Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO

“You two have no compassion, no caring for another human.”
“It’s an illness, for sure.”

Though enjoyable, there was something tentative about the season-nine premiere of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which dove right into the arc that will (probably) stick around all season: Larry must learn to live as one of the “fatwa boys.” The rhythm was a little off. The story involving the lesbian barber and her more femme-presenting partner felt both dated and a little forced, as if it had arisen out of a writers’ room discussion of how “Larry David” would handle the discussion of gender identity.

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The Pickle Gambit,” meanwhile, was more of a riff, with David and his cohorts deciding to make the most of his fatwa-prompted disguise, lingering in screwball territory longer than some viewers might’ve liked. The slapstick might not have been entirely in the spirit of Curb, but the storylines still managed to come together (ahem) by the end of the episode in a satisfying yet surprising way. And, as I noted last week, it addressed the elephant—or chicken—in the room, allowing the new season to work out Larry’s latest debacle on a blank slate.

But it’s on the 17th anniversary of its series premiere that Curb looks and sounds most like its old, custom-parsing, boundary-pushing self. Maybe we needed more Susie? (Who am I kidding? We could always use more Susie.) She is in high form tonight, obscuring her tender side with incessant insults as she worries about her missing little sister—as in, an underprivileged teen, not the sibling we’d love to meet—who does not have a boyfriend, no matter what Officer Damon Wayans Jr. says.

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Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO

“A Disturbance In The Kitchen” has all the elements of the best Curb episodes: deconstruction of language, disdain for niceties, disregard for others, and Ted Danson. You know, the four Ds. It also features two indelible cameos from Salman Rushdie, who helps Larry see the sexier side of living in constant fear for his life, and Elizabeth Banks, who may have “done Shakespeare” before, but struggles to remember what a lemonade stand is under direct examination. As it returns the series to form, the episode also advances the fatwa story, which has gone from being a real hindrance to opening all kinds of doors for Larry, though the newfound ability to turn down invitations with no repercussions is of greater interest to him than the potential sex.

Most importantly, the episode proves Curb is still capable of making a federal case—or, at least, a traffic court hearing—out of some established practice that we rotely perform, whether it’s the meaningless mollification that so many hospitality and food industry workers are required to engage in, or an overt show of concern for the uncertain fate of someone you’ve never met. As always, some of these customs are less objectionable than others, or would be to anyone other than Larry, who refuses to watch more than 15 seconds of the missing girl’s dance recital. And he’ll only join the search party if he can drive Ted’s new Tesla, which naturally proves to be more trouble than it’s worth.

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There are several wonderful exchanges throughout that show just how entrenched both sides are: those who are committed to adhering to these rules or observances, and those who see no point. That Larry has found himself on both sides of this debate in no way undermines whatever his current position is—at least, not in his mind. He can believe that there are no exceptions to his right to beep while also refusing to accept noncommittal pleasantries in place of an actual explanation of what’s derailed his meal prep. Larry will upend his life and restrict his movements out of fear of an edict he doesn’t entirely understand, but also storm a restaurant kitchen just to satisfy his curiosity.

Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO

Of course, this isn’t character inconsistency we’re seeing here, because Larry is reliably himself, with all the self-loathing that entails. It’s all about nuance. Larry decides no one is above the beep, not even a police officer, but then has to agree that the new Tesla’s horn is rather “aggressive,” which is why he later despairs to Ted that his car’s horn “cannot hit the subtle notes required in the art of beeping.” And though he dismisses this as just another one Larry’s obscure rules, Ted ends up learning that lesson for himself.

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Despite the courtroom scenes, missing-teen drama, and mid-drink arrest, it’s the smaller set pieces that push “The Disturbance In The Kitchen” from minor to major entry. Elizabeth and Susie’s disagreement over the organization of the concern/grief pyramid mirrors Larry and Jeff’s riffing on their hierarchy of priorities, with both discussions representing the best of what Curb has to offer—the frequent poring over of the social contract. Do we even know how many clauses are in that thing? If we were to consult it, how much concern would Susie be encouraged to show for her young ward, who she doesn’t know well enough to know she has a boyfriend? What’s the acceptable amount of mourning Elizabeth can do for Mr. Noodles, who Susie dismisses for not being human? What’s not up for debate is, of course, just who gets to call something a disturbance.

Stray observations

  • I wrote down more quotes than for the past two episodes combined, I think, including “The fatwa is wrapped around you like pixie dust.” But my favorite has to be this one between Susie and Larry: “You think Sammy was talented at that age?” “No, I don’t.” Susie Essman and David are a comedy pairing for the ages.
  • If you did jump into the review as soon as the placeholder published, you might have noticed the grade was a “B.” That was a scrolling error/editing oversight on my end. I did not have a sudden change of heart.
  • Leon’s “human wallet” line is so damn evocative.
  • Larry’s biggest priorities before the end of the episode are, in order, his Doctor Strangelove sunglasses, Jeff’s Cubs cap, and the missing girl. But thanks to the sage advice of Rushdie, the fatwa is now waaaay in the back of his mind.
  • Elizabeth Banks’ improv could have turned lemons into lemonade, but instead, it turned a false witness statement into an “Arnold Parker.”
  • Happy Endings fans! We got the first of two cameos tonight; Casey Wilson is also set to appear later this season.
  • Looking forward to seeing Dr. Tim Whatley try to cut through Larry’s patter and neuroses next week.
  • That was Colony and Kingdom’s Mac Brandt who roughed up Ted. Guess he wasn’t a fan of Becker. Or Cheers.

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