Emmy spotlight: ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ director Jeff Schaffer is long overdue

Though everybody knows Larry David as the face of and genius behind HBO’s miraculously long-enduring comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” few may realize the outsized importance of David’s right-hand man Jeff Schaffer. Co-creator of “The League” and this season’s “Dave,” Schaffer began working on “Curb” 15 years ago, and now serves as a writer, director, and executive producer of the Emmy-winning series. The latter role has landed Schaffer four Emmy nominations, but a bid for his work as director has proved elusive.

For the series’ tenth season, which found David’s curmudgeon opening a coffee shop purely out of spite and facing claims of sexual harassment, Schaffer might have his best chance yet at earning a rightful nomination for directing. Compared to last year, when “Curb” was on hiatus, the competition has winnowed: “Fleabag” has wrapped, so reigning champ Harry Bradbeer will not defend his title, and “Barry” is sitting this Emmy cycle out, leaving Alec Berg and Bill Hader’s slots vacant. With “Curb” in solid position to land its ninth Comedy Series nomination, Schaffer seems particularly competitive.

SEE ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’: Every guest star who grated on Larry David’s nerves in Season 10, ranked

“Curb” is certainly no stranger to the Comedy Directing category, scoring 10 nominations over its 10-season, 20-year run. Half of those bids were for the work of Robert B. Weide, who took home the trophy in 2003 for the season 3 episode “Krazee-Eyez Killa.” That year and the next, “Curb” dominated the category, with a whopping four nominations in 2003 (Weide plus Larry Charles, Bryan Gordon, and David Steinberg) and three in 2004 for Weide, Charles, and Gordon.

Skeptics of Schaffer’s chances might point to his absence from the category for the four previous seasons, but those snubs likely stemmed from poor submission strategy. In 2018, “Curb” submitted six episodes for directing, a miscalculation that probably led to vote-splitting amongst Schaffer, Jessie Nelson, and previous “Curb” nominees Weide, Charles, Gordon, and Steinberg. Such overzealousness with ballot submissions happened previously, too, when in 2010 Schaffer’s Directors Guild-nominated submission “Seinfeld” contended against four other “Curb” episodes and they all ultimately missed the Emmy line-up. And for the season in between, Schaffer submitted for “The League” instead of “Curb.”

SEE our interview with ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ star J.B. Smoove

This year will be different, though, as only three “Curb” episodes will be eligible for submission. Schaffer directed eight of the ten Season 10 installments––series star Cheryl Hines directed one and former “Curb” executive producer Erin O’Malley directed the other––and per Emmy rules Schaffer must pick one and only one episode for consideration.

Schaffer has ample material to choose from, but two episodes stand out as potential Emmy contenders. The season premiere “Happy New Year” is quintessential “Curb,” an expertly paced episode that perfectly executes its central sight gag of Larry sporting the infamous, red “Make America Great Again” hat as a way to repel people. One moment in the extended montage made an unexpected, notorious cameo on the Twitter feed of the President, who unironically shared a scene in which Larry uses the MAGA hat to appease a biker with road rage.

SEE our 2020 Emmy predictions for Best Comedy Series

That newsworthy episode seems like an obvious choice, but Schaffer might be tempted to submit the season closer “The Spite Store” instead. The super-sized finale beautifully dovetails all of the season’s arcs, opening with a hilarious “Today Show” segment about Larry’s spite store, complete with surprise cameos from Jonah Hill and Sean Penn, and ends in truly epic fashion with a massive conflagration that burns Larry’s coffee shop to the ground. The schadenfreude of Larry’s comeuppance is classic “Curb,” elevated by Schaffer’s cinematic directing.

Given his penchant for submitting extended-length finales in the past––2010’s “Seinfeld” and 2018’s “Fatwa!”––Schaffer might look to spark Emmy voters’ attention with “The Spite Store.” And this time, with a better submission strategy and some open spots in the category, Schaffer’s nomination prospects might just ignite.

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