September 28, 2005

The Return of Curb

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Larry David sure gets into some preposterous situations. In the past four seasons of the brilliant HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry has gone to a dinner party at a porn star’s house, accused an HBO executive of stealing shrimp from a Chinese restaurant, attempted to insert Benadryl into the brownie of a sick Christian Scientist, taken a prostitute to a baseball game to use the car-pool lane and mediated a dispute between a Holocaust survivor and Colby from the show Survivor. My friends and I quote lines at every possible juncture, attempting to make even obscure Curb lines like “Why don’t you get a sponge” and “I have an unwrapped mint in my pocket” part of the American vernacular. We’ve gotten several “how did you get into Cornell” stares.

Needless to say, I’ve been waiting anxiously for the season five premiere, which aired on Sunday night. There hasn’t been a new episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm since March, 2004, when I was still a senior in high school. Curb stars Larry David as himself. In case you’ve been living under a rock, on Mars or in the trunk of Louie’s Lunch for the past few years, Larry was the co-creator of Seinfeld and wrote many of the famous episodes. Curb follows Larry around as he annoys and gets yelled at by pretty much every person in Los Angeles. The lines of the show are ad-libbed, which occasionally makes some scenes fall flat but other times give priceless unscripted moments like when Larry’s manager Jeff Greene (Jeff Garlin) screams out “Cock, cock, cock, Grandma, cock!” during the season three finale. I don’t think any writer on the planet could script a sequence of those words and be sick enough to include “Grandma.” Curb is also the only show on TV which contains a childless, cantankerous, bald man as its protagonist – since Seinfeld.

After watching Sunday’s season five premiere, my first feeling was disappointment. As Larry himself would say, the show was “eh.” Mainly, the purpose of the season premiere was to set up the plot for the entire season. During the episode, Larry survives a near death experience in the ocean (although any Curb fan would know from “The Thong” that Larry hates the beach). Later, his father (Shelley Berman) has a stroke in a restaurant while eating a sandwich named after Larry himself. In the hospital afterwards, Larry’s father tells him that he is adopted. The rest of the season will undoubtedly be a quest for Larry to discover his roots.

In the past, the best episodes have been those about “nothing” (ring any bells?). Two scenes in this episode stick out in my mind as good examples of this. In one scene, Larry gets into an argument with Ted Danson (playing himself) when Danson won’t switch namesake sandwiches. As Larry and Jeff rattle off the ingredients of the sandwich, Danson’s face comically reveals his disgust. The scene works well because of Danson’s facial expressions, which almost made me forget the fact that he spent seven years on the horrifyingly bad sitcom Becker (key word being almost).

Another strong scene occurs outside Larry’s synagogue during Rosh Hashanah services. Outside, someone mistakenly identifies Jeff’s foul-mouthed wife Susie (Susie Essman) as Larry’s own wife. Larry immediately recoils in horror. Afterwards, an irate Susie confronts Larry about the situation. Larry defends himself by disparaging Susie’s “Al Capone hat.” Later in the synagogue, a bored Larry decides to wipe down his glasses with his yarmulke. Both short scenes work extremely well because they feature Larry breaking social taboos and being a jerk.

The problem is that these scenes are too far and few between. Several scenes, especially with Larry’s normally funny father, fall short on humor. In addition, like with most sub-par episodes, “The Larry David Sandwich” is too focused on plot. The scene in which Larry recounts his near death experience (which the audience had already seen) felt repetitive and unnecessary. Also, Larry’s discovery of his past felt too dramatic. Nevertheless, it is only one episode. Over the course of the season, there will undoubtedly be some classic Larry David moments.

Archived article by Mike Mix
Sun Contributor