I think it says a lot about the world Larry David inhabits when the 7-year old “pre-gay” talking about why he thinks Project Runway is fabulous (read faaabulooous!) is just as funny as Larry is. Or maybe gay 7-year olds are just inherently funny. In any case, Curb brought its eighth season to a close this Sunday night, with an episode that, as funny as it was, ranked #2 for me. But coming in behind “Mister Softee” ain’t bad.
“Larry vs. Michael J. Fox” pitted Larry up against, you guessed it, Michael J. Fox. A man who holds a special place in all our hearts and minds. As the star of Back to the Future – a property that occupies that same rarefied atmosphere as Ghostbusters, Masters of the Universe and Thundercats — Fox is kind of like Charlie Chaplin for people who grew up during the 80s and 90s. He contracted a horribly debilitating disease and has still managed to go on and do great things in spite of (and because of) it. And being able to go on TV and make fun of himself only makes his stock more valuable. And while we might normally say that Fox is the only person allowed to make fun of his condition, we might, we juuuuust might extend that to Larry David. Because, well, it’s Larry.
I’ve read a few reviews that have taken slight issue with the fact that Larry’s issue with Fox — that he kept talking over his girlfriend’s piano “performance” — was more than a little thin and created more or less to get these guys in the same room, yelling at each other. I think you have to keep in mind that this is Curb, and when we see things like Larry getting pulled over for taking extra napkins at a restaurant, well, maybe we just need to go with it.
Larry’s few scenes with Leon and Jeff, while funny, didn’t really do it for me this week. And that’s okay. Michael J. Fox, Hitler mustaches and Jennifer’s gay son were more than enough for me.
It looks like Larry’s problems with Fox, and his unwillingness to do anything even remotely connected to sick kids, has effectively brought his time in NYC to a close. I’m still kind of amazed at what a shot in the arm that whole thing was for the show, and how seamlessly it was pulled off. I was reminded of a line from Jerry Seinfeld in the original Curb Your Enthusiasm special, about how Larry David is a person who is utterly convinced of what he thinks is funny, and I guess that over the years we’ve kind of been swept up in that.
Like every other season of Curb, we don’t if this is going to be the last. HBO leaves the door open, and Larry David does whatever the hell he wants. “Larry vs. Michael J. Fox” didn’t feel like a series finale, and there’s a part of me that thinks Larry would want to go out in slightly grander style. Time will tell. I’m just glad to have had the show back for this long. And that gay kid was really funny.
Until next time:
- “Get a life, Jews!”
- “Oh, I love it, I love it, I love it! Thank you, Lord.”
- “It’s all Parkinson’s, Larry!”
- “This is the way you handle balls.”
- “You don’t touch Mr. Fox, you understand? You touch him again, me and you got a problem.”
- Leon’s USA t-shirt was kind of perfect.
Perfection, thy name is “Mr. Softee.” Like Dana Scully once said, “there are hits and there are misses, and then there are misses.” But then there are hits! And for an episode that was absolutely silly with baseball references, this one hit it right out of the park! I’m going to go kill myself now.
Curb has got a very specific formula, so you can really tell when the tank is topped-off, or when it’s running a little low. Some episodes feel like they were definitely given the dregs of whatever Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Alec Berg et al have come up with that season. Others feel like they’ve got way too much crammed into them. Some of it good, some bad. But just about everything in this week’s episode worked so well that, well, it just made you proud to be an American.
It all starts when Susie asks Larry to go to a “baseball signing thing” to get Mookie Wilson’s autograph for Jeff’s birthday. While they’re talking, Larry hears that ice-cream truck song we’ve all heard over and over again, which triggers a childhood memory of him playing strip poker with a girl in her father’s ice cream truck, the father walking in on them and kicking a naked, teenage Larry out into the street (great casting on young Larry, by the way), to the ridicule of the local riffraff, of course.
The same song triggering the same memory causes Larry to miss a groundball and lose his (neighborhood? rec center?) league’s softball championship. As Yari — the team manager — calls it, he Buckners it up. When Larry actually meets Bill Buckner at the baseball show, the two become fast friends, which leads to all the close-catch scenarios you’d imagine, although you don’t see all of them coming. As far as the episode’s structure goes, you couldn’t ask for much more. Everything’s layered on so well that and really comes off perfectly when we finally get to the payoff at the burning building with the trapped woman and her baby.
I’m not a sports guy (we don’t care for such things down here in Texas), but I loved the redemption the show gave Buckner, and how clueless and at peace he seemed through most of the episode, letting the heaps of scorn the city threw on him roll off his back. That, Larry’s disgust at Susie’s car orgasm, Leon’s glasses, the Jewish funeral thing (I’m culturally insensitive) and hey, we finally saw the origin of “Pret-ay, pret-ay, pret-ay good.” All great stuff. What I’ve seen of Sunday’s finale is pretty funny, but it’s still got its work cut out for it. This one ranks with Curb’s best.
- Robert Smigel as the foreign, broken-English speaking Yari was kind of brilliant, as he always is with broken-English speaking foreigners.
- “Don’t let the door go through your legs on the way out, Buckner.”
- “I hope there is no afterlife!”
- “Hey, Larry, what about the kishka?” “To hell with the kishka!”
- “No wonder she didn’t come upstairs.” “Damn right. She was cumming downstairs! Get it?” “She was cumming downstairs. Yes, I get it!”
- “I merely alluded to the fact that he was a well-known director.”
Larry David’s a rich, rich man, but he’s no philanthropist. All the same, in this week’s Curb he’s been presented with an opportunity to invest in an inventor’s work; the episode’s titular car periscope. Now, I realize I’m completely missing the point here, but when I saw this the first thing I asked was, why? Larry’s getting along in life and he’s got no kids. Add that to the fact that he’s so neurotic he’s probably got it stipulated in his will that all the money he’s made should be held in perpetuity in some vault or buried with him after he dies. So, if he’s got more money than he’ll ever spend and no one to leave what’s left over to, why does he care about new investment opportunities?
Like I said, I’m missing the point. Especially when the car periscope aspect of “Car Periscope” was far and away the funniest thing about the episode. Larry and Jeff’s reluctance to trust the inventor being overcome by the fact that his wife (I thought Aida Turturro died?) isn’t the most attractive woman in the world was a classic move, as was how quickly the inventor threw Larry’s $125,000 check back in his face once he got hip to what was going on.
The rest of the episode fell a little flat. That’s not because Wanda stealing Larry’s trainer or Larry getting “upstreamed” while hailing a cab weren’t funny ideas, but because it felt like they were only half-formed. Especially the upstreaming, which seems like one of those social contract things Curb likes to spend so much time on. I guess another social contract thing would be not making a huge deal about someone who’s lost an arm. Asking them if they need to go backhand whenever tries shaking hands on the wrong side. The show’s kind of gotten to that point where you instinctively cringe whenever anyone with any sort of physical infirmity is ever introduced.
Cringe or laugh. Larry meeting with his business manager, leaving him because of his attractive wife and hooking up with the other because his wife looked like Aida Turturro was one of my favorite bits. Because if it’s one thing Larry has taught us, it’s that what’s on the inside doesn’t matter. It’s the superficial that counts.
- “You are a man of great character.” “You got that right.”
- “Alright, judge. I’m gonna give you ‘coon.’” “That’s big of you.”
- “I like to munch and pee.”
- “Sometimes I wish I had one arm when I’m cuddling in bed with a woman. ‘Cause the other arm gets in the way all the time, so you know, it could be an advantage in that situation.”
- “I’m still at the same e-mail. I Hate Larry.”
Curb Your Enthusiasm can be kind of an odd duck because it’s not your traditional sitcom. Many episodes don’t even follow traditional sitcom structure. And over its eight seasons it’s developed its own unique features, such as the way seemingly random events come back to bite Larry in the ass in unexpected ways. Sometimes the payoff is perfect. Sometimes not so much. “The Bi-Sexual” was an example of everything coming together just like it was supposed to, but for some reason like something was missing.
Don’t mistake “something was missing” for bad. I honestly can’t think of an episode of this show I haven’t enjoyed. Do mistake it, however, for not laugh-out-loud (LOL, the kids are calling it) funny. But there was plenty I liked which provided a moderate amount of giggles. One of those — which has probably been one of the better payoffs this season — was Larry being blocked from the Baseball Hall of Fame for using “performance enhancing drugs.
Also, Leon! I think it’s great that the show took such pains to come up with a plausible excuse to send Larry to New York for half a season, but Leon’s reason for showing up is more or less so that Leon will show up (although the roommate thing was a nice touch). One of the things I like most about Leon is that he’s a take on the wacky TV neighbor who keeps showing up for unexpected reasons. Back in season 7, when the idea is first brought up about doing a Seinfeld reunion, Larry’s a little put-off because it’s something that’s been done before, and never very well. It’s kind of a cheesy thing to do. But just like (the real world) Larry David was able to come up with a way to get the Seinfeld gang back together, he’s also been able to use that wacky neighbor character — which has been done before and is cheesy in its own right — in a way that feels new and a little outside the box. In a world full of over-the-top characters, I think Leon may reign supreme.
But a few things we saw — Larry dating another semi-anonymous woman, his problems at the Japanese restaurant, even his back-and-forth with Rosie O’Donnell — felt a little familiar. Like it was all well-tread ground. Again, none of it was bad. I don’t know if the pieces could have fit together any better than they did. It just wasn’t a laugh riot. Then again, not all of them have to be.
- “Women do not have penises. Men have penises.”
- “The roommate? What roommate?”
- “I don’t fly, baby. You gotta have a photo ID for that.”
- “Too bad I don’t have a daughter. I would like to impart that knowledge to her.”
- “It was a shit-bow.”
- I thought it was interesting to see Amy Landecker in a moderately funny role, and thought it was a refreshing change of pace from her part as Paul Reiser’s wife in the horrible and I’m-so-glad-it’s-canceled Curb-ripoff Paul Reiser Show.
No one on Curb Your Enthusiasm is really playing themselves. From Larry David to Richard Lewis, and this week, Ricky Gervais, everyone is playing a slightly heightened, fictionalized version. Am I the first person to make that observation? Possibly. But my point is, even though the versions these people are playing are slightly off-kilter, you can see the actors trying to put their own stamp on the Curb universe.
I think Ricky Gervais is a really funny guy and enjoy watching award shows trot him out every year so he can bag on Hollywood and our favorite actors. But I have to admit I’ve gotten a little tired of him lately. It may be because he keeps making the same joke about how much money he’s made off The Office, and then the cameo he completely phoned in in the Office finale. I feel like he’s drifting into that dangerous territory a comic sometimes moves into where he/she believes that no matter what they say, people are going to laugh at it. So I enjoyed the mostly-straight performance here. And his stare-down with Larry was a good beat. That’s like a Curb right of passage now.
We’re only an episode in, but the show feels like it works just as well in New York as it does in Los Angeles, although spending the past seven years on the West Coast really makes for a stark contrast when Larry opens the curtains onto NYC.
This may be a first for the show. In every episode, we see Larry break the social contract in some way he thinks will be beneficial to the rest of society, only to have it blow up in his face later on. But this week, when Larry gets up in the restaurant to get his and Jeff’s food, it works out. He’s a genius. And at the end of the episode, he does it again! And then he saves Gervais and Donna from the mugger on the subway! Looks like everything’s finally coming up Larry.
The baaaayst (Nacho Libre. Look it up.):
- “I love the laughtrack on it. Reminds you of when to laugh!”
- Chris Parnell! And racist to boot!
- Was this (along with last week’s episode) the show’s first two-parter? It opens up right where “Vow of Silence” ended. I don’t think we’ve seen that before.
- If you’re that ONE guy still not convinced that this show takes place in a freaky alternate universe where people have no filter, I direct you to the woman in coach, who thinks asking the first guy who passes by, “Excuse me. Do you mind telling me where you’re going?” is a perfectly normal thing to do. You’re in an airplane. The only place you have to go is the restroom.
The first promo for this season of Curb showed frightened New Yorkers running to get away from a Godzilla-sized Larry David. Posters feature the Statue of Liberty with Larry’s face and the tagline, “Give me your tired, your poor, your bald, your put upon, your unenthusiastic…” This season, Larry’s headed for the East Coast. Well, how the hell does he get there? People like Jeff and Susie, Leon and Richard Lewis are too integral a part of the show to just pick Larry up and drop him, alone, in the middle of NYC.
Even though Curb can be so ridiculous that it could have pulled a “the Simpsons are going to Japan!” and we would have accepted it, I have to give it serious props for coming up with a way of getting Larry across the country that felt 100% organic and true to itself. When Matt Tessler (played by Michael McKean) approaches Larry at Jeff and Susie’s going away party and asks him to be a part of a field day benefiting mentally and physically challenged kids, Larry’s so put off that says he’s going to be in New York for the next three months, working with Jerry on a new show. Larry runs into Tessler later at Pinkberry with Jeff, and gets a visit from him the next day at his office, and when he doesn’t seem to be buying his story, Larry commits to the bit and jumps on a plane. And not only does he go, he goes with Jeff and Susie, who are taking Sammie to a summer music program at Juilliard. It’s kind of perfect.
Listen. Working with mentally challenged kids is a calling. Some people are just born to it. And turning that sort of work down even though we realize that is something that doesn’t come easy to any of us. We backpedal, and try to convince ourselves and others that we’re not as bad as we’re maybe making ourselves out to be. But not Larry. He’d rather move across the country for an entire summer than put himself in an awkward position. The funny thing is, we still like him.
A few other things: The people Larry confronts this week, the pig-parkers (if you’ve never heard Brett Gelman on any of the Earwolf shows, go listen to all of these right now) and the chat-and-cutters were so good I was surprised it took the show eight years to do them. And I have to admit, I was sorry to see Oscar go. It may have been in the background, but he’s been a character on the show for a while. And that only goes to show the soft spot I have for dogs, as I’m sure there were ten Oscars and half of them are dead now. Something to think about while you’re enjoying the episode. You’re welcome!
The good stuff:
- “When is the last time you jacked off?” It’s a special thing when a man is asked this question.
- “The hard-boiled egg in the spoon.” “Oh! Running with that thing!”
- “Why don’t you stay between the lines of your own damn business? Why don’t you stay confined within the lines of not being an asshole? Because you’re way over that line, alright?”
- “I’m the world’s fastest prep as a director, you know that. I once did a Silver Spoons in 48 hours.”
- Michael McKean and Michael Hitchcock! We need more of the Christopher Guest crew on this show.
I was watching an episode of The Simpsons a while back. I forget which one, seeing as how they’ve made something like eight or nine hundred. Anyway, Bart was prank-calling Moe’s bar, except this time he was doing it with a text message. He said his name was something like Ima Wiener, so when Moe shows the text to Barney, Lenny and Carl, they all laugh at him. Sure, the joke wasn’t that funny, but it made me think of how technology and 22 YEARS ON THE AIR have given the show room to tell new stories.
We’re kind of seeing the same thing this season on Curb. You don’t really think about it, but it’s been almost twelve years since the original Curb Your Enthusiasm special aired on HBO. And while Larry David remains the same, the world around him has changed. Last week we saw him attack Ilene and verbal texting. This week he goes after Heidi and… emoticons. Okay, so maybe Larry just doesn’t like cell phones. But at least it’s given the show a few new trails to blaze. And while Larry’s always been one to wall himself off from the society, it now feels like he’s walling himself off from the world. I could bring up his recent divorce and and say that this may be the product of some sort of post-partem depression, but it’s Curb. It’s just jokes, right?
Another trend I’m seeing this season is that, in any given episode, there’s one storyline that provides a few chuckles, then another that really brings things home. I liked the Larry/Heidi stuff we saw. And the smiley-face drawn in sunscreen showed us that Larry definitely isn’t hurting for ways to ruin funerals/weddings/family reunions. But the best part of Sunday’s episode was definitely Larry’s interactions with Dog (the one who’s doing the shark show). Larry’s universe is one populated with over-the-top characters, and it was hilarious to meet one who was just as high on his own bulls**t.
What was set up in the beginning of the episode (Jeff’s “problems” with Susie, Larry’s doctor) came together at the end of the episode better than things did at the end of “Palestinian Chicken.” Although I could have watched another half-hour of Antoinette’s mother getting one of those cabinets back from Dog.
Four of these are from the same scene. It was a really funny scene:
- “Don’t wear that hat.” Even in the middle of a funeral, Larry can’t resist.
- “I have to masturbate before I come, so I exhaust the area.”
- “Don’t touch those f**king labels!”
- “Big Dog. Does not. Give Up. Cabinets.”
- “Chocolate pretzels!? Get the hell out of here!”
- “Take your f**king rabbit food, and your damn five-pound bread, and stick it up your f**king ass!”
Earlier this week, Modern Family co-executive producer Danny Zuker tweeted, “There’s NOTHING that can’t be joked about. But if u choose to joke about a tragedy u better make sure it is REALLY funny.” Sunday’s Curb didn’t joke about a specific tragedy per se, but it really took that whole “there’s NOTHING that can’t be joked about” sentiment and ran with it.
Curb Your Enthusiasm is the most Jewish show I’ve ever seen. Larry’s Jewish. Most of his friends are Jewish. Temple, seders and rabbis all regularly pop up in Curb episodes. But it wasn’t until last night that I realized Larry doesn’t particularly care for the religion. Maybe I realized it all along, it’s just that “Palestinian Chicken” actually made me think about it. And how could I not, with Larry’s insane, blasphemous sex echoing through the house while Marty Funkhouser waited patiently in his foyer?
Still, regardless of how clueless I may be, I didn’t really buy Larry’s conundrum at the end of the episode: having to choose between standing with his friends and protesting the new Al Abbas or throwing his lot in with Shara and the promise of sex with her and her sister. If Larry had no problem with Shara saying that she was going to f**k the Jew out of him, he’s already made his choice. And the funniest thing about it is, Larry didn’t sell out his religious convictions for Shara, he did it for the episode’s titular Palestinian chicken. He even becomes something of a hero in the process when he knocks off Marty’s “Jew cap” when he tries wearing it inside the restaurant. Still, this side of the episode didn’t resonate with me as much as Jeff identifying Larry as a social assassin did. But I do respect what it was doing. Telling a story about a man willing to betray his identity for chicken and sex. And I don’t think any show could have done it the way Curb did and gotten away with it. Or maybe I’m full of s**t and should stop reading so much into things. Maybe I should just laugh at the jokes and quote the Soup Nazi.
Anyway, I thought Sammie and Ron trying to use Larry’s social quirks to their advantage to be much funnier, and strangely overdue, considering the fact that the show’s in its eighth season. Like Ron tells Larry, he’s the one who says the things we all wish we could say, but never do. Why hasn’t anyone else had to idea to enlist Larry help like this before? And Larry relishes the entire thing. For once, people are complimenting him, rather than calling him a prick. Well, Sammie called him a prick. Still, she did it after asking for his help.
Larry as the hero is short-lived, sadly. Susie and Eileen know that Larry says all sorts of crazy crap, but not that he would single out their “verbal texting” and annoying lip smacking. Eddie’s affair with Eileen is outed, Larry’s golf team is torn apart, and that’s the ballgame. Larry’s days as a social assassin are over. At least professionally.
These brought the funny:
- “If Rabin can break bread with Arafat, I can have chicken at this anti-Semitic shithole.”
- “LOL. It’s cute, huh?”
- “He has no balls. I have a solid, single ball.”
- “I like you.” “What’s not to like?” “You’re a Jew.”
- Scott Aukerman cameo! Can you spot him?
You’d think that after seven seasons Larry David would run out of ways to stick his foot in his mouth, but “The Safe House” gave us one of the funniest instances of that yet when Larry discovers that a battered-women’s shelter has moved in a few doors down. He learns this when the house mother drops by, asking Larry to come over and apologize to a few of the women he’s had unfortunate run-ins with; one who was blocking a freezer full of Chubby Hubby at the grocery store, and the other who was caught letting her dog crap all over Larry’s lawn (a scene which, by the way, gave us the line that may encapsulate all of Curb Your Enthusiasm, maybe even Larry David’s life: “I’m yelling for society!”).
Larry’s always been kind of a f**k-up, but I think there’s a difference between the Larry who’s just misunderstood and the Larry we saw in “The Safe House,” who enjoys pushing boundaries and making people just a little uncomfortable. Larry may have been able to pick his battles with Cheryl and Susie, but in a room full of women who already have a negative view of the men in their lives, there’s just no way he’s coming out on top. Backed into a corner, he comes out swinging, as smarmy as he ever was.
And, hey, it’s really funny. Of course, you feel bad for laughing at a group of battered women, but you know that any time Larry spends on top, heaping scorn on those around him is always going to be short-lived. And it isn’t long before one of the women almost takes a swing at him when Larry says that he just can’t imagine anyone taking a woman like her – “She runs the show?” – down.
“The Safe House” also introduced us to Richard Lewis’ new girlfriend, an ample-bosomed burlesque dancer named Stella (played by Jan Anderson). Now that Larry’s divorced, he seems set on ruining the relationships of everyone around him. In last week’s premiere he pushed Nan Funkhouser into going on vacation with Marty when all he wanted was time to himself. And now, after noticing a mole on Stella’s breast that she “might want to get checked out,” Larry has Stella convinced that she needs to have the breast-reduction surgery she’s always wanted but never gone through with. Of course, this upsets Richard Lewis, who loves Stella for her mind and generosity but isn’t one to turn his back on all that other stuff. I love seeing him make these high-minded arguments for why he loves the women in his life and then being exposed as just as vain as the rest of us.
The way in which the episode tied itself together, with Dale almost hitting Larry and Larry being forced to explain his black eye to the doctor as being the result of falling down was really clever, even though it wasn’t as funny as Larry’s conversation with the women at the shelter, or any of his scenes with Leon. I’m still laughing at all that.
These had me rolling:
- “It’s very hard to apologize to a dog because they’re a stupid animal.”
- “Inspirational speaker? What the f**k is she talking about?”
- “How about the marm? Huh? How about this marm?”
- “I do. I do know what you’re saying. Why do you keep asking me that?
Larry David really has one of the best deals in television. And that’s not only because HBO gives him free reign to do what he wants or to come and go as he pleases. One of the best parts of that deal is actually being Larry David, because no one but Larry David could do a show like Curb Your Enthusiasm. After nine years of Seinfeld and now seven+ years of Curb, we’re so inoculated to Larry’s ridiculousness that his is the only show of its kind in which we would accept someone getting arrested for taking too many napkins at a restaurant. Or someone being mobbed by a group of angry Girl Scouts. Or hell, a 64-year old man telling a girl how to use her first tampon.
The last season of Curb Your Enthusiasm ended with Larry and Cheryl on the verge of reconciliation. Alone, watching the Seinfeld reunion, they lean in to kiss when Larry, ever his own worst enemy, notices Cheryl’s left her Starbucks cup on the coffee table without a coaster. He realizes that it was her who left rings on Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ table, and asks Cheryl to call her and clear his name. And that was it. That was the ballgame. Cheryl realized that no matter what happens, Larry will always be Larry, and the two of them together just aren’t going to work. And that’s exactly what we should have expected. After all, are there really any happy endings on this show?
We come back a year later to see their divorce about to go through. But despite all the nastiness a Hollywood divorce might imply, they’re both on pretty good terms with each other. Maybe even better than when they were together. And that’s as it should be, because no one on Curb stays mad forever. I’ll be honest. I wouldn’t put “The Divorce” with my all-time favorite episodes, but that says more about the rest of the show than it does about tonight’s premiere. By now you should know that when a Jewish lawyer who may not be Jewish is introduced at the beginning of the show, he’s going to come back in some way later on. But even when the show isn’t able to tie every plot thread back on itself in an entirely satisfying way, it’s still really good. And even if Larry getting punched in the face and having a tampon stuck up his nose wasn’t the funniest bit of the night, explaining to Kyra how to use a tampon more than made up for it.
And this ties back to how being Larry David is such a sweet part of that Larry David deal. If it were anyone else, I don’t think we’d be laughing as hard. And whether or not an episode hits it out of the park, we’re still laughing. There are shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad that you like to tear into, to analyze themes and character motivations. Then there are shows like Curb, that after a long hiatus you’re just happy to have back on your television screen. I’m just happy the show’s back.
And because any discussion of Curb invariably turns into a list of your favorite parts:
- If it weren’t for podcasts like Comedy Bang Bang, I wouldn’t recognize half of this show’s guest stars. I was glad to see Paul F. Tompkins as non-Jew Andy Berg and Jessica St. Clair (my secret girlfriend) as Joe O’Donnell’s girlfriend.
- Bob Einstein is one of the best things about this show. “You are a colossal prick.”
- “People give me gifts, like that for my desk or the Mezuzah that’s on the door.”
- I’m not a sports guy, so it wasn’t until tonight that I found out that that whole thing with the Dodgers is an actual thing that’s happening. What a mess.