“You did so many stupid things, it looks like arson.”
After running amok for much of the season—breaking selfie sticks in the premiere, having an affair with Cheryl, opening a store just to spite a businessman without the same resources— Larry David (or rather, “Larry David”) ends up foisted on his own petard in “The Spite Store.” The finale pans back to reveal the Rube Goldberg machine plot of the tenth season, which started off slow but has been on a bit of a tear in its final three-episode stretch. So many chickens came home to roost in “The Spite Store” that I almost expected the newsstand guy from “Elizabeth, Margaret And Larry” to pull up a chair next to Mocha Joe, Alice, and Frank (Paul Scheer as an annoying real estate agent) and plot Larry’s comeuppance.
But the fateful blow isn’t dealt by any of Larry’s enemies, a group that grew throughout the season to include his former assistant Alice, who returns, along with her memory, in the finale. Larry pissed off loads of people, including Ted Danson, Clive Owen, everyone in the Mocha family, an entire sexual abuse survivors’ advocacy group, a widow played by Jane Krakowski, and the staff at Zaragoza. This is nothing new for LD or Curb; as Timothy Olyphant’s Mickey noted back in “You’re Not Going To Get Me To Say Anything Bad About,” there are many people in Larry’s circles of friends and acquaintances that don’t care for him.
For the most part, the feeling is probably mutual. But Larry is actually undone by his own success and ideas. Every well-received notion for Latte Larry’s, from the Purell bottles at every table to the self-heating mugs created by a possible anti-Semite, becomes literal fuel for the fire. Even the decision not to have regular plumbing in the café’s restrooms ends up being a strike against old Lar. You know what they say about spite stores—or rather, what they’ll say about spite stores after watching “The Spite Store.” Larry may try to pin the blame on a too-big penis, but he’s the one who’s been a huge dick all season long.
His mean-spirited venture even sparks a trend, as Jonah Hill, Mila Kunis, and Sean Penn all set up shop next to businesses they feel wronged them. Naturally, Larry’s amused when he learns about the copycats, though he shows how thin-skinned he can be when he gets pissy when a reporter (Dateline’s Josh Mankiewciz, dropping by Today) tells him he doesn’t like his jacket after Larry insults Josh’s pocket square. Larry David, Jeff Schaffer, and co-writer Justin Hurwitz set their protagonist up for a pretty big fall, garnering support for his spite store among regular Angelenos as well as fellow celebrities. It’s some of the subtlest work this season; while we might think that Alice’s appearance at Latte Larry’s is the beginning of the end, it’s just one piece of the Rube Goldberg machine knocking into another. Mila Kunis acting on her spite shut down Larry’s favorite jeweler, a guy he recommended to Will Cooper (Sam Richardson), an expectant father and another person on a very long list of people Larry’s offended, intentionally or otherwise.
Alice doesn’t remember Larry, though she does have a flashback to working in his office while speaking with “Buck” at the café. The tension builds as Larry digs himself a hole with Will and his wife Tara (Mary Holland). Jeff chastises Larry for not thinking his hypothetical questions through, but asking Will and Tara just how light or dark-skinned they want their mixed-race child to be taps into some uncomfortable truths for the couple. As audience stand-ins go, Susie is a great one in this moment, chewing Larry out for posing such a question.
Larry continues to do more harm than good; when he leaves Will’s watch, a present from his grandfather, near Joey Funkhouser’s (Chaz Bono) big, brand-new penis, it ends up even more damaged. And while Larry does bring Joey on as staff (phrasing) at the café, he can’t help but gently chide the trans man for not “respecting the drought,” and for maybe taking on too big of a penis as a young trans man. Again, Curb plays with our expectations—Larry’s interactions with Laverne Cox were anything but nuanced, let alone respectful, so the odds that he says or does something insulting to Joey are high. But even though he shakes his head ruefully about Joey’s big dick as the spite store goes up in flames, Larry manages not to put his foot in his mouth again.
The dread in “The Spite Store” is even more palpable on rewatch. We know Alice’s memory is starting to come back, and that Larry’s spite has taken on a life of its own outside the café. What will getting a second opinion from Dr. Fuller (Tommy Dewey), a frenemy of Dr. Seiderman (Alex Karpovsky), play in Larry getting his just deserts? How will policing people’s use of water and first responders’ use of their sirens contribute to his downfall—assuming that’s where this is going? The finale is as rife with potential as it is tension, though some promising setups remain just that. Leon convening a meeting of the “Big Johnson community” in Larry’s home would have been another great moment in Leon-Larry history, but sadly, we only get to see Jeff try to con his way into the group. Leon’s curt little nod to Mocha Joe is the last we see of him (for now), but J.B. Smoove walks away one of the consistent highlights of season 10.
My beloved Susie exits much too soon for my taste; I’d love to see her cackling over Larry’s considerable misfortune, especially after he made the Coopers so uncomfortable. She’d also probably have a ball with Frank, who’s a late addition to the “we hate Larry” club, Alice, and Mocha Joe. When they all realize that they have more than an affinity for lukewarm coffee and moist scones in common, they begin to hatch a plan that we’re not made privy to. But at least one avenue for vengeance has already been revealed—Frank is the listing agent for the house next to Larry’s, a house Larry is glad that Frank can’t afford.
But Larry’s still a “furniture centaur” and another questionable remark (this time, trying to adjudicate the correct complexion for someone named “Kwame”) from getting his. While he’s earning one final “Get the fuck out, Larry” for the year, Joey and Leon are closing up shop for the night. Leon leaves first, which leaves Joey and his bulge to start the fire that consumes both coffeeshops. Larry clucks about the penis, but the fire chief (Ian Roberts) reveals that Latte Larry’s, in addition to being quite popular, is one huge fire hazard. The Purell bottles on the tables and in the storeroom essentially acted as accelerants, while the nailed-down tables prevented the firemen from properly breaking the window. The lack of toilets meant they couldn’t tap into a water source from within the café. “You did so many stupid things, it looks like arson,” the fire chief says, before telling Larry that he’s bound to be investigated for the fire.
And that’s the way the dry scone crumbles—Larry has to pay an undisclosed sum in lawsuit settlements to Mocha Joe and Alice, who then use that money to become his next-door neighbors. It took 10 episodes, but season 10 of Curb Your Enthusiasm did reckon with personal accountability: Larry found a way to screw himself over, albeit with the help of everyone he dislikes (except for Ted Danson, who doesn’t show up to Mocha Joe’s for one last average cup of joe). He abused his influence and money, and he paid for it, time and again. But, as is Curb Your Enthusiasm’s tradition, it’s all a matter of happenstance. Larry’s viciousness and his largesse contributed to his downfall equally; his shop was full of accelerants, but the decision to hire Joey was the match, er, bulge that knocked the cup with a built-in hot plate onto a pile of paper. Once again, Curb Your Enthusiasm is cathartic in the moment—the moment when you point out how pointless artificial fruit is, or refuse to eat sweated-in soup. And if it ever returns, we can count on Curb to be just as petty.
Episode grade: A-
Season grade: B
- The guest star of the season is definitely Jon Hamm, but Jonah Hill has a lot of fun tonight as the passionate owner of a spite deli. Forget awards; every customer who walks in is like a “human Oscar.”
- I really thought we’d see more of Ted Danson as Robert E. Lee.
- I know it’s Los Angeles, but I really thought more pee-sitters would have complained about the Barre class bathrooms at Latte Larry’s.
- Sean Penn saying he’s never “had a Zen personality” might be the understatement of the year.
- Larry views “tip jars” as tantamount to begging, so I hope he pays his employees a really high hourly wage or better yet, a salary.
- Thanks for reading along! We never know if we’re getting another season of Curb, so I won’t say see you next year or in three years. But if HBO and Larry David do move forward with season 11, which season-10 gags would you like to see again? I need to see Jon Hamm as Larry David in the Larry David-inspired movie, as well as Leon participating in a support group for hung dudes. Look, he said there are “pitfalls” to being in the Big Johnson community—what does that mean?