“Happy New Year,” the 10th season premiere of Curb Your Enthusiasm, is an irascible, though not exactly compelling, reintroduction into Larry David’s world of spite, ersatz cultural anthropology, and eschewing of social norms. Though the wait between seasons nine and ten wasn’t nearly as long as that between seasons eight and nine, two and a half years is still enough time for people to forget what humor was found in the foisting, fatwa, and general fuckery of 2017. This season premiere seems vaguely aware of the fact that some viewers might not remember where we left off with “Larry David,” but doesn’t really care to remind us of the peril Larry faced nearly three years ago. It quickly resets the stakes; as ever, David, his co-writer Steve Leff, and director Jeff Schaffer give the fictional curmudgeon enough rope to hang himself.
But, before we get to the latest sword of Damacles that’s about to be perched above Larry’s bald head, we see him back in his milieu: strolling down the street with Leon (J.B. Smoove), who may or may not still be his assistant. They’re engaged in their usual parsing—this time, over skin color (Leon and Larry agree that white people are the color of various breakfast cereals). When Larry sees a couple taking a picture with a selfie stick, he snatches the apparatus away from them and breaks it in half, all without missing a beat in his exchange with Leon. Although Larry seems like an anti-selfie guy, the move is also a bit aggressive for him. Is this the first sign that there’s a new Larry, one who’s even more hostile and resistant to niceties than before?
Whatever the game plan is for this season, it seems prett-ay clear that Larry hasn’t learned a damn thing from the events of season nine, or really any other point of his life. He lectures expectant mother Randy (Lennon Parnham) on both her physical activity (“jostling” a fetus is a concern for him) and her reference to her African American husband. He continues doling out injuries, literal and otherwise, knocking down a row of rental scooters and then complaining about virtually every aspect of Mocha Joe’s (Saverio Guerra) business. Neither age nor success have mellowed Larry out, and his cantankerousness remains at odds with his desire to at least appear to be a good guy. He sees his patronage of Mocha Joe’s business as a two-way street: the scones should meet his specifications, as should the coffee temperature and the structural integrity of the café table. We’re not even halfway through the premiere, and Larry has already made an enemy of an old acquaintance (Leon seems to agree that the coffee could be hotter, though).
Larry is on a tear for much of “Happy New Year,” which makes the episode feel more like a list of things to take exception with than the prospectus for a new season of a comedy that has lost some of its urgency: self-documentation, alternatives to driving, tall hats. But there are a few incidents that stand out as dominoes being set up for a later fall. First, there are Larry’s interactions with one of the caterers. His (and Jeff’s) sighing over the pigs in blankets is misinterpreted as lasciviousness, which reaches a new level when he accidentally slaps his hand over her breast as she’s trying to exit the kitchen. This is after she tells him he’s been ogling her all night. They both look horrified after the incident; by the end of the episode, she appears to have found a sympathetic party in Larry’s assistant, who is upset he won’t just eat out of the same bowls as her dog.
Another incident that’s bound to have far-reaching repercussions this season is Larry and Cheryl having sex with each other. Cheryl is still dating Ted Danson, but that relationship doesn’t detract from the chemistry Larry and Cheryl still seem to share. They have two hook-ups, each much more awkward than the last; though Larry runs away from the hospital the moment Cheryl says Ted is on his way to see her, he probably isn’t giving up for good. For all his litigating over what’s right and wrong in social interactions, I’m kind of surprised Larry wouldn’t just jump in the shower before getting it on with Cheryl. She saw how sweaty he was—plus, she knows how persnickety he is. He could have easily hit pause and taken a quick shower. (Next, Larry’s going to say he doesn’t wash his legs.)
Finally, there is no way that Larry’s newfound “people repellent,” a MAGA cap, won’t pop back up to bite him in the ass in the future. He sees it as an easy way to get out of lunch with someone who refuses to acknowledge the “big goodbye,” as well as a deterrent for anyone who might want to sit next to him at a sushi bar. Larry never realizes he’s playing with fire until well after he’s been singed, which might be the point—and, perhaps, perverse joy—of the season. Jeff’s resemblance to Harvey Weinstein isn’t going to help matters, not if a phone call between the caterer and Larry’s assistant is any indication.
And with that, Curb Your Enthusiasm has hit on several of the biggest developments that have cropped up since it last premiered. Where any of this is going is anyone’s guess, including David & co.’s, I’d wager. But I will always hem and haw over niceties, so Curb still has my attention... for now.
- Welcome back to Curb Your Enthusiasm coverage! Once more, HBO isn’t making screeners available to all critics/sites, so I’ll be watching live and posting the recap ASAP. Sound off in the comments if you guys would like a placeholder post to comment on until the full review goes live!
- After seeing Susie in black lace and a top hat (stovepipe hat? can someone who knows their hats weigh in?), Larry makes Abraham Lincoln jokes, which is Amy Sherman-Palladino erasure.
- “Wait, I want one” is going to be the next “sweet, sweet can–,” isn’t it?
- “Tapping hours.” Leon, always coming through with the lewd turn of phrase.
- Richard Lewis going on a half-hearted boycott of a coffee shop that Larry is feuding with is just what I’d expect from a man who lost his parakeet.
- Next week: the grand opening of a spite store. Weirdly, I’m into it.