Watching Susie and Larry spar is one of the most consistent pleasures of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Her disdain and his indifference are a volatile, reliably hilarious combination. Susie Essman has hit so many different notes of contempt through her “Get the fuck out, Larry!”s, she’s practically a virtuoso. But when something manages to exasperate both Larry and Susie, prompting them to set aside their differences and heap scorn upon some poor, unfortunate soul? Well, that’s just magical.“The Mini Bar” has just such a moment, and it’s one of the highlights of the liveliest episode of the season so far.
Curb has set up some of its dominos for their inevitable fall later in the season—among them, the five-foot fence that Larry still hasn’t had installed, and the subsequent blackmail—but that’s had the effect of making the first two episodes feel more like preamble than usual. Albert Brooks and Jon Hamm made fun appearances, and J.B. Smoove is setting out on what’s sure to be another great (read: awful for everyone except Leon) Leon adventure. The real promise is in Keyla Monterroso Mejia’s increasingly unhinged performance as Maria Sofia, whose acting career is being fast-tracked by Larry because of said blackmail.
“The Mini Bar” has lots of Maria Sofia, Patton Oswalt as a gastrointestinally-doomed business manager named Harry, and the return of Ted Danson—all very good stuff, but it’s the deconstruction of dinner party etiquette that leads to the aforementioned Larry and Susie team-up. Once again, Larry David hits on a crucial element of social interactions: knowing how to carry a conversation. Now, I don’t just mean keeping one or even two people engaged, but maintaining overlapping discussions at the table, including a general topic that allows everyone to contribute.
This is the very important, but under-discussed, role of the “middler”—the conversation “point guard” who can sink one from 30-feet and provide an assist when needed. When cousin Andy (Richard Kind) and his wife Cassie (Lisa Arch) appoint themselves middlers at Susie’s dinner party, the chit-chat gets dire enough for Susie to plot with Larry to oust the dull talkers. It’s not much of a scheme; Larry just tells Andy and Cassie that they “can’t handle the middle,” Susie immediately backs him up, and then Larry takes his rightful place in the middle. Problem solved, and the solutions to future problems revealed.
The chemistry among the cast at the first dinner party is just so enjoyable; it really helps get “The Mini Bar” off on the right foot. Larry’s a hit at the party. Freddy Funkhouser (Vince Vaughn) entrusts him with the selections for the mini-bars at his new boutique hotel, The Funkhouse; Harry loves his advice for how to play off his overeagerness with a new romantic interest; and, as the dinner conversation turns to the wisdom of stage-four cancer patients, it’s clear that Larry is a great middler.
Curb maintains that energy throughout “The Mini Bar,” as Larry and Jeff take multiple meetings with their new production partner, Hulu. Elon Gold plays the for-now-nameless head of Hulu (according to the credits, anyway), whose many references to his and Larry’s Jewishness come across as bad stand-up for Larry and Jeff. In an inspired bit, the layout of the Hulu office is almost exactly the same as the Netflix one; there’s even an Emmy right behind the head honcho’s shoulder. This streaming executive has his own group of yes-people, played here by Shantira Jackson, Joel Kim Booster, and Punam Patel (another string of great gets by casting directors Allison Jones and Ben Harris).
Despite some setbacks, Young Larry is proving surprisingly resilient, but so is Maria Sofia’s… “Maria Sofia-ness.” Cheryl Hines finds her way back into this season’s madness, as Cheryl agrees to coach Maria Sofia. She clearly has no idea what she’s getting into; Larry’s “[Maria Sofia] stinks” doesn’t begin to cover it. A misplaced jacket leads to a brawl with Ted Danson, who can only grab at Cheryl’s and Maria Sofia’s legs as the camera keeps rolling. Somehow, this impresses the Hulu execs, who love Maria Sofia’s intensity and “physical comedy.”
I haven’t dug into Leon’s storyline as much this season, but he’s now trying to find a third Mary Ferguson to take on a free trip to Asia. That doesn’t stop him from coming up with an idea for an “energy drink for your penis” called Tap Water. “People love to stay hydrated and fuck in hotels,” Leon sagely notes. “One of your best,” Larry tells him—so, despite the fact that Freddy Funkhouser decided not to go with Larry’s mini-bar picks, how long before Tap Water ends up at The Funkhouse?
The episode’s plots continue to converge with explosively funny results. Larry’s great advice to Harry at the beginning? Well, the suggestion to “text through it” by sending a message about a hot dog-eating contest ends with Harry and Larry scarfing down hot dogs in front of their friends. What started as a joke turns into a lie that takes on a life of its own. “You gave me a Goebbels-level lie,” Harry laments, and when it comes to lying, Larry notes, “Goebbels is the GOAT.”
It’s for the best that Maria Sofia is sticking around—that is, for Curb Your Enthusiasm, not for Young Larry—but Jeff deserves some credit for helping get Larry off the hook, however briefly. He doles out some “stage-four cancer wisdom” to Marcus, convincing the taquería owner to take his daughter out of the acting game… and add a breakfast burrito and some rice pudding to the menu. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jeff (and Larry) knows how to return a favor.
- Seriously, Keyla Monterroso Mejia is such a find. Her awkward body rolling and half-threatening, half-seductive delivery of “Eat them latkes!” cracked me up.
- I love the “math” on this show—this week, everyone at Susie’s dinner party calculated how much they’d listen to the advice of someone who “only” has stage three cancer. There are so many different units used: percentages, “grain of salt,” etc.
- Susie and Jeff’s marriage is far from perfect, but his latest affair, coupled with the look on his face when Susie describes how Cassie kept them from getting divorced, makes me wonder if they’re heading for a real split on the show. We know how that’ll go.
- Ted Danson’s been cast as Larry’s Uncle Mo in Young Larry.
- I got a kick out of the shopping trip for mini-bar goodies, not least of which because of Leon exclaiming “they jerked a fuckin’ mushroom” upon seeing mushroom jerky.
- Reader poll: If you partake, what are your mini-bar must-haves? I’m a Pringles person. A parmesan crisp sounds nice, but I hate to think of how expensive it would be.
- Next week: a Cheers reunion???