When “Curb Your Enthusiasm” returns to HBO for its ninth season, it will be doing so in a very different political climate – and a very different television landscape. When the show last aired in 2011, Larry David planned for that finale episode to act as a series-ender, executive producer Jeff Schaffer tells Variety.
“At the end of a season, Larry has put all of the ideas he has into that season, and he would never want to write a new season without ideas, so how could there ever be a new season?” Schaffer says. “So writing a new season of ‘Curb’ was tricky, especially because this time there was a longer break than usual.”
But HBO was more than willing to wait through the five-year break between the eighth season ending and David and Schaffer calling to say they wanted to do more. Here, Schaffer talks with Variety about what’s changed (and what hasn’t) for the characters this season, the recent HBO hack that leaked episodes early, and why this season is longer than usual.
When you and Larry first started talking about doing another season of “Curb,” how concerned were you by the sheer amount of time that had passed for characters and how to work in where they had been and where they are now?
It was important to us to come up with an arc that addressed in the very beginning of it where he’s been for the last five or six years. There were really two things we wanted to do: make sure everyone would be back and find out in the beginning what Larry’s been doing since Paris. [The eighth season ended with the character of Larry in Paris with his friend Leon (J.B. Smoove) just after he accused Michael J. Fox of harassment.] And what he’s been doing provides the jumping off point for the insane first half of the season that gets much crazier in the second half. These are dark times, and pettiness, like freedom, dies in darkness. So this season is dense and full and big because there’s been a five-year log-jam of indignities and violations of etiquette. He’s been hoarding indiscretions like Scrooge McDuck, and now he’s finally going to let them all out.
How important did you feel it was to address the current political situation, or even where the entertainment industry is today, given that’s how Larry and Jeff [Jeff Garlin] make their money?
Our first day of shooting was actually the day after the election, and I honestly thought we were going to have to take an insurance day and not be able to shoot. So the season is steeped in that context, and there are definitely a few jokes that are from this political context, but at the same time, whether you’re talking about outside politics or the general changing trends in television, “Curb” is still a monument to the supreme power of not giving a f— about anything other than what’s funny. The show always works when there’s this big thing, and then there’s this little thing that undermines the big thing. For us, really writing it and shooting it, we’re still like Larry, focused on the minutiae.
There has always been a kind of secrecy around “Curb,” to avoid spoiling episodes before they air. Did you have to adjust your expectations after the HBO hack that leaked the first few episodes of the season?
You know how sometimes you wake up in the morning with a pimple, and you’re like “Where’d that come from?” Larry wants “Curb” to be a comedy pimple. He never wants to be the a–hole who spoils the surprise birthday party. We’ve actually assumed most people aren’t going to download that stuff and risk ruining their computers, so we’ve just put it in the rear-view mirror and are going full-steam ahead.
So where does the ninth season premiere pick up?
We pick up five years later, and everything you love about the show is back. Larry shares brisk opinions with everyone from Uber drivers to oyster shuckers. Larry and Cheryl [Cheryl Hines] are still divorced, and they’re basically trying to live their own lives, but things are going to get very complicated because you have single Larry and single Cheryl. Larry’s been working on a singular project for the last five years, and now it’s time to show it to other people, and we’ll see how that goes. Jeff actually gets to work as his manager more this season!
What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing these new episodes?
Nothing changed for us in terms of how the show got written because it was just talking about all of the awkward situations we’d been in and turned them into situations for the show, but when we got back to shooting there was a bit of an adjustment. The one thing I think the five years did do is we lost the sense of how many stories go in a show. We wrote more, and then when you get on set, every scene is a live rewrite, so we shot more, and that means the shows are all just longer. Not slow, but dense and full of information. So maybe that muscle, the muscle that governs what length a show should be, needed to be flexed.
Did everything make the final cut?
Yes, HBO’s been fantastic that way, and episodes are going to be longer.
The show has had some great guest stars through the years. How do you decide who will come on as a version of themselves versus who will come on as a character?
Elizabeth Banks is on this year, and she’s playing a version of Elizabeth Banks, but Nick Offerman’s on, and Bryan Cranston’s on, and they’re playing characters. It really depends on the story, and we’re careful about not over-casting certain things because it can be distracting. But sometimes the story just calls for a really fun part, like Larry’s therapist, and we think, “Oh my gosh, Bryan would be amazing, and we’d love to see those guys together,” and I know Bryan, and Larry knows Bryan, and so we wrote it for him. There are other places where you want the person playing the person because there’s a voyeuristic ability to watch celebrities be petty with Larry is fun to watch. Ted Danson, for instance — it’s fun to watch Ted and Larry go at it because Ted is one of the most beloved people on TV.
Ted is back this season, then?
Yes, Ted is Larry’s friend who does not like him, and this year Larry will end up with some much bigger reasons to not like him.
Will any of the characters be a surprise or show off a new side to them?
Well, Jeff and Susie’s daughter, is all grown up now with a serious boyfriend and everything. Jeff and Susie really like the guy, Larry even meets him, and things happen there. But overall, all of our characters have the same flaws when you last saw them. They’re as delightfully problematic as you remember.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” season 9 premieres on HBO Oct. 1 at 10 p.m.