Daily Arts presents a 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' roundtable

Sunday, December 10, 2017 - 4:51pm

NOSELL

HBO

 

I don’t know if you guys heard, but “Curb Your Enthusiasm” came back. Oh, you did. Well. With such an influential and widely lauded show returning for a ninth season, a few Daily Arts writers had to sit down and hash out some final thoughts.

Nabeel Chollampat: So, I guess we’ll start with the big question: Was “Curb” good this year?

Connor Grady: For “Curb,” the overall season was incredibly inconsistent from episode-to-episode, and not in a good way. The highly-touted revival season started slow by focusing on Larry’s fatwa, which was neither funny nor compelling. Seeing the bald David in a shitty, long-haired disguise worked for a couple cheap laughs, but never more than that. Once the series started to transition away from this storyline, it had much more success, with David turning in a couple of strong episodes in the middle of the season, led by “Running With the Bulls.”

Unfortunately, these episodes were sandwiched between a couple of complete duds in “A Disturbance in the Kitchen” and “Namaste.” Both of these entries struggled to find their footing in terms of humor and came off as forced, as David leaned entirely on his tried-and-true gags, like his infamous stare-downs. Worse, even, were “Never Wait for Seconds!” and “The Pickle Gambit,” which were both lazily written misfires.

That’s easily my biggest gripe with this season of “Curb” — the whole season felt like a montage of classic Larry moments copied and pasted into a new context. The nostalgia factor was apparently too high for David, who chose to spend much of the season reminiscing about old jokes from the series rather than developing new ones. “Curb” was not good this year.

Joey Schuman: Connor has a point. I’d even take it a step further by claiming that this season fully killed the grace period for Larry’s asshole naivete. Consider the “chat ‘n cut.” Larry taught us this lesson in season eight, and it exemplified everything great about the show: exposing the hypocrisy in ‘standard’ human behavior, out-hacking others’ lifehacks, that type of thing. When Larry tried to repeat the same magic this season, like with the tong / cookie fiasco in “The Pickle Gambit,” it felt like elementary humor. There were very few moments this season where I found myself thinking, ‘wow, that’s quite an innovative way to be a complete prick.’ So yeah, I guess I wanted something more fresh.

N: Yes! The chat ‘n’ cut! Give me more of that! If there’s one way, I think, to summarily say what I felt was missing this season, it’d be that: no classic scenes or moments, no quotable phrases or new additions to the “Seinfeld” / “Curb” Extended Universe lexicon. And if there were, they felt forced, like Larry David was simply playing the “Greatest Hits” and hoping people would like it.

Which brings me to episodes like, say, “The Pickle Gambit.” I agree, Connor, that that was a dud of an episode, but I think it’s kind of a microcosm of what this season of “Curb” was for me: inconsistent. The idea — Larry, Leon, Funkhouser and Funkhouser’s prodigal-son nephew brawling to open a pickle jar, which results in the nephew breaking his pitching elbow and subsequently renders him unable to jack off — is hilarious. It’s one of those quintessentially “Curb” moments; I love it. But then there’s an extremely uncomfortable sex scene with our friend from the best “Curb” episode ever, “Palestinian Chicken,” and I feel weird. That’s what I think about whether the show was good this season: I laughed, but I also felt weird.

J: So, going off of that, what were your guys’ favorite episodes or moments from this season?

C: For me, it would easily be David facing off against his frail, plant-thieving neighbor, Rose Shapiro (Carol Herman, “Freaky Deaky”), on “Judge Judy” during what is easily the season’s top episode, “The Shucker.” Everything about this scene was perfect — Leon’s (J.B. Smoove, “The Millers”) ridiculous witness testimony, David’s questioning of the court’s tap water, and Shapiro’s before-and-after pictures of the plant.

Beyond David’s hilarious court-room antics, I also loved the entire eulogy scene from “Running With the Bulls.” I’ll never forget Marty Funkhouser’s (Bob Einstein, “Arrested Development”) deadpan look after Larry crashed his nephew’s funeral. Larry’s half-assed apology afterwards deserves to be in the “Curb” hall of fame, if one existed.

N: I’m going to have to agree here: The entire funeral scene killed me. Also, the idea of Funkhouser’s nephew being trampled to death by bulls is insanely funny to me. Is that what I find funny now? The “idea” of things? Good god.

Oh, and Salman Rushdie saying the words “fatwa sex.” That’s fucking funny.

J: There’s actually a correct answer here. Bolo Tie Jeff Garlin could be the best moment in the history of “Curb,” HBO, and potentially modern television. Susie’s cowboy hat fetish was even better. “The Shucker” won this season.

C: Agreed. Seeing Garlin surrender his cowboy hat later in the episode was downright painful.

J: OK, so, what were the low points for you guys?

N: The entire yoga episode.

C: As I mentioned earlier, there were a bunch of episodes that simply bombed. And I agree with Nabeel here — “Namaste” was pretty fucking awful outside of a few solid Leon (J.B. Smoove, “The Millers”) lines. But I can’t think of a “Curb” episode where Leon wasn’t hilarious, so that’s really not saying much.

Outside of that, one of the low points for me was the end of Larry’s all-too brief relationship with Bridget (Lauren Graham, “Parenthood”). Having to watch Ted Danson (“Cheers”) dating Larry’s ex-wife Cheryl Hines (“RV”) already stung, but it was made substantially worse by Bridget abruptly dumping Larry. Her optimistic, charismatic persona meshed well with David’s cynicism and asshole nature, so it was a shame to see her exit, especially after hearing all about “fatwa sex” from Salman Rushdie.

J: Connor’s on point with the Bridget low light; there was never any dynamic there. As a whole, the quality definitely picked up late. I already mentioned my disdain for “The Pickle Gambit.” Worse maybe was “Running with the Bulls.” The fake Fatwa sequence at the funeral was painfully basic. In fact, this season had its lowest moments at its points of deepest commitment to the Fatwa arc. When the final episode ended with Larry running from a Fatwa defender it felt cheap and disappointingly predictable, almost like they settled on a full-circle ending because they didn’t know how to wrap up such an unusually ambitious storyline.

N: This season’s main plotline was Fatwa! The Musical—what’d you guys think? Personally, I found it inline with my larger view of this season: hilarious in concept, but a bit weird in execution. The finale’s musical numbers and costuming were quite impressive, I have to say, and I was genuinely surprised at the ambition, but the fatwa as a concept itself felt, to me … outdated? Salman Rushdie, the Ayatollah Khomenei, a fatwa — these feel like references from 2005, not 2017. It’s odd to say that, too, because I’ll still throw on an old episode of “Curb” like “Freak Book” or “Krazee Eyes Killa” and laugh my ass off. Yet, Fatwa! The Musical was just one outlandish concept I found hard to wrap my head around.

J: This summer I was selling hot dogs at Wrigley Field when I noticed die-hard Cubs fan Jeff Garlin approaching. He’d already passed me by the time I realized it was actually him, but I managed to halt with my load of dogs, turn around, and yelp across the concourse with the most emphatic “big vagina” (Season 5, Episode 8) I could possibly manage. Sure enough, Garlin stopped in his tracks — his Cubs employee chaperone waiting — and returned the gesture at the very top of his lungs, signature hand motion and all. True story. So what? Don’t try so hard to manufacture your magic, Larry. “Curb”’ is at its best when it finds the absurd in the everyday schmooze, not when it attempts to makes the absurd absurd-er; a stale, far-fetched joke about Islamic law falls into the latter category. Give me an entire episode of Jeff yelling ridiculous shit in public.

C: Wow. I don’t have any real-life “Curb” story remotely close to that, so I won’t even try to follow that, but I will say that I actually found this part of the series to be well-done in the end. When Larry first brought up that he’d penned a musical in “Foisted!,” I didn’t expect much to come of it — I figured it was going to be a bullshit side story that would somehow end in disaster because, well, it’s Larry. But “Curb” surprised even me, reviving Larry’s seemingly-dead Broadway dream in “Never Wait for Seconds!” and turning it into a joke about Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Mary Poppins”) and “Hamilton.”

I was genuinely impressed with “Curb”’s commitment to this plotline. They wrote Broadway-style songs for the show, picked out accurate costumes for each character, and landed cameos from character actors like F. Murray Abraham (“Amadeus”). Color me pleasantly surprised by “Curb”’s attention to detail since it made for some of the season’s better humor.

J: Do you guys think this season does anything to change the legacy of the show?

N: Nope. If anything, that dope story about you literally yelling “BIG VAGINA” at Wrigley Field proves this question false. “Curb” is here to stay.

C: Not really. Although many of this season’s episodes were flat-out bad, there were a few that truly shined and could work in any other “Curb” season with their quality. That alone will preserve “Curb”’s standing among loyal audience members.

On top of that, when television cult-favorites come back for a final revival season (looking at you, “Fuller House”), I think it’s sort-of understood that it’s going to be extremely hit-or-miss. Of course, “Curb”’s final season would fall disappointingly into the latter, but even this misfire of a season won’t impact the show’s stellar legacy.

J: I think the legacy of the show has been cemented since the first season. Its essence is one of misogyny, microaggression, and sometimes racist and / or anti-semitic depiction. You’re left with this impression after watching even a single episode. “Curb” is pretty much defined by its political incorrectness, and, though I really genuinely do my best to remain sensitive to the issues contained within this, I still laugh at its, um, social imperfection. For the same reason my very proudly Jewish father makes a point not to watch this show, my very proudly Jewish self makes a point to catch every episode. “Curb” will always polarize that way, for better or worse.

N: I find that hella interesting, Joey, especially from the lens of “Curb” being seen as a prototype of Jewish-American media. OK, then: big, final question. Was this season worth it?

J: We don’t watch this show for thematic fluidity or some sort of spiritual awakening. Often during this season I felt pretty damn bad about humanity –  the “you fat fuck”’s from Susie, the many “ass” references from Leon, and even a “Larry Longballs” shoutout – and that’s exactly the point. Bring on the tenth season.

C: Joey’s right here — the world could always use more of “social assassin” Larry David, even if he’s not at his peak.