Larry David at his toe-curling best

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The return of Larry David’s iconically grumpy sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm has been overshadowed by a frank exchange of views between the comedian and hug-happy Sesame Street star Elmo. Fed up with Elmo’s cutesy patter during a recent TV appearance, David pretended to “strangle” the beloved puppet. Social media had its traditional meltdown while David quickly apologised.

It’s a reminder of the degree to which the cantankerous alter-ego “Larry”, whom David portrays on Curb, is an extension of his true self. He first unveiled the persona when the show debuted in October 2000 – though, as co-creator of Seinfeld, he had already poured lots of himself into neurotic nincompoop George Constanza.

Now, after more than 23 years, 12 seasons and 47 Emmy nominations, David has announced that this season of Curb is to be its last. It’s time to strike up the show’s signature sad trombone musical cue for the final time.

But is this really bad news? Much like The Simpsons, another long-in-the-tooth American comedy institution, Curb Your Enthusiasm brings the inevitable risk of viewers taking it for granted. Better to go out while people still care than wear out its welcome.

There were glimpses of a lazy desire to shock as the show returned with a patchy but ultimately brilliant series opener. One scene in which Larry lost patience with his car’s smart speaker was particularly tiresome; it was Curb on auto-pilot – toe-curling in all the wrong ways. As he unleashed a volley of expletives, even David seemed bored.

Larry David as himself and JB Smoove as Leon Black (Photo: HBO)

But it was a rare lapse in an episode that played out like a greatest hits performance by David. Larry had long since parted from screen-wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines). Now the most significant woman in his life was young star actress Maria Sofia Estrada (Keyla Monterroso Mejia). She was the star of his new sitcom, Young Larry, and had taken to fame like a puppy to new slippers.

Larry was appalled at her overnight rise to stardom and upset that his part in her success had been glossed over. But of course plot has always been a secondary consideration on Curb Your Enthusiasm. So it was no surprise that much of the episode consisted of semi-improvised scenes between David and co-star Leon Black (JB Smoove).

These including an extended and hilarious skit about making mobile phone calls by accident using various body parts. Larry also managed to ignite a feud with a cleaning staff member at his hotel when she threw an appalled glance at the state of his room.

Larry and Maria were in Atlanta, where they had been paid to make an appearance at a party thrown by a wealthy African. However, Larry was surprised that the host turned out to be a white South African – he assumed he would be black – and even more shocked when the client refused to cough up the promised appearance fee because Larry had been unpleasant at the shindig. Never mind – they could put their difference behind them with a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation meeting.

“I’m going to be Desmond Tutu,” explained the host. “I should be Tutu,” Larry shot back. “That would be two Tutus,” came the reply. This was classic Curb – a ridiculous situation that caught some of the absurdity of normal life.

The days when Curb Your Enthusiasm was at the cutting edge of comedy are long over. But this was still an enjoyable reminder that, in the pantheon of great on-screen cranks, Larry David remains the one grump to rule them all.

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