Like her former Seinfeld co-stars Jason Alexander and Michael Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has found life after the hit series tough going. All that’s changed though, with her Emmy award-winning show The New Adventures Of Old Christine. As the series arrives in the UAE this week, Time Outlooks at how Julia beat the curse of Seinfeld.
There are few things so pitiful as an unsuccessful actor clinging onto the last dregs of hope of stardom. Conversely, the other side of that perpetual misery is the actor who’s made it big – but subsequently finds themselves forever typecast by their success to ever break free and have a hit with anything new.
From luminaries such as , Henry ‘The Fonz’ Winkler, Mayim ‘Blossom’ Bialik, to Fred ‘Wonder Years’ Savage, the world of TV development hell is full of these ghosts, drifting disconsolately through new shows and films, desperately trying to shed their former screen glories. It’s a sad sight. One such televisual star who was finding herself being slowly sucked into that unforgiving vortex was Julia Louis- Dreyfus, best known as the charmingly dappy Elaine Benes in the 90s sitcom Seinfeld. As she discovered, when one stars in a sitcom that was fêted as being one the greatest TV shows of all time, breaking free from the character will always present problems. The rest of the supporting cast experienced difficulties re-establishing themselves too.
Ironically, probably the most successful ex-Seinfeld alumni is that show’s creator, the misanthropic Larry David, whose black comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm featured a storyline satirising Louis-Dreyfus and former Seinfeld co-star Jason Alexander’s frustrations at not being able to break out of their previous characters.
But now, it seems, the so-called curse of Seinfeld has been well and truly defeated. At last month’s Emmy Awards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus picked up the award for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her new vehicle; The New Adventures Of Old Christine with the words, ‘I’m not somebody who really believes in curses, but curse this, baby!’
Here in the UAE we can finally find out what all the palaver’s about this week as Christine… finally premieres on Super Comedy on September 7. Adventures Of Old Christine is hardly an original concept, instead returning to the well-worked sitcom furrow of dysfunctional families. Louis-Dreyfus plays a divorced working single mother, Christine Campbell, trying to balance the demands of modern life: raising a young son, facing the dating world again, putting up with her slacker brother, yadda, yadda, yadda, all while maintaining relations with her ex-husband (Clark Gregg) who’s seeing a younger woman, also called Christine – hence the show’s title.
But while the premise is nothing particularly special, it’s the razor-sharp writing and engaging performances from the leads that’s got viewers and critics coming over all warm and fuzzy. Created and co-written by Kari Lizer (who worked as a scriptwriter on the hugely successful sitcom Will & Grace), Lizer claims that the Christine character is loosely based on her own life and was written with the intention of giving Louis-Dreyfus a chance to show a more lovable, caring side to her character that the more flippant Elaine ever did on Seinfeld. While Seinfeld had a strict ‘no hugging, no learning’ rule, fans will be slightly thrown to see her here raising – and caring – for a young child. And as any old Seinfeld fan knows, the chances of Elaine Benes ever doing any such thing (unless there was a devious ulterior motive) were slimmer than Kramer becoming mayor of New York.
That said, Louis-Dreyfus still kept close ties with her alma mater and admitted to consulting with Seinfeld creator Larry David before taking the part of Christine. ‘Larry read the script of the pilot when I was debating whether or not to do it,’ said Louis-Dreyfus. ‘He thought it was fantastic and suggested I go forward. Andy Ackerman, who directed Seinfeld for five or six years, is directing all of our shows. So it feels just right.’
Unlike her previous, failed post- Seinfeld project, Watching Ellie, Christine fulfils its writer’s aim of uncovering Louis-Dreyfus’s warm and likeable side. Not too earnest, but just funny, vulnerable and really rather adorable, Christine battles against the slings and arrows of some outrageous misfortunes in her daily life.
The writing rattles along briskly, throwing down the wisecracks and gags with abandon, giving Louis-Dreyfus ample opportunity to exercise that wickedly accurate comic timing (and those amazing facial ticks and expressions) that made Elaine Benes so watchable. For instance, in one episode, preparing to re-enter the world of dating Christine visits a spa but ends up refusing to get a Brazilian because she ‘did that once and it was like a hair arrow pointing to my C-section scar’.
Although her character is blighted with bad luck it seems that Louis- Dreyfus has hit pay dirt and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving actress. ‘You’re unbelievably lucky if you have a hit, but to have two big hits is that much more lucky,’ she said following the failure of her first post-Seinfeld outing. ‘There are hundreds of misses for every hit, and that’s what we’re talking about. But it shouldn’t keep you from trying.’
Of course she’ll never escape her success in previous work and people will always see Elaine Benes when they look at her – ‘I’m going to be asked Seinfeld questions for the rest of my life,’ she admitted. But with the curse broken, an Emmy on the mantelpiece and second series on the way, it’s the start of a new adventure for old Elaine – and at last she can become Queen Of The Castle, the mistress of her own domain.
For Time Out magazine – click here for original PDF – The New Adventures of Old Christine