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Curb Your Enthusiasm: Larry David Tackles NY, Baseball, The Middle East

by Caryn James
July 10, 2011 1:00 AM
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True confession: I have never been a knee-jerk fan of Curb Your Enthusiasm or for that matter Seinfeld, which Larry David helped created. The crotchety version of himself that David plays on his endlessly praised series too often veers from “annoying to the characters around him but amusing to us,” (and isn’t that just a way of flattering the audience?) to flat out annoying. The too-cute zippy Italian circus music that is the series’ theme makes me hit “mute” and even the nickname “Curb” gets on my nerves (but that’s not David’s fault). Seinfeld has a more affable, like-me, puppy-dog surface, but at their cores both shows exude a smugness about how cleverly they notice the minute, absurd details of life. I don’t hate these series, and I'm not acting cranky to be like Larry; their usual episodes just leave me cold.

But I have to admit that when they are good they veer into brilliance. Elaine dances funny on Seinfeld? I don’t care. Kramer drops a Junior Mind into a surgical patient’s open body? Genius.

HBO, following David’s instructions, didn’t sent out the first two episodes of this season’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, which begins tonight. But the episode coming in two weeks, called “Palestinian Chicken,” is one of those brilliant moments, the kind of episode the cliche “instant classic” was invented for.

When a Palestinian restaurant with the best chicken in town opens, Larry becomes a regular, even though the owners’ plan to build a new location next to a Jewish deli is being protested by Larry’s Jewish friends. Those friends include a newly devout, yarmulke-wearing, Rabbi-consulting Funkhouser (Bob Einstein, aka Super Dave Osborne), in a turn that manages to mock zealotry and respect religion at the same time. Everything here works as acute social satire, not just benign observation, right down to the way a Palestinian woman is attracted to Larry because he’s Jewish. In one of those clever-things-they-notice themes, Jeff and Susie’s (Jeff Garlin and Susie Essman) teenaged daughter is revolted by her mother’s sound effects while smacking her lips whenever she drinks something, but that fits in hilariously too.

Further ahead in the season, Larry, Jeff and Susie all end up in New York, in plots that deal with car repairs, baseball, psychoanalysis and the way black men can get in anywhere if they just wear glasses to look smart. J.B. Smoove is terrific while proving that point as Leon, Larry’s uninvited houseguest in previous seasons, who’s now in New York too.

David did not have HBO send the episodes with the biggest guest stars, Michael J. Fox and Ricky Gervais. The anticipation should have head-over-heels fans of the series in a state of bliss, but even reluctant fans like me should probably keep an eye on it. You never know when genius will sneak up on you.

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  • josh | July 16, 2011 1:40 AMReply

    cool thread! i saw something similar at see ya!

  • ATM Ladner | July 13, 2011 7:33 AMReply

    ". . . often veers from “annoying to the characters around him but amusing to us,” (and isn’t that just a way of flattering the audience?) to flat out annoying."

    Not at all. What does this even mean in the context of consuming fiction?

    If you can't detach from the characters on one level, allowing them to behave to each other as you would not, without reacting as if expected to respond directly, instead of thinking and reacting as an unseen observer (which, as a consumer of stories, you are every time) you're missing the ironic subtext underlying most worthwhile fiction.

    For example,the 'Elaine dancing' episode you mentioned was funny or not on a broad slapstick level, but it was more about any silly or inconsequential action performed with alarmingly little skill by an actor who believes himself skilled at performing what he recognizes as an inconsequential act. Contrast that with the observers who recognize the reality of poorly performance but who are blind to the absurd non-importance of the action. With David & Seinfeld writing, standup is an immediate analogue.

    You probably already know all that anyway and are totally aesthetically validated in disregarding things you find irritating. Palestinian Chicken from the title sounded like an instant classic (don't be ashamed to use a useful and meaningful cliche, people!)

  • Joseph Myers | July 10, 2011 4:17 AMReply

    This piece suffers from a lack of editing.

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