Curb Your Enthusiasm: "The Divorce"
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Curb Your Enthusiasm: "The Divorce"

B+

Curb Your Enthusiasm

"The Divorce"

Season 8, Episode 1

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As awkward and excruciating as puberty was, I can say with certainty that I never experienced anything as traumatic as learning how to use a tampon from Larry David. In fact, I’m not sure I can imagine anything quite as traumatic as that.

In its seven previous seasons, Curb Your Enthusiasm has found an impressive number of ways to simultaneously shock and amuse its audience. Over the years, Curb has dealt irreverently with religion, race, disability, terrorism and death. The series has also gleefully undermined the idea that children as pure, innocent, incorruptible beings, and, unlike most adults, Larry’s never been afraid to engage in undignified fights with the underage (e.g. the 9-year-old girl from last season who had the “rash on her pussy”).

What made the whole Girl-Scout-with-her-period thing so inspired wasn’t just that Larry has to read detailed anatomical instructions through the door (I love the barely sublimated panic in her voice: “Inner tube?!), or that he seems at least as baffled by the whole process as Keira did.  Nor was it the look of paralyzing terror that washes over Keira’s face as she discovers she's become a woman (at the time, Larry's describing the ingredients in Samoas, and for a second I thought maybe she had some kind of coconut phobia). No, what really made this secene brillant was that Keira decides to tell Larry, her dad's old, bald friend, that she's gotten her period for the first time. God forbid this should ever happen to anyone in real life, but if it did, I'm certain that 99.9% of earthbound females would just quietly slip away to the bathroom and figure out a temporary solution to their worries. But, lest we forget, Larry is not the only oddball who occupies his universe. As petty, outrageous and selfish as Larry so often is, he’s usually acting in response to someone who’s “off” in some fundamental way. In this case, that someone is a 13-year-old girl willing to discuss her intimate bodily functions with an aging male stranger.

Without taking it too seriously, we should also give Larry some credit for helping Keira out; it takes a real man to open a box of tampons without getting nervous or squeamish. Quite the contrary, Larry almost seemed to enjoy the experience, and marveled at the ingenuity of the tampon applicator.  The brilliance of the scene was the way it was simultaneously sweet and icky all at once—a little like Larry, no?

Despite Larry and Cheryl’s pending divorce, little about their actual relationship has changed. Cheryl tows an imperceptible line between tolerance and flirtation; Larry unsuccessfully tries to have sex with her. I’ve always been a huge fan of Cheryl Hines’s work on Curb. She is the closest thing this show has to a straight man, but she never, ever falls into that deadly sitcom trap of the shrill, type-A wife. (Happily, Susie Essman takes that archetype to a vulgar extreme.) Her unfailingly calm and rational nature is the perfect foil for Larry’s absurdity. To wit, in "The Divorce," he asks Cheryl, who's stopped by the house to pick up a few things, to have sex with him. Without yelling or sneering or even sounding particularly annoyed, she responds, “Name one thing I've done that makes you think I want to have sex with you.” It shuts Larry up immediately. The one word I’d use to describe Cheryl Hines is efficient. She’s the exact opposite of a scenery chewer, and I mean that in the very best way. Which is all to say that I hope Cheryl the character sticks around, because Cheryl the actress's contribution to Curb is probably underrated.

But the real focus of “The Divorce” is not Cheryl and Larry’s relationship, doomed as it was by their divergent attitude to wood, but Jewish identity, an issue that’s pretty much encoded in this series to the point that it feels a little silly to point it out. Larry is appalled to discover that his lawyer, whose last name is Berg, is not Jewish, but Swedish. Convinced that Cheryl will take him to the cleaners if he has a gentile lawyer, Larry instead hires Hiram Katz, and recommends that Keira’s father, Joe—who also happens to own the Dodgers—does the same. The resolution felt a little rushed, but Larry learns the hard way that not all Jews are great lawyers. As the episode ends, Larry’s got to move once again.  

It’s been over a year-and-a-half since the last season of Curb Your Enthusiasm aired on HBO and, happily, Larry David has not grown at all in that time period. Curb is that rare thing: a show where stagnancy breeds pleasure. (Seinfeld was one; The Simpsons is another.) The plot, such as it is, is always set in motion by Larry’s eccentricity.  Character development can be over-rated: if Larry were to suddenly get over his petty grievances, we wouldn’t have much of a show.  There’s not much new under the sun this season on Curb, thank God. Anything else would be a shonda

Stray observations:

  • Larry re: Berg’s desk: “This would be good to get blow jobs under.”
  • “Do you like Girl Scout Cookies?” “I find them abhorrent, but come on in!”
  • Yay, Gary Cole!
  • Larry to Cheryl's short, bald, Jewish divorce attorney: “You should have recused yourself. We can’t go up against each other.” 
  • Speaking of which, I’d love to be at the spitballing session where Larry and the gang toss around the most Jewish names they can think of (e.g. David Rabinowitz, Hiram Katz)
  • Depressing: “Why don’t you get a divorce?” “I’m too lazy.”
  • God bless Susie Essman: “You think we're gonna have a nice divorce if we ever get divorced? No fucking way. I’m taking you for everything you have, mister.  I'm taking your balls and I'm thumbtacking them to the wall . You're gonna get nothing out of it. You mention the ‘d ‘word once in your fucking life and you'll rue the day you eve met me.”
  • The tampon-in-the-nose bit would have been funnier, if it hadn’t already been used on Sex and the City years ago.
  • “I commend you on the demographics: a black, an Asian, and…are you a Jew?” (he asks the red head)
  • “How you gonna fuck bitches in a twin bed?” Indeed.
  • “What is a Jew doing on a motorcycle?”
  • “I've got a Swede lawyer? She's gonna get everything.”

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