Lately, it feels like it’s less a question of whether a beloved or well-received show will find its way back to TV in some form than when, especially now that the network-cable binary no longer exists. Now you can take a show originally conceived for broadcast and move it to a platform that has led the charge in cord cutting, rework it for premium cable and call it a limited series, or keep it in your bailiwick after scrapping the ending.
When Larry David called a wrap on Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2011, he did it with a kind of open-door policy at HBO—he (and only he) could always bring the show back down the road. In a way, this left viewers at David’s whim; but given the improvisational nature of the show, there was also the sense that a new season could just come together at any moment. Like, say, after David mounted a successful Broadway play.
And so it is that two years after Jeff Garlin gave 51-49 odds on the reunion, “Larry David” is once again picking apart social conventions while stumbling into a huge PR disaster. David also introduces the new season in a manner similar to that of the series premiere in 2000—by asking us to temper our expectations.
He needn’t have bothered, really, as “Foisted!” gets things off to a prett-ay good start. Like another returning comedy, the new season of Curb isn’t beholden to its previous finale. There’s no explanation given for Larry and Leon’s return from Paris—though, having not watched ahead for a change, there’s currently no way to know whether that will remain unaddressed. (At the very least, we should find out whether Larry made any headway with old-world “pig parkers.”)
The season-nine premiere picks up as if no time had passed, both plot- and chemistry-wise. Larry has a fit in the shower over a malfunctioning shampoo pump, an issue he resolves by episode’s end, which is naturally when a very different problem arises. He soon sows the seeds of discord with Betty (The Big Gay Sketch Show’s Julie Goldman), Jeff’s barber who also happens to make housecalls, which sounds kind of amazing. Larry requests her services because they’re convenient, but also because he just committed a faux pas (right on schedule) by not holding the door open for her. It’s not just that Larry failed to do it, but that he was caught hemming and hawing about it. He has an equation that helps him make up his mind in these situations: “type plus distance equals no door hold.”
Rather than let that guideline just hang in the air, Curb quickly follows up on Larry’s stated rule by giving him yet another situation to put his foot in his mouth over how femme-presenting Betty and her fiancée Numa (Nasim Pedrad) are. Betty, with her short hair, vests, and ties, is more a “groom” in Larry’s eyes, while the more conventionally feminine Numa should obviously be the bride. Unfortunately, there aren’t many laughs to be had in these particular confrontations. Larry’s well outside the realm of progressives and conservatives, but the thinking behind this storyline just feels so outdated. It’s just not as elegant a reintroduction of his “equal opportunity offender” status. But it does lead Larry to say “I never get excited about anything,” which, despite his obvious passion for his own show, could have been taken from any one of the interviews the real Larry David did ahead of this premiere.
There’s far more nuance and humor in the chain of incompetence that began with Jimmy Kimmel “foisting” his former assistant Mara (guest star Carrie Brownstein!) onto Larry, who may be a “misanthropic moron,” but he doesn’t see himself as the kind of guy who would fire someone with a tragic childhood and a physical disability. He has to draw the line somewhere, and sexual abuse is along that boundary. This all jibes with the Larry we know, but when he thinks to unburden himself onto Susie, well, that doesn’t sit as well. Susie has less tolerance than he does—again, it wasn’t a question of if he would be found out, but when. And, since Mara had been shuffled at least three times before joining Soaps On, Susie’s new bath products line, it was safe to assume her incompetence would be revealed by the halfway point of tonight’s supersize episode, if not sooner. It just feels like a way to get to that shower punch of an episode capper.
This is a small misstep, though, and not enough to throw off an otherwise great premiere. In addition to the reliable chemistry between David, Garlin, and Susie Essman—who seems to be aging in reverse—“Foisted!” brings Cheryl back into the fold, and she’s still an activist at heart. Her brief talk with Larry also includes Ted Danson, whose in-show separation from Mary Steenburgen is bound to come up again. And in a moment that could set up the season arc, Larry offends roughly a billion Muslims with his already unflattering portrayal of the Ayatollah, who he’s considering playing in Fatwa!, the musical he’s been working on for the last five years. At least, he was going to play the religious leader, until his interview with Kimmel leads to an actual fatwa.
But the most hilarious and successful exchange of the night is, naturally, between David and his longtime friend (and former rival) Richard Lewis. Larry’s assumption is that a sympathy text is sufficient after the death of a pet, especially considering a parakeet isn’t as exotic as say, a toucan. And it might have been, had he not thrown in the “at least I’m still alive” at the end (which is a much worse way to punctuate a text than a smiley face, I hope Larry knows). Everything from their head-jerking negotiation over who should have to move to Richard’s spot-on assessment that Larry’s life is lacking in well, “everything,” felt like a homecoming. David’s chuckle ahead of the line “Are you sure a dead parakeet isn’t funny?” recalls every other almost-break he had in previous episodes, just before he dropped another stinging bit of dialogue.
His “at least I’m still alive” comes back to bite Larry at a less than opportune time, but the payoff of that moment shores up the episode’s shakier storyline, making for a great reentry overall. Curb has never been a political show, but there’s something about that saving-grace sentiment that does reflect contemporary times. Nuclear war looks imminent, but at least Curb is back on.
- Welcome back to Curb Your Enthusiasm reviews at The A.V. Club! Unfortunately, HBO did not send out screeners to all critics, so my apologies for this post going up so late on a Sunday night. I understand there will be multiple supersize episodes this season, too. So if you guys would like me to get a skeleton post out to give you a place to congregate before the full review goes up, let me know in the comments.
- Longer eps won’t always mean much longer reviews, but we had some catching up to do here after six years.
- Ordinarily, I’d be lampin’ on a Sunday night, so fingers crossed for screeners.
- I counted a total of five “prett-ays” and two “goods” after Larry foisted Mara on Susie, so he was certainly pleased with himself.
- Curse this show for making me worry about Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen’s marriage.
- “You know why I’m laughing? At the sadness of your entire existence.”