Six years since the last season of Curb Your Enthusiasm (10 p.m. Sundays, HBO), after nearly all fans had given up hope for a revival of the oddball comedy, Larry David and friends are back — and they’re as funny as ever.
Little has changed in Larry’s world since we last saw him. He’s still living in L.A. with housemate Leon (J.B. Smoove), who continues to be one of the funniest characters on television, keeping the rich old white dude in check. Jeff (Jeff Garlin) remains Larry’s trusty sidekick and manager, much to the chagrin of his atrociously dressed, ever-perturbed wife Susie (Susie Essman). We don’t see much of Larry’s ex-wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines), but she has moved on to Ted Danson following his fictional split from real-life wife Mary Steenburgen (who is less than eager to spouse-swap and date Larry).
As Season 9 picks up, Larry has been working on a musical based on Salman Rushdie’s life — Fatwa! — which is quickly derailed when Iran’s ayatollah issues a fatwa death sentence against Larry himself. The plot continues through a few episodes before it fizzles out (the finale, titled “Fatwa!,” will obviously circle back to that bit). But Curb shines when its stories exist in the lifespan of a 30-minute sitcom, which David, the inimitable creator of Seinfeld, knows so well. A few callbacks sprinkled in here and there can be hilarious, but three episodes about Larry hiding from assassins wore a little thin.
David’s fictional(ish?) self is the antithesis of political correctness. Not what the term has grown to become — a safety net for people who aren’t sensitive about something that other people are sensitive about — but what it actually means, which is to follow societal rules. And thus, Larry doesn’t go out of his way to harm or offend people; he has established his own code and simply cannot help himself. He’s not willfully politically incorrect, yet he does maintain his role as a social assassin. It’s refreshing! Larry is a true equal-opportunity offender, and his idiosyncrasies and grievances play into evolving modern, societal cues.
For example, is it necessary to hold the door for a woman in this post-gender world? When a group of people thank a veteran for his service, is it obligatory to repeat the greeting? If you’re being hunted by Iranian forces, can you be forgiven for profiling a Muslim man as an assassin? OK, maybe that last one is strictly Larry territory.
That’s not to say Curb gets very political. Larry struggles with universal experiences, like airplane etiquette, pants with a short fly and the intricacies of beeping your car horn. He introduces us to concepts like the relationship restart button and “accidental text on purpose.”
Sometimes he enforces his own rules, like when he insists on getting all the details from a waiter who tells him his food is running late due to a vague “disturbance” in the kitchen. Other times he breaks common codes, like refusing to use tongs to select a cookie from a platter.
His standards are based on behaviors so insignificant and minuscule they’re absurd. He just can’t let things go. And that’s Curb’s sweet spot — wringing out a joke for all its worth.
One of the best parts about Curb is its reliance on improvisation — there is no script; all the actors base their dialogue on a story outline. David and the cast might have gotten so adept at improv that it’s not strikingly obvious they’re ad-libbing, but maybe that makes it all the more impressive. Occasionally, you’ll see a spark in David’s eye or spot the sullen-faced Richard Lewis crack a smile and know these talented comedians are cracking one another up.
It’s a shame Saturday Night Live couldn’t capitalize on David’s comedy and improv skills when he hosted a rather lackluster recent episode. Even his Bernie Sanders impression fell flat on the sketch comedy show. But it just goes to show the best way to enjoy Larry David — real or fictionalized — is in his own world. And in Curb, that world revolves around Larry.
Overall, Curb’s return has been “prettay, prettay, prettay good.”
Contact Jac Kern: @jackern