First of all, we're three parts into the new six-part Monty Python documentary, Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer's Cut), airing on IFC. So far, the documentary is compulsively enjoyable, even though there have already been too many Python reunions, revivals, and retrospectives in the last decade. Since the Pythons themselves are so gleeful about exploiting their franchise, and since it's still such a thrill just to see them, I'm happy to go along for the ride again. This time, the supposed hook is the candor of the surviving Pythons in their contemporary interviews. But it's hard to imagine a devoted Monty Python fan who's made it to 2009 without ever hearing John Cleese belittle Terry Jones.
The Beatles Anthology is the obvious model for Almost the Truth, and it's at its best when it follows the Anthology example and concentrates on footage of, and interviews with, the artists themselves. The first two episodes, in my opinion, were much too full of interviews with non-Python people like Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, and Tim Roth, declaring their love for the team, but not adding much to the proceedings. Listening to Russell Brand explain why he thinks Python is funny recalls the time George W. Bush boasted, "I read three Shakespeares." But this is a minor quibble. Almost the Truth is worth watching, and the real treat is the Python festival with which IFC has surrounded it. Monty Python's Flying Circus is probably still the most inventive comedy on television.
The other big event, of course, is the paradigm-shifting Seinfeld reunion, which is happening not in our world but in the parallel reality of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The concept alone -- not doing a Seinfeld reunion in real life, but satirizing the whole idea by doing it on Curb -- is a stroke of meta-genius. But now, halfway into Curb's seventh ten-episode season, the thrill of Seinfeld Curbed is something we're mostly still waiting for. Of the five episodes which have aired so far, only one (the third) has directly involved the Seinfeld plot (though it's been mentioned, in passing, in three others). Episode three, "The Reunion," was exhilarating -- a gem, elevated by the crossed paths of Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Michael Richards. Glimpses of the old magic (and the old set!) delighted me more than I'd care to admit.
That third episode was full of golden moments: Larry's two fantasy sequences on the Seinfeld set, his new habit of saving people's lives by telling them they might have Lyme disease, and every second of footage which contained a performance by a Seinfeld cast member. Larry's battle of wills with Jason Alexander -- in which, essentially, two George Costanzas argue over a restaurant tip -- deserves a place in comedy history (alongside the existentially vexing David/Alexander encounter from Curb's second season; clip here). In the big two-scene between Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, there is a small and innocuous moment which made me laugh more than it probably should have: Jerry, not entirely convinced of the wisdom of doing a reunion show, gives in to Larry's uncurbed enthusiasm. He looks Larry in the eye and says, "I trust your judgment. I trust you!" I trust you! Jerry delivers this line with a hint of mania, slightly deranged. At this point, after six and a half years of Curb Your Enthusiasm, there's only one man in the world who would say that to TV Larry.
But who is that man? It's not TV Jerry -- who we got to know over nine years of the greatest situation comedy in television history. Nor did "The Reunion" show us Alexander as George, Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine, or Richards as Kramer. The four of them are playing themselves, but not really; they're playing fictional versions of their non-fiction selves, filtered through the sensibility of Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm. A lot of the fun of this venture comes from the competing layers of fiction and reality which these people have spent two decades constructing.
But at this point, we've only been teased. This season's other four Curb episodes have been fairly typical -- which is to say, painfully funny, cringe-inducing, and by now somewhat routine. There are five episodes left in the season, and early word was that the Seinfeld reunion arc would span five episodes, so most of the fun is still ahead. Next week's installment apparently returns to the Seinfeld story, and the season's final episode (which Jerry says "really belongs in the Seinfeld DVD box") airs on November 22 and will be an hour long. I'm looking forward to getting on with it. This addendum to Seinfeld is an event, but it has overshadowed the larger truth: Curb Your Enthusiasm itself has always been an addendum to Seinfeld.