Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Curb Your Enthusiasm: "The Hero"

Illustration for article titled Curb Your Enthusiasm: "The Hero"

Judging from tonight’s very funny and slyly personal “The Hero,” Larry David, our neurologically challenged protagonist, still had some reconciling to accomplish between the paradoxical worlds of his former iconic NBC sitcom and Curb Your Enthusiasm. The whole episode, in fact, was a series of trap doors into Seinfeld lore, tunneling paths in and out of a bigger Davidian-mythology. “The Hero” essentially, and satisfyingly (for us, but no doubt Larry first and foremost), cemented his thinly veiled TV alter-egos as singular expressions of a particular psyche.

When you think about it, which Larry apparently has, last season’s Seinfeld arc on Curb had to be an emotional experience. He’s unlikely to ever share that insight so plainly, but “The Hero” takes us through the looking glass in his own standoffishly accessible way. In just under half an hour, he ostensibly allows himself a do-over on Seinfeld’s notorious “The Chronicle” clip show by integrating overt references to “The Subway,” “Bizarro Jerry,” and “The Rye,” to name a few; lets Ricky Gervais both poke fun at Seinfeld’s late-season broader touches (“Bizarro Jerry,” in fact, was one of the last episodes Larry produced) and cheekily pay tribute to the series’ influence (anyone who watched Ricky’s Talking Funny special knows that he idolizes Seinfeld and is desperately self-conscious as a performer), without Larry needing to do either himself; retraces some of George’s erred steps in New York now that he’s gone walkabout from L.A., as opposed to when he lived and produced Seinfeld in L.A., using George as his Manhattan stand-in on fake city sets; and expresses the thought that he might be inching ever incrementally toward a basic understanding of compassion, composure, and happiness, even if it’s too little, too late.

In its own broadest sense, “The Hero” was an analog to the Seinfeld classic “The Opposite.” In that show’s season five finale, of course, George-as-Larry discovered unprecedented good fortune after belying all of his usual selfish, cheap, antisocial instincts. Curb’s “The Hero” finds Larry-as-Larry earning bookended gravitas for inadvertently tackling an abusive sot on his plane ride to NYC and scaring a mugger away from fellow subway passengers Ricky Gervais (as himself) and Samantha Mathis (as Donna, Larry’s hopeful next female conquest). Only in “The Hero,” Larry doesn’t manipulate fleeting good karma by retro-fitting himself to the human race. Contrarily, he submits to all his encoded personality tics, and only when the results come up empty—Donna finding out that he was exaggerating about the airplane incident, both Ricky and the eavesdropping waiter having their last laughs at his literal expense, etc.—is he suddenly overcome with the urge to assault a train-car thief with stubborn Italian bread in order to protect his adversaries from further harm.

It’s a more grown up Larry David but also one for whom wielding that bread like a billy club was akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey’s ape-man smashing carcasses with an oversized femur. Which is hilarious and sad all at once, but only until his shoelace inevitably gets caught in the train-car door, ending the episode on a mensch-y curtain-closer that's not just vintage Larry David but also simpatico with the man who reveled in his perceived status as Jewish insurgent during “The Palestinian Chicken.”

It’s still difficult to feel totally in on the joke, or closure, or whatever it is. This level of self-reference, without the massive overture of re-staging Seinfeld itself, can be a bit indulgent and actually quite alienating. But the reason we’re all still watching Curb, besides its ability to maintain an unrelenting and witty dementia, is because it’s as if Larry’s created a reality show documenting someone whose life we actually give a shit about. Curb is basically Seinfeld-lovers fantasy camp every week.

As star and overall creative director of that fantasy, Larry can present his world as authentically or coyly as he prefers. But during scenes in "The Hero" when he and Susie bicker affectionately like siblings in a public theater, you get a glimpse at how real-life Larry actually co-exists with other people, and it’s sweet and fun to see. But his most poignant unburdening comes to light at episode’s end, with brandished Italian loaf in hand. By then, Larry’s growth mirrors the simplistic but grounded narrative of comic books, a probable nod to ex-collaborator Jerry Seinfeld’s admiration of Superman’s ethos. At that point, “The Hero” isn’t just a conversation between Larry’s past and present dopplegangers. It’s also a seeming acknowledgment that his longtime partner, Jerry, may have been onto something by adhering to a reasonable, bemused world view. It would certainly explain why, a la Jerry in “The Opposite," Larry emerged from “The Hero” having essentially broken even.


Stray Observations

  • Nice continuity/extra emphasis with the Pinkberry.
  • There were, as always, some moments that felt a bit unnatural, especially the angry coach traveler’s bold actions, but as we know, Larry’s softened a bit on broad comedy over the years. (No pun intended there, I promise.)
  • I loved Larry’s “sue me” look after Susie stared him down on the plane.
  • Good to have an old-fashioned Larry stare-down again (and perfectly unimpressed “OK” by Larry afterward).
  • “This man is a hero. He just revolutionized the way restaurants work.”
  • That above scene, by the way, could have played out longer.
  • “I never made the Sully connection before.”
  • Susie’s outfits are off the charts. I don’t even know where to start.
  • Mr. Simmington. Classic.
  • Chris Parnell was great and stole that scene, although I didn’t love Larry’s bit about the small/medium talk. Even if it was another slight-of-hand inside Seinfeld reference (obsessing over close talkers et al), it felt similarly schticky to last week’s chat-and-cut premise.
  • Speaking of Parnell: “I don’t even really know how to write cursive anymore.”  “When I first saw you, I guessed you were a Spaniard. I’m glad you’re not Spanish.”
  • “And she was a hideous, hideous looking person.” Dying just reading it back again.
  • “He just materializes, at very private moments.” Even Jeff’s in on the action!
  • Nice look for Otto Sanchez, aka Guerra from Oz.
  • “You’re right about the bread Simmington. It is hard.”
  • Don’t fret. Meredith will be back next week. Much like Larry, but without the loaf, I’m just helping out a friend and colleague in need.