It’s certainly not every day that the selfishness of Larry David impacts the future of an entire city. Maybe this is why Curb Your Enthusiasm doesn’t let Larry dabble too much in politics. The ramifications would be too chaotic.
This week’s episode, titled “Irma Kostroski,” sees at least 50% of the Santa Monica electorate pinning their hopes on the optimistic mayoral candidate Jimmy Mayhew (Terrell Clayton)—a number that seemingly includes Larry himself, who canvasses door-to-door for Mayhew for reasons that never really solidify by the end of the episode. (Maybe it’s an infatuation with repulsion? We’ll get to that.) Not that Larry’s sudden political blossoming really matters at all; he figures waiting in a long line to cast a vote for Mayhew is ultimately too much to ask and he decides to skip the election altogether.
To give him credit, not necessarily because it’s due, Larry does take an opposition vote with him just to even things out. That algebra makes perfect sense in Larry’s warped mind so naturally, in the equally warped setup-punchline Bizarro world of Curb, that means Mayhew’s election is destined to be the most historically significant squeaker of them all, with Mayhew’s inevitable loss being attributed to a single vote. Would things have worked out differently for Jimmy Mayhew (and all those prospective chicken coop owners in Santa Monica) had Larry and his presumably Republican counterpart stuck around to cast their ballots? The actual math doesn’t seem to support it, but election results were never going to stop Larry from ditching his civic duty.
The exploration of Larry’s screwy principles is a well-trod road for Curb Your Enthusiasm and it is certainly the thorniest sticking point of “Irma Kostroski,” at least in showing how lop-sided his principles always seem to be. On one hand, Larry can’t be bothered to vote. On the other, he makes a point to call out a mourning widow (okay, a widow-once-removed) in front of what looks like 60 people for what he feels is an abuse of her “widow privileges,” blaming both her and her purportedly overblown grief for taking away one of his precious golf lesson slots and also the opportunity to enjoy a lobster lunch. (Effectively thwarting Larry’s chance to make up for his underwhelming, anchovies-less Caesar salad last week.)
Richard Lewis, bless his tortured heart, points out Larry’s wonky sense of priorities. “You can sit here (‘here’ being Susie’s stump for Jimmy Mayhew), but you can’t go to Broadway when I’m selling out show after show for 10 weeks.” (Sidebar: I’d kill to see that show.) You’ll recall that Larry and Jeff spent some time off-screen in New York City this season, long enough to warrant the necessity for Larry’s three problematic pieces of luggage, yet he didn’t set one evening aside to support his long-suffering friend, Richie?
What’s important to Lewis isn’t important to Larry, a moral polarity that’s been plainly established throughout 11 seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Lewis is an artist and he wants to share his gifts with the people he loves. Larry doesn’t. He bristles at obligation and scoffs at people who openly refer to themselves as artists. “I don’t do things to invite you to, but you do things to invite me to,” he tells Lewis, which prompts Lewis to reveal his delightfully hyperbolic (and not entirely implausible) hypothesis: “You hate people.”
Does Larry hate people? He posits a response to this accusation later when it’s reiterated by Cheryl, someone who truly knows what’s lurking (shuffling?) around in Larry’s heart: “I hate people individually, but I love mankind.” That’s probably not all the way true, and even that assertion ends up getting put to the test before this week’s episode comes to a close; mankind, or a Santa Monica-based and politically motivated contingent of mankind, turns on Larry for being so selfish with his time and things get ugly.
Perhaps this is why Larry finds himself oddly intrigued by the eponymous Irma Kostroski (a dementedly unpleasant Tracey Ullman). He describes the city councilwoman as having “the worst aspects of 10 different people,” Frankensteined together into one “repugnant” human being. On her own, Larry finds her intolerable. But as the sum of 10 different awful people? By Larry’s own logic there’s something there that can be respected, maybe even admired. “For some reason, I’m inexplicably drawn to that which repels me,” he tells Susie as Irma chows down on quiche and gherkins just a few feet away. (Susie, quite rightfully, suspects an ulterior motive.)
Whatever Larry’s actually feeling for Irma, it’s meant to be ambiguous. (Tracey Ullman will be popping by next week, too, and it looks like Larry’s ready with a bouquet of flowers. Elucidation is forthcoming.) Less ambiguous is Larry’s feelings towards Asa (Jon Rudnitsky), the incorrigible rascal who’s been tapped to star in Larry’s semi-autobiographical Hulu-produced sitcom, Young Larry. Like Richard Lewis, Asa fancies himself an artist, which makes Larry sneer, and he insists upon being addressed by his peers as “Larry,” which is almost certainly a power move on his part. Other prima donna flexes by Asa include criticizing prop master Stan’s choice of eyeglasses and corn puff snacks. (Glenn Keogh’s tightly-wound performance left me in stitches. There’s murder in Stan’s heart, and Keogh put it there with merciless glee.)
What’s up with Asa? Larry believes his asshole-ish ways can be attributed to the time when Asa was abused by a 37 year-old Italian model-actress and he sued her for a $400,000 settlement. Of course, Larry doesn’t see Asa’s trauma as legitimate (nor does virtually any other guy in the episode, including a hilariously overeager 18 year-old voter), as he believes that any 17-year-old boy would be over the moon to even be touched by an older woman—or any woman, for that matter. Maybe Larry’s merely being insensitive to Asa’s troubles, maybe he’s taking an inappropriate leap in his attempt to grasp Asa’s issues with Stan, maybe Asa is exploiting his past for “darkly driven artiste” cred. Either way Larry and Asa’s line exchange in this scene—“What if you were in high school and you slept with an older, famous actress, how would people treat you?” “They would have named the high school after me.”—might be the funniest of the season so far.
As its eleventh season pulls into the final stretch it feels like Curb Your Enthusiasm is finally arriving at a point. The Young Larry arc hasn’t resonated in the same way that season four’s “The Producers” arc did, and (perhaps this is unfair) it hasn’t felt as engaging on a character level as season seven’s Seinfeld reunion arc. It doesn’t help that “Irma Kostroski” is the least self-contained episode of this season so far, deliberately staving off moments of catharsis between Asa and Larry, Larry and Irma, and, perhaps most crucially (for me, anyway), Asa and Stan. (With all due respect to the grieving Ruth Berman, did this episode really need that additional detour?) Will Young Larry be a success or will it flop? This week, that scarcely registered over Tracey Ullman absolutely shredding the scenery, or Stan’s righteous fury over Asa’s “too-vegan” corn puffs. This season, like Larry, would benefit from getting its priorities sorted.
- Hello! I am not Danette Chavez but Jarrod Jones, filling in for Danette and counting my lucky stars that I was invited to recap an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm that included Richard Lewis.
- I’m guessing the ordinance Larry would like to see changed courtesy of Irma is the “low fence around your pool” rule that he’s been flouting since the Davids moved into the neighborhood all those years ago. I’m not sure why this episode buried Larry’s intent?
- Richie: “I confuse [Mussolini] with Mucinex. I take it for my coughs.”
- Doesn’t it seem like Ted Danson joining the cast of Young Larry ought to be a bigger deal than the show is treating it?
- I love how Cheryl can still make Larry squirm just by slightly interrogating his motives.
- Larry’s made-up policies for Jimmy Mayhew: no saying happy new year after January 7 (reasonable), no children under 10 allowed in restaurants, elimination of hand shaking, getting rid of the penny.
- Jeff’s casual mention of Lily Collins as a potential alternative for Maria Sofia might bear guest star fruit before the end of the season. It’s too random a name drop for it not to.