Nothing (and everything) has changed in 'Curb''s ninth season

Sunday, October 8, 2017 - 5:20pm

NOSELL

HBO

 

Larry David’s (“Seinfeld”) “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is a lot of things: Cringe-TV, a haven for celebrity cameos and, above all, a commentary on social customs. That last piece has become the defining feature of the series as it enters its ninth season. A ruthless “social assassin,” Larry uses “Curb” to call bullshit on all the social conventions we hold dear, holding nothing back.

While a longtime fan of “Curb,” I feel I’ve only recently began to truly appreciate Larry’s perpetual offensiveness in our hypersensitive climate. I think it’s valuable to have such an unabashedly rude and childish character — one who revels in having others detest him — on such a prominent show today. It’s almost cathartic to watch.

As HBO’s marketing machine went into full swing this past summer, I started to become anxious as my Facebook feed flooded with “Curb” ads adorned with the tagline, “Nothing has changed” alongside a photo of Larry. While I had no doubt that Larry would return to being a complete ass, I worried the show would change too much after being off-the-air for over seven years. Now having re-watched “Curb”’s latest episode “Foisted!” a few times, I must say that my fears have been realized, at least in part.

The episode opens with Larry singing in the shower as he struggles to open a bottle of shampoo. Smacking the bottle against various surfaces to no avail, Larry finally lashes out and hurls the bottle against the ground, breaking its plastic protector. The gag itself is sort-of funny, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of nearly the exact same scene — except with different packaging — during season seven’s “Vehicular Fellatio.” While I’m all for shows sticking to their proven scripts, this scene felt utterly copied-and-pasted.

Fortunately, “Curb” doesn’t spend long on this scene, quickly moving toward one of the main jokes of the episode, as Larry declines to hold the door for Betty (Julie Goldman, “The People’s Couch”), who he later learns is Jeff’s (Jeff Garlin, “The Goldbergs”) barber. Discovering that Betty is engaged to her more-feminine partner Nooma (Nasim Pedrad, “Despicable Me 2”), Larry breaks the news to her that she’s “not a bride” and should let Nooma be the groom in their wedding. It’s kind of funny in and of itself that Larry, a cranky, old, by-the-book Jewish guy, is getting involved with a lesbian wedding. Beyond its satirical qualities, I like that “Curb” is confident enough in itself to address one of the more controversial subjects in society today, even though the series has never shied from offending viewers.

Returning to the office after his haircut, Larry learns that his assistant, Mara (Carrie Brownstein, “Portlandia”) has missed the past two days of work since she is constipated. Mara is already on Larry’s bad side, so her unnecessary absences only further incite Larry’s rage. It wouldn’t be “Curb” if Larry wasn’t feuding with his assistant.

In typical Larry fashion, he brings up his dilemma with Leon (J.B. Smoove, “Date Night”) — he can’t fire Mara because she’s crippled — and Leon rips Mara for using constipation as an excuse, claiming: “I shot a porno constipated… I was in a fuckin’ hot-dog eating contest constipated.” The two then realize that Jimmy Kimmel (“Jimmy Kimmel Live!”) “foisted” her on Larry because he couldn’t fire her either. For me, this was easily the funniest scene in the episode due to Smoove’s confident delivery of such an absurd line, not to mention that “foisted” is another instance of “Curb”’s brilliant terminology. Between “foisted” and “lampin’” — “black slang,” according to Leon — this episode provides some quality additions to the series’ unique lexicon.

Recognizing he now must “foist” Mara onto someone else, Larry raves about her to Susie (Susie Essman, “Bolt”) when she mentions she needs an assistant for her growing business SoapsOn. Along the way, Larry makes sure to rip Susie for the company’s name, “Could you come up with a worse name than SoapsOn?” Susie trashes Larry for his comment, before convincing a faux-hesitant Larry to let Susie hire away Mara. Larry plays up his reluctance to let Mara leave perfectly in this scene, almost too well, as he ends the shot with his trademark line “pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.” While David’s reliance on classic Larry gags and quotes works well here, “Curb” could stand to let a scene go by without David overplaying his own persona. That’s my main issue with this episode — David seems like he is trying too hard to live up to the reputation his character has earned, spending each scene going over-the-top in his performance as Larry.

David’s overacting aside, the episode remains strong. Having successfully “foisted” Mara onto an unsuspecting Susie, Larry has Leon fill-in as his assistant. As expected, Leon struggles to fulfill nearly every one of his duties, especially with helping Larry prepare for his "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" appearance. Larry is booked on the show to market his newly-penned Broadway musical comedy “Fatwa!” about Salman Rushdie’s fatwa (death sentence) issued by an Iranian ayatollah. In the green room backstage, Larry and Kimmel — in an excellent cameo — joke about Kimmel’s “foisting” of Mara onto Larry. Their chemistry is outstanding, as Kimmel’s more reserved, composed persona meshes well with Larry’s unhinged energy and love of hearing his own voice.

Once Kimmel’s actual show starts, Larry quickly runs into problems. After Leon neglects to relay Jeff’s message warning him about mocking the ayatollah on Kimmel’s program, Larry finds himself on the receiving end of his own “fatwa,” with his impersonation prompting Muslim leaders to call for Larry’s death. I never envisioned a “Curb” episode involving Muslim death sentences, but here we are, and it’s glorious. If only Larry could tone down his performance, then “Curb” could truly shine this season.