Who had money on the Season 9 premiere of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the first new episode in six years, beginning with a Larry David nude scene?
The anticipation for a new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm has been so fevered that HBO promoted the return with tongue-in-cheek commercials positing Larry as “the hero we need.” The world is bleak right now, a toxic cauldron of massive political and social issues about to boil over. Someone’s got to focus on the little, petty things that need fixing. That man, as he has been for the last 17 years, is Larry David.
In fact, hype for the premiere was so loud that journalists who saw the episode ahead of Sunday night’s airing were sworn to secrecy, bound by a Game of Thrones-esque gag order to not reveal a single plot detail until after the premiere. (Presumably, by punishment of fatwa.)
It’s a lot of buildup. What is this comedy, so secret, that’s going to save us all? Will it be political? Will it be shocking? Will it change everything?
It’s Larry David in the shower throwing a tantrum because he can’t open his shampoo bottle.
Yes. It’s classic. Timeless and timely: Even in “Trump’s America” it’s a pain in the ass to have your nice morning ruined by a stubborn bath product. The truth is, it can weigh on you as violently as any startling, possibly world-threatening news headline. We’d never actually admit that, of course. That’s the catharsis of Curb.
Sure. One stubborn narcissist constantly getting a rise out of people for doing things he shouldn’t might not curb the behavior of the other seventysomething man of the same description occupying the Oval Office. But he can do what the other hasn’t yet been able to: at least make us feel healed. He does that through wish fulfillment, saying the things we wish we could but can’t—or at least know we shouldn’t.
That ad campaign promised he is the “one hero who never stays silent, who fights against injustice wherever he finds it.” Injustice comes in many forms, including the assistant who thinks taking extended leave from work because she is constipated is legitimate. (Time to foist her!)
Of course, the unrivaled genius of Curb Your Enthusiasm has always been the way it mines comedy equally from the evergreen grievances in our daily lives and from the topical, even controversial, conversations we’re having as a culture at that moment.
Finicky shampoo bottles and ineffective assistants? Always funny. Entwining those bits with humor about an engaged lesbian couple’s gender expression and, oh yeah, a fatwa!? Extremely 2017, and classically Curb.
As Susie Essman, who plays Susie Greene, told us when we interviewed her ahead of Sunday night’s premiere, “[Larry] is the least likely person you’d think would have a finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist. And he does.”
Indeed. He also has a comedic brain equivalent to those people who can solve a Rubik’s Cube in a matter of seconds, constructing complex half-hour jigsaw puzzles that scatter in each episode, then oh-so satisfyingly snap perfectly back into place in a comically mind-blowing final act.
In the case of Sunday’s premiere, those puzzle pieces include a lesbian haircutter deemed too butch to be a bride, an ineffective assistant who needs to be “foisted” onto someone else, and, in what lays ground for the season’s overall arc, a fatwa placed on Larry David.
There are comforting pleasures in the return of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Cheryl Hines is back and her character is on pleasant terms with ex-husband Larry. (And she gets the best dialogue of the episode. Cheryl, at the opening for her anti-genital mutilation charity: “There are very few charities focused on the clitoris.” Larry: “I think half the population is focused on the clitoris.”)
Susie is spewing arias of obscenity, peeling off from zero to 100 at Larry’s triggering as gloriously as ever. Jeff (Jeff Garlin) is back, forever the Robin to our exasperated Batman.
But the derangement of the comedy might be the most satisfying returning element; for example, Larry David writing a musical about Salman Rushdie’s life being ruined after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him. And then, because of it, Larry receiving a fatwa himself.
Every single moment involving the fatwa is, truly, the laugh riot we all need, and Larry David should be called a hero for that.
But in order for those moments to succeed as uproariously as they do—Larry’s appearance on Jimmy Kimmel, the panic when the fatwa is announced, the awkward meeting at the embassy, Larry fearing for his life and hiding under a ridiculous disguise—a precisely placed trail of comedy dominos had to be erected and then tipped over perfectly.
Leon (J.B. Smoove) pressuring Larry to get rid of his assistant, and then volunteering to do the job (horribly) himself—and then that being the reason Larry doesn’t get the message to not imitate the ayatollah on Kimmel, thus the reason for the fatwa—it’s just all so brilliant. It’s just all too good.
It’s funny that the highest praise people tend to give Curb Your Enthusiasm centers on the specificity with which it captures those awkward moments of everyday life, the ones we tend to dismiss immediately from our minds to save ourselves the extended mortification of dwelling on them, and then actually dwells on them.
We’d imagine that no one in the viewing audience, with the exception, we guess, of Salman Rushdie, could identify with the anxiety of having a fatwa placed on you. But the way Larry handles it? That we recognize.
It’s all too perfect that Curb Your Enthusiasm is returning, as Slate’s PJ Grisar points out, the night after Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and the end of the High Holy Days’ period of reflection and apology to those we have wronged in the past year.
“While the faithful may spend all Saturday fasting or repenting in temple,” Grisar writes, “the following day marks the homecoming of a modern day Jewish folk hero—one who never says sorry.”