Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.
Last week we looked at Tanaz Eshaghian’s documentary Be Like Others, an unflinching portrayal of trans people in Iran. In many ways, it falls right in line with HBO’s commitment to sparking and hosting button-pushing conversations on contemporary issues like they’d done before with Common Threads, Rosie’s All Aboard! and Middle Sexes. But you know what else HBO is known for? Hilarious comedy, which is what we’ll be discussing today.
When I talked about the gay stereotypes that litter HBO comedies, a handful of you pointed to the “Larry vs. Michael J. Fox” (HBO Go) episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm as a helpful complement to that discussion. The plot of the eighth season (and potential series) finale follows Larry’s escalating cold war with upstairs neighbor Michael J. Fox (“Just having Parkinson’s doesn't give you carte blanche to take advantage of the non-Parkinson's!”) while the B-plot has him meeting Greg, the seven-year old son of Jennifer (Ana Gastayer), the woman he’s been seeing. As Greg is an avid fan of Project Runway and a swishy one at that, Larry decides to get him a sewing machine for his birthday which all but appalls his mother:
Jennifer: He is a happy, healthy, normal seven year old boy. What is the matter with you?
Larry: Ehh, I think he might be gay.
As if the episode’s use of Parkinson’s disease as comedy fodder wasn’t enough, the episode’s continued pushing of Greg as a gay kid (he’s “pre-gay” Larry notes) is classic Larry David: awkward, borderline inappropriate but for that all the more hysterical. It also features one of the few examples of pre-teen homosexuality in our HBO history. Jennifer’s own anxiety that Larry might be thrusting homosexuality on a kid who is barely seven years old mirrors much of our modern ideas of homosexuality. Kids can be effeminate. They can be sissies. They can be pansies. They can enjoy Project Runway. But that, we are told, in no way means they’ll grow up to be gay. Even in that sentence construction, we espouse the belief that homosexuality is something for grownups, irrevocably tied to same-sex desire and thus tied to hormones, puberty, and of course, sex.
The radical humor of the episode lies in not shying away from calling that myth out; indeed, young girls are encouraged to think of their future husbands thus inscribing in them a heterosexuality that, at a young age, need not be tied to their sexual preferences; why should gay kids be treated any differently, with their gayness both signaling but not encompassing actual sex? True, it falls on pretty well-worn stereotypical territory, but for those of us who were called out as sissies and pansies for our aversion to sports and penchant for “feminine” cultural objects, Greg’s unabashed swishiness is particularly refreshing to see. That his mother seems to want to not even consider thinking about what that may mean for his sexuality and that Larry’s own approach to the issue begins with a question of whether raising Greg will be somewhat difficult for Jennifer (given, you know, how he is and all), would warrant more unpacking if the episode didn’t give Greg so much autonomy and confidence. Plus, with sewing skills like that - he singlehandedly crafts a throw pillow with the fabulous design Larry taught him about (the swastika) - you know he’ll be fine.
Fun Awards Fact: Michael J. Fox was nominated for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy for his portrayal of himself on the show. He was also nominated that same year for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama for his work on The Good Wife. He lost both his bids that year, though I’m sure he found solace in his five previous Emmy wins.
Next week: We’ll continue talking about HBO Comedies as we revisit the two big screen adaptations of arguably the most talked-about HBO comedy of all time: Sex and the City. So bring your Cosmos, wear your Jimmy Choos and be prepared for plenty of puns!