“Larry Vs. Michael J. Fox” S8 / E10
- B+ Community Grade
The eighth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm ended much as it began: with Larry acting rather inappropriately with a child. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 weeks since he showed a Girl Scout how to use a tampon, but it’s nice to know that our hero—who has since moved on to teaching his girlfriend's effeminate 7-year-old son about Nazism—hasn’t learned a thing.
It all begins when Larry stops by to pick his latest girlfriend, Jennifer (Ana Gasteyer), up for a date. While she finished getting ready, Larry sits idly drawing Hitler mustaches on her magazines (as one does), when suddenly, out waltzes her son Greg. It’s always a treat to see Larry interacting with children; he eyes them with a mix of suspicion and understanding, like a criminal recognizing a fellow member of the underworld. Some of my favorite Curb episodes ("The Doll," "The Corpse-Sniffing Dog") have involved kids. Innocent yet selfish, they've got at least one trait in common with Larry.
The problem, of course, is that Larry treats children the way he treats everyone—with too much honesty. Greg asks Larry what he’s doing and, instead of saying, “Oh, nothing,” he explains in far too much detail that Hilter “didn’t care too much for the Jews.” Within a few seconds, it became clear to me what the joke was going to be: Greg is gay. Sure enough, I was right. Greg tells Larry how much he loves “Project Runway,” sassily resting his hand on his bony little hip. Far more alarming than Greg's latent sexuality is his affinity for Larry’s swastika doodles. “I like how the lines just go straight, up, down! Straight, up, down!” he says enthusiastically. He loves them so much, he asks Larry to buy him one for his birthday.
Wisely, Larry decides that a better present for the budding Christian Siriano is a pink sewing machine. Jennifer is offended by the present—and the implication that her son is gay—and so is Susie who argues, rather tenuously, that because Greg is only 7, he’s too young to be attracted to anyone and therefore can’t technically be gay, and thus shouldn’t be doing “gay” things like sewing. Larry suggests that Greg is “pre-gay,” which is hilarious as well as kind of astute. Bowing to pressure, Larry gets Greg a violin to replace the sewing machine, only Greg's already used it to make a lovely sea-foam green pillow sham emblazoned with a bright purple swastika. An irate Susie charges at Larry and is almost run over by a cyclist—until Jeff dives in his path. It’s not quite taking a bullet (or a suppository), but it’s pretty damn chivalrous. Larry, take notes!
Greg isn’t the only short person causing problems for Larry this week. (Short jokes are OK, right?) As the episode title suggests, Larry's nemesis-of-the-week is Michael J. Fox, the diminutive and beloved sitcom star/ Parkinson’s sufferer. What begins as a minor misunderstanding over “background music” snowballs into an all-out war. We’ve seen this basic storyline before on Curb, and even elsewhere in this season: Larry meets another male celebrity and, driven at least in part by his own ego, instantly clashes with him. (See also: Gervais, Ricky).
Whether he’s dealing with a famous person or not, Larry usually starts out in the right. He usually overreacts to the “pig parkers” of the world, but his initial complaints are, almost always, justified. But the odd thing about Larry’s beef with Michael J. Fox is that, from the very beginning, he’s wrong.
The antipathy between them begins when Larry goes to see Jennifer play the piano at a swanky hotel bar. Larry is offended that everyone is talking throughout her performance, even though, by her own admission, she's only there to play background music. So that's the big deal, Larry? Michael J. Fox happens to be one of the bar patrons chatting away throughout Jennifer’s set, and Larry shushes him. On his way out the door, Fox shakes his head in an ambiguous (and possibly involuntary) gesture. Cue the line of the night: “Was it pissed or Parkinson’s?”
The tensions escalate when Larry draws a Hitler mustache on Fox’s father-in-law’s face and reach a breaking point when he confronts Fox about his the noises his heavy boots make at night. (Was I the only one who thought that the loud noises were going to be sex-related?) Larry is convinced that Fox is using his Parkinson’s disease as a cover for dickish behavior—intentionally shaking up a soda and handing it to Larry or slamming into him in the lobby. Michael J. Fox is a widely beloved celebrity, one who was already well-liked before his very public battle with Parkinon’s cemented the public’s goodwill. In other words, he’s a perfect target for Larry. What’s interesting is that Fox guest-starred on several episodes of The Good Wife last season, and the joke was that his character—a Machiavellian lawyer representing a giant pharmaceutical company—used his illness to elicit sympathy. In other words, he was playing exactly the manipulative person that Larry suspects Fox of being.
Eventually, the rancor boils over, and Larry is on probation at the co-op. To make amends, he attends a fundraiser for Fox’s charity, but that, too, goes afoul because of a misinterpreted “violin sign.” Larry apologizes once more, and Fox gives him once last chance to make peace—by spending the day with Fox and his wife Tracy Pollan at the children’s hospital. And so the season ends on a self-referential note, as Larry once again goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid spending a few hours with some sick kids. With Leon at his side, Larry flees to Paris, where he’s all too happy to butt heads with “zee peeg parkuuuhs” of France.
There’s a lot to like in this episode, not the least of which is Fox’s funny, self-deprecating appearance. (“1985 was the last time I was in a movie,” he tells Larry.) The cameo by Mayor Bloomberg, who’s a much more adept comedian than Rudy Giuliani (admittedly a low bar), was also great. And the young actor who played Greg was a hoot. My quibble isn’t with the performances; it’s with the plot, which was more schematic than usual. The only reason Larry objected to everyone talking during Jennifer’s set was so that there would be some reason for him to clash with Fox, and Greg’s instant love of the swastika was just a set-up for an off-color joke that we all knew was coming.
It’s been an uneven season of Curb, with some ecstatic highs—“Palestinian Chicken,” “Vow of Silence”—and some mildly disappointing lows—“Car Periscope.” While part of the fun of Curb is getting a glimpse into Larry’s privileged world, the show has adopted a leisurely approach that seems to reflect its creator’s lifestyle. Literally and figuratively, Curb Your Enthusiasm has drifted a bit this season, and without a strong narrative arc to unify the episodes, some of the show’s more threadbare patches are starting to appear obvious: the Seinfeld retreads, the loose plot strands, etc. Maybe the relocation to New York was just the shot of creative adrenaline the series needed, or maybe it was a sure sign that Curb has jumped the proverbial shark. To be honest, I’m not sure. But I hope I get at least another season to decide.
- Sadly, Leon wasn’t put to much use in this episode, except to egg Larry on in his feud with Michael J. Fox. I did like him in that beret, though.
- I wonder what, exactly, you say to a 7-year-old actor playing a “pre-gay” character?
- “Kid’s birthday party? I’m not that guy.”
- The part of the stranger-who-gets-in-big-fight-with-Larry-over-petty-issue has become a rite of passage for comedians: This week, the honor fell to The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi.
- “Hitler really ruined that mustache for everybody. It’s really an interesting mustache, but now, no one can wear it.”
- Larry and Jeff’s ad-libbed conversation about what to buy for Greg (“What about a slinky?” “Ehh… it’s pretty gay”) was great.
- “Get a life, Jews!”