Shara: I like you.
Larry: What’s not to like?
Shara: Eh, you’re a Jew.
Some day in the not-too-distant future, lazy undergrad students will be writing lengthy essays about Jewish-American male identity based on little more than this episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Who needs Portnoy’s Complaint when you’ve got “Palestinian Chicken”?
A few years back, New York magazine ran a cover story about the evolution of Jewish humor. The gist of the piece, which was pegged to the release of Woody Allen's Whatever Works, was that Jewish comedy is slowly dying out after a century of gradual assimilation. In the article, Larry David claimed that he doesn’t think of himself as a distinctly Jewish comedian. At the time, I thought he was being a tad disingenuous; watching “Palestinian Chicken,” I’m no longer so sure. It's clear that he's got a pretty complicated relationship with his Jewish background.
All along, Larry has been a secular Jew with little respect for his more devout brethren (e.g. “The Ski Lift,” “The Survivor”). So when Funkhouser shows up at a dinner party wearing a blue yarmulke and declares that he has just “rededicated” himself to Judaism, Larry’s skepticism is palpable. “Are you for real?” he asks, not exactly convinced by Funkhouser’s new-found religious fervor.
Given Larry’s disdain for conspicuous displays of faith, it’s hardly a surprise to learn that he’s not much of a Zionist, either. Larry’s no ideologue; he’s a sensualist motivated by carnal desire, rather than political or religious dogma. It just so happens his latest passion is the mouth-watering chicken at Al Abbas, a Palestinian restaurant. Over lunch with Jeff, Larry is unfazed by the anti-Israel posters on the wall. Where others might see the enemy, Larry sees a twisted kind of beauty. He declares—prophetically, it turns out—that Al Abbas is “a fantastic place for Jews cheating on their spouses. You would never get caught.” He also salivates over Shara, the petite Palestinian bombshell who runs the restaurant. She’s obviously gorgeous, but she’s also “the enemy,” which makes her doubly attractive—at least to Larry. “You’re always attracted to someone who doesn’t want you. Well, here you have someone who not only doesn’t want you, but doesn’t even acknowledge your right to exist, who wants your destruction. That’s a turn-on,” he says.
Larry soon finds his loyalties divided. In one corner, there's his penis; in the other, his Jewish friends. At a dinner party at Eddie’s house, everyone—except for Larry, that is—is upset to learn that Al Abbas is opening a new location next to Goldblatt’s Deli. “Over my dead body,” Susie declares. (“I’m sure that wouldn’t bother them,” says Jeff.) Not coincidentally, the arguments against the new location of Al Abbas sound a whole lot like those made by opponents of the “Ground Zero Mosque” last year (“It’s insensitive. Can’t they open a few blocks uptown?”), and they only sound slightly more ridiculous in this context. Suddenly, Larry’s ostensibly liberal friends have morphed turned into conservative, pro-Israel reactionaries. Can reason—and some delicious chicken--prevail over bigotry?
Despite his objections to the new location, Funkhouser meets up with Jeff and Larry at Al Abbas reasoning that “if Rabin can break bread with Arafat, I can have chicken at this anti-Semitic shithole.” Despite his obvious commitment to cross-cultural understanding, Funkhouser refuses to remove his yarmulke before entering the restaurant, irritating Larry. Shara sees him trying to yank Funkhouser’s “Jew cap,” and is smitten.
It's only a matter of time until Larry realizes his fantasy of sleeping with the enemy. “You want to fuck me, like Israel fucked my country?” Shara cries out in bed. Funkhouser overhears the whole thing, but Larry isn't even remotely ashamed. A little anti-semitism is but a small price to pay for the best sex of his life. Larry’s affair with Shara reminded me of his would-be tryst with his busty Producers co-star Cady Huffman back in season four. If you’ll recall, Larry was unable to sleep with her after he saw a portrait of George W. Bush in her dressing room. So what does it say about Larry’s political beliefs that he’s unable to sleep with a republican but is deeply turned-on by an anti-Semitic Palestinian? I’m not totally sure, but there’s something kind of brilliant about Larry’s hedonistic approach to diplomacy: negotiations, sanctions and suicide bombs won’t get Palestine anywhere; great sex and delicious chicken will.
Larry sees himself as the kind of exception to the rule of the emasculated Jewish husband, and not just because he was once married to a shiksa and is now sleeping with a hot-blooded Palestinian. Unlike Jeff and Ron, Larry is willing to speak his mind no matter the circumstances. He is, as Jeff puts it, in what may be the most apt description of Larry David ever, a “social assassin.” In general, Larry’s bluntness hasn’t done him much good, but in “Palestinian Chicken,” he manages, for a brief instant, to use it to his benefit. After Larry runs into his Lexus, Ron proposes a bargain: he’ll eat the cost of the repair if Larry will tell his wife Eileen to stop saying “LOL.” The plan backfires, and Larry decides his days as a (paid) assassin are over.
Another prevalent theme in this episode is the domineering Jewish woman. It's hardly the freshest material in the world, but it's done hilariously well in this episode. “Is there anything more pathetic than a cowering, emasculated Jew who has to run home to his wife?” Larry asks in the opening scene, and it's pretty clear that, for him the answer is "no." Following in the footsteps of her delightfully profane mother, Sammy is shaping up to be a legendary ball-buster. She uses Eileen and Eddie’s affair to blackmail Larry into performing a social “hit” on Susie, whose drinking sounds are driving Sammy crazy. “Boy, you really are your mother’s daughter,” he tells Sammy. “Yeah,” she agrees. “Now get out of my driveway, you bald prick.”
As “Palestinian Chicken” ends, Larry arrives at the protest in front of Goldblatt’s Deli. On one side is the Jewish contingent, where Susie orders Larry to “get the fuck over here.” On the opposite side is the Palestinian faction, which includes Shara. “Larry, I have a sister—me, you and Yasmin,” she promises.
Is there any question which side Larry will choose?
- What worked so well about this episode, other than all the gloriously politically incorrect humor, is that even though there was a whole lot going on—“verbal texting,” “social assassin,” “dessert referee”—all the component parts felt thematically related, unlike “The Safe House,” which felt like a bit of a hodge-podge.
- It was also stuffed with incredible one-liners.
- The piece of cake that Larry struggled to keep from Juliet was pretty fake-looking, wasn’t it?
- “You’re verbal texting.”
- “Imagine how he’d be if he was married to Susie. He’d have pee stains on his pants constantly.”
- I know Curb has been on for more than a decade, but I was still shocked to see how grown-up Sammy is looking these days.
- “I think if you didn’t want to sleep with her you wouldn’t be so tolerant of that LOL.”
- “All marriages have straws.”
- “The penis doesn’t care about race, creed or color. The penis wants to get to its homeland.”
- “You’re Koufaxing me?”
- “What is this, the raid on Entebbe?”
- I liked the bit where Jeff and Larry riffed about the fluffy pillow in Jeff's lap ("It looks like I've got a kitty and I'm making evil plans," he says.) The pillow thing didn't have any relevance to the narrative, but the scene was still great because it was just Larry and Jeff yukking it up for the camera.