curb’s case, though, there was a twist that may have made all the difference. The judge wound up declaring a mistrial, and David’s onscreen alter ego was sprung from jail at the eleventh hour. The series ended with Larry not behind bars, but safely ensconced in first class with the rest of Curb’s principals, merrily arguing about something inane as they prepared to return to Los Angeles. 

Schaffer knows that you may have seen this ending coming, at least until its final scenes. That was by design. “The whole point of this was people slowly, inexorably coming to the conclusion that we were going to redo this thing, and watching it kind of creep up on everybody,” he says over Zoom the day after the finale aired. “To get the Seinfeld finale on steroids, and then to stop it and then do our own thing, made it pretty special.”

Susie Essman, who has played Larry’s best frenemy (also named Susie) on the series since its premiere in 2000, agrees. “Larry had told me the idea before I actually read the outline, and I was like, ‘perfect,’” she says during the same call. “Endings are so hard. How do you end 12 seasons of a series that’s gone on for 24 years? It’s not that easy to come up with something. And I’m sure there’s going to be people out there who weren’t satisfied by it or whatever—who cares. But I thought it was a brilliant wrap up to the whole season and to the whole series.”

The idea was born, Schaffer says, halfway through the process of writing Curb’s 12th season. He and David were riffing about a scene in which a parent ropes Larry into teaching a lesson to her kid—a bit that ultimately found its way into the finale—and Larry responds by saying that he’s never learned a lesson in his life. Once David came up with that line, Schaffer says, they had a light bulb moment: “What if we took that and literally did the meta joke? We keep telling everybody that Larry’s never learned a lesson, and there he goes, doing the Seinfeld finale over again.” 

The mere thought is so absurd that Schaffer can’t recount it without laughing. Even so, he and David wanted to improve upon the Seinfeld finale formula, rather than simply aping it. “We didn’t want it to be Larry sitting there like a human pincushion while all the guest stars brought out the long knives,” he says. So they spun up a few subplots that felt very much like vintage Curb, like Larry and Jeff (Jeff Garlin) conspiring to learn a secret salad dressing recipe and Larry confronting the latest girlfriend of his friend Richard (Richard Lewis), played by Allison Janney, about cutting him off on the highway. 

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