Over the course of this year — as the vaccine has become readily available in the United States to those who want it and daily cases and deaths resulting from COVID-19 have sharply declined — the national conversation has largely centered on what the new normal might look like. Some want to immediately return to life exactly as it was before the pandemic, while others believe that we must continue to take the virus into consideration until a greater percentage of the population gets vaccinated. In light of this contentious issue, many shows have incorporated their visions of post-outbreak life.
That said, the portrayal of the new normal presented by “Curb Your Enthusiasm” seems very familiar. The season 11 premiere of Larry David’s classic series features the same well-crafted comedic story structure that fans of the series know and love, as multiple threads all come together by the end of the 40-minute run time.
Larry (Larry David, “Saturday Night Live”) wakes up in the middle of the night to find a dead man in his swimming pool. The next day, he and his manager Jeff (Jeff Garlin, “The Goldbergs”) successfully pitch a TV show loosely based on Larry’s young adulthood, aptly titled “Young Larry,” to Netflix. However, the dead man’s brother Marcos (Marques Ray, “Brews Brothers”) extorts Larry, threatening to pursue a legal battle unless Larry hires his talentless daughter Maria Sofia (Keyla Monterroso Mejia, “On My Block”) on “Young Larry.” Other intertwining plot lines include the alive-and-well Albert Brooks (“The Simpsons”) hosting his own funeral, and a financial quarrel between Larry and Dennis (John Pirruccello, “Godzilla vs. Kong”), a rude man with early-onset dementia.
This episode of “Curb” succeeds on multiple fronts. The impressive selection of guest stars, including Brooks, Pirruccello, Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) and Lucy Liu (“Elementary”), all shine, demonstrating the eagerness of actors to perform alongside the legendary Larry David. The season arc of “Young Larry” is promising, and reminiscent of the “Seinfeld” season four show-within-a-show arc, which David devised with Jerry Seinfeld nearly 30 years ago. However, the blackmail situation is hard to believe; why would anyone succumb to such absurd extortion?
Nevertheless, with a clear season arc in place, as well as all the other elements of a typical “Curb” episode, there is one factor that is conspicuously lacking: references to COVID-19. There is no presentation or even discussion of life during the pandemic and very little to indicate a distinctly post-pandemic state; there are no masks in sight, and no social distancing. Larry David has made a concerted effort to ignore the subject of COVID-19 altogether.
We don’t see any gags about Larry enjoying his time away from society during the lockdown, but we do see him struggle to win back his girlfriend (Liu) after he bangs his head into a glass door, causing her to lose her attraction to him. There are no conflicts between Jeff and his short-tempered wife Susie (Susie Essman, “Bless This Mess”) after being stuck alone together for months, but he does secretly confide in Larry that he was correct in an argument with Susie.
The only joke related to COVID-19 in the entire episode is when Larry discovers that Albert Brooks is a “COVID hoarder,” promptly causing every guest to curse out Brooks and storm out. What point is David trying to make about people here? What does it say about them if they would happily indulge a man who is so egotistical that he wants to hear people praise him at his own funeral, but instantly hate him upon learning that he purchased too many sanitary supplies during the pandemic?
David’s intention was probably not to put forth some grand revelation about American behavior or attitudes. That has never been his style. However, we can safely assume that he is pushing back against the idea that COVID-19 must always be the center of discussion, the end-all-be-all issue. He utilized a similar comedic strategy to address the controversial Donald Trump in 2020’s season 10 premiere. None of the jokes in the episode dealt with politics but instead made light of the M.A.G.A. hat as a social deterrent.
Just like Trump did throughout his presidency, the pandemic has dominated headlines and the media for over a year and a half. No matter where you stand on any of the numerous debates surrounding COVID-19, you are sure to get triggered after a two-minute scroll through Twitter. We could all use a break. David is happy to indulge us.
Daily Arts Writer Aidan Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.