Gags fall flat in 'Curb' season finale

Friday, December 8, 2017 - 12:48pm

Even then, I knew I was never going to forget that moment.

It was the first week of my freshman year of high school, and the “Entourage” series finale had just premiered. After witnessing my first Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven, “Old School”) tantrum three years earlier, I had begun following the show religiously, relishing in its blend of crass humor and Hollywood glamor. I’d been looking forward to the finale all day, believing that it would offer me a timely opportunity to bid farewell to Vince (Adrian Grenier, “Drive Me Crazy”) and the guys. Yet, as I remained huddled on the far corner of our peeling brown sofa, I couldn’t shake the overwhelming sense of emptiness and disappointment that I felt.

While some of this sentiment can be attributed to the fact that “Entourage”’s last season was roughly as good as gas-station sushi, it was also a reflection of the emotional power of television finales. The mere knowledge that your favorite characters are exiting stage right for the final time is utterly depressing, and it renders seemingly any series finale inadequate, though “Breaking Bad” would beg to differ.

This same feeling creeped into my brain again this past Sunday evening as I wrapped up the ninth season finale — which is likely the show’s finale — of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Draped in the darkness of my pitch-black room once the finale ended, I mindlessly read the end credits appearing across my screen and re-played the most memorable “Curb” scenes in my head. Unlike “Entourage,” “Curb” had turned in a solid, if unspectacular, finale, but even a few funny scenes and Larry David-isms (“Seinfeld”) couldn’t assuage the mental void developing within me.

Continuing the precedent established earlier in its ninth season, “Curb”’s finale features incredible guest cameos who shine within their niche roles. Playing “one of the best company managers in the fuckin’ country,” Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”) does well as a comedic straight-man. Offerman particularly excels as a foil to Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Mary Poppins”), who reprises his hilarious role as the vain, demanding star of David’s Fatwa! The Musical. Additionally, “Curb”’s finale entails funny yet restrained performances by Casey Wilson (“Happy Endings”) and F. Murray Abraham (“Amadeus”). I’m amazed that “Curb” was able to get such renowned character actors in Miranda and Abraham to join the series for a couple episodes, but I think that speaks to the show’s almost universal acclaim and appeal in our emerging cringe culture.

Despite its plethora of talented guest stars, many of the gags in “Curb”’s finale fall flat. Relying a distracting big-breasted woman for much of its jokes, “Curb” resorts to rather cheap, dumb gags and references to past hilarious scenes for its humor. This decision feels entirely uninspiring and almost lazy, which is disappointing considering that this is a problem “Curb” has struggled throughout its so-called revival season.

Although its humor is not strong, “Curb”’s finale provides a fitting sense of closure. Rather than go "The Sopranos"'s infamous route, “Curb”’s finale doesn’t offer much room for ambiguity and quietly and effectively wraps up many of the series’ plot points. After the show’s penultimate episode concluded its “fatwa” storyline — which was long overdue — the finale finished off its corresponding Fatwa! The Musical bit. Alongside this ending, the finale gave viewers Sammi Greene’s (Ashly Holloway, “The Polar Express”) wedding as closure for her and the rest of the Greene family. Yes, a wedding scene in a series finale is entirely cliché, but let’s ignore that for now.

As a longtime “Curb” loyalist, I was especially drawn to the wedding scene since it symbolized the series’ growth over the past 17 years. Sammi originally appeared on the show as a child, gradually transitioning from a punch-line to a legitimate comedic force herself. The visual contrast between Sammi in this finale — a mature woman decked out in a wedding gown — and in her initial episode “The Doll,” in which she was a child whose clothes were undoubtedly chosen for her by her parents, served as a gentle reminder of how much both society and the cast itself have changed over the course of “Curb”’s run.

While the wedding scene was well-written, much of “Curb”’s is dragged down by its meandering pace. “Curb” works at its best when it is concise, with most episodes clocking in around 30 minutes. However, the finale entirely disregarded that formula in favor of a winding 50-minute epic. Due to this length, much of the series’ jokes feel telegraphed and predictable, as audiences can easily recognize their structure coming together over the course of such an extended finale. As a distinctively non-funny person, it was disappointing to realize that even I, of all people, could see the episode’s gags coming.

Although the finale for “Curb” represents one of the series’ comedic misses, I found myself constantly checking the episode’s timer. I knew that, once the episode wrapped, I would be left with a gaping emotional void in my life — I had followed the show for six years, it couldn’t end now, I said silently to myself. Lo and behold, the finale did in-fact end, and it appears “Curb” is no longer. Still, I took some comfort in the fact that, over the past 17 years, the series has cemented its role in our culture. David may be gone, but he — in all of his "eh," stare-down, cringe-worthy glory — will not be forgotten.