Favors have always been a hot topic of discussion on Curb Your Enthusiasm—when and when not to ask for one, what the grace period is for returning one, if there’s any kind of friendly “interest” that develops, which might require you to return a midsize favor with one on a larger scale. You know, the stuff that makes up most relationships (at least, for this Midwesterner, who often has this nagging doubt that some favor has been left unpaid).
This theme has surfaced throughout season 11, hitting a most hilarious and gnarly snag in the fifth episode, “The Watermelon.” It’s also top of mind in this week’s episode, “IRASSHAIMASE!” Favors are readily exchanged, along with secrets and affronts. But it’s not quite enough grist for this mill; not at the halfway point for the season, and certainly not in the wake of two strong episodes.
There are enough moments of shocked laughter (and just plain shock) to keep “IRASSHAIMASE!” from being a snooze, as Robert B. Weide takes over for Jeff Schaffer. Weide has directed several episodes of Curb, including “Palestinian Chicken.” Here, he sees Larry through a gauntlet made up of inclement weather and multiple friends and strangers with an ax to grind. There is some nuance to these grudge matches; however he may feel about prayer, Larry is pretty shitty to Hal Berman (Rob Morrow). Freddy Funkhouser’s “vengeance,” though, is a disproportionate response to Larry’s misdeed.
(We can argue about this in the comments, because my atheist self struggles with requests for “prayers” from family members. But lately, I just interpret them as requests for well wishes or “good vibes,” which are just as intangible as prayers, so why not just nod and tell someone you’re thinking of them/pulling for a family member?* But Larry should not have sat down to eat after Sal collapsed—on this, we all agree, right?)
Our two guest stars this week, Rob Morrow and Julie Bowen, don’t share any scenes together until the closing—and even then, you don’t see Morrow’s Hal until the final moments—but their storylines overlap offscreen, and are rife with their own confidences. Gabby McAfee (Bowen) is a producer whose idea of good first-date banter is asking for secrets. Larry goads her with his comment that he’s “discreet,” but it also appears that Gabby swapped secrets with Hal on one of their dates, then gossiped about his reveal that he’d had sex with his mother-in-law.
None of this is enough to get Larry to stop seeing Gabby, nor is he put off by her blabbing with her “big, Gentile mouth” about his Valley shortcut, or even the fact that, as a high school teacher, she had sex with an 18-year-old student. This unusual display of goodwill aside, things still end poorly between the two, as Gabby assumes that Larry shared her secret to get back at her for telling two friends about his shortcut.
In “IRASSHAIMASE!,” there’s no deed, good or bad, that doesn’t come with some kind of comeuppance—mostly for Larry, but also for Gabby, who probably should have kept Hal’s revelation to herself. A stickier matter is that of the borrowed shirt: Should Freddy really have loaned Larry his favorite shirt? I’d like to think I understand Freddy’s instinct here; if you can help a friend, you should. And if you can help your friend make a great first impression, even better. But a favorite shirt should not be handed out as freely as second- or third-tier tops—especially not for a first date (which could have gone either way) with someone they already have reason to suspect is a bad date.
Freddy turns out to be just as capable of pettiness as generosity (though, by the looks of next week’s promo, he and Larry will get sorted out soon enough). Having had three run-ins with Larry this episode, Hal decides to let it all out, including Larry’s and Gabby’s secrets. She gets the worst of it (admittedly, her actions are worse), while Larry just gets caught in the rain multiple times without the great umbrella he borrowed from the Dallas Omni Hotel. (Maybe Susie is plotting revenge for her ruined dress, but more likely, she’s just resigned to Larry’s constant fuck-ups.)
The episode gets its title from a Japanese expression used to “welcome” visitors or patrons into your establishment, which is what the chefs at Katsuya greet Larry with when he arrives for his date with Gabby. Larry doesn’t understand or want to grasp why the chefs (Yaz Takahashi and Shigeru Mitani) and the host (Sonny Saito, whom IMDb tells me was also in the season premiere) don’t want him to say “Irasshaimase.”
His refusal creates a world of problems for Larry, as his obstinacy often does. But I did wonder if Larry would be dissuaded if he knew what it means. After all, it doesn’t make much sense for him to “welcome” someone to their own establishment. Just see how it rubs Mr. Takahashi (Dana Lee) the wrong way. (Of course, there’s also the not-insignificant matter of Larry’s terrible pronunciation, and the fact that Mr. Takahashi just doesn’t care for Larry.) Things getting lost in translation, even when the language is a far more personal vernacular—like Jeff telling Larry to “come over” to check out his new TV, which Larry takes as an offer to use the spare key in the little hide-a-key thing to watch a Sherlock Holmes movie when no one’s home. On the one hand, I can see Jeff being kind of okay with this, but what on earth would make Larry think Susie would take it in stride?
Acting on his own interpretation almost always gets Larry into a huge mess, but the damage in “IRASSHAIMASE!” is relatively minor. I’m not even sure he had to pay for the dress he ruined. I actually expected him to tell Gabby about the five-foot fence matter, because I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the blackmail plot. And, while that story hasn’t always fit seamlessly into the nature of this show, it’ll almost be a relief. It’s not always easy to see how a season of Curb is going to come together, but, as I’ve noted repeatedly, this latest outing is more shapeless ever. A good guest star appearance (in this case, a pair of ’em) always provides a jolt of energy, but at this point, I’m looking forward to the A- and B-listers’ arrival more than just about anything going on, story-wise.
- *I know, Larry couldn’t bring himself to toast properly, so naturally, he’s not going to observe this custom/nicety. I am just offering him and others like him a way out!
- Larry and Gabby each told two friends each other’s secret, so there’s that.
- I do appreciate how this show makes me rethink the things I do to be “nice,” and how they measure up to acts of actual kindness.
- The whole business with the hotel umbrella—which probably should have been returned, but also, the hotel probably doesn’t expect you to return it?—plays into the complicated nature of favors.
- “I wouldn’t like myself if I told you.” “But you don’t like yourself anyway.” As always, I enjoy seeing Larry and Jeff interact.
- In all seriousness, you can’t use regular soap on clothes, Larry!
- Rob Morrow’s a reliably laid-back presence, but he has some of the best exchanges with Larry: “How do you know prayers don’t work?” “Because I’m bald.”
- I’m pretty sure this is the only other mention of coronavirus since the premiere, but given that I’m writing this at midnight on a Sunday, I could be wrong.
- Speaking of guest stars, Seth Rogen’s at bat next week. Any bets on what Bill Hader’s going to do in his appearance?