By Caryn James | James on Screens July 10, 2011 at 1:00AM
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.