‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Turns Sour For ‘The Pickle Gambit’

Senior Television Writer
10.09.17 16 Comments

HBO

A review of last night’s Curb Your Enthusiasm coming up just as soon as I do a hooker mitzvah…

Larry David has been making Curb off and on for nearly 20 years, and he spent nearly a decade before that making Seinfeld, which had a similar, but not identical, structure and worldview and voice. When you do any kind of thing (or variations on that thing) for close to three decades, it’s inevitable that formula sets in, and the audience becomes able to predict what you’re doing well before you get there. The trick at that point is to be able to execute things so well, and/or to offer small surprises along the way, so that nobody cares how much they can see coming, and from how far away.

Last week’s season premiere was predictable but managed to work in enough amusing bits of business that it didn’t matter if you could see it coming that Larry would break up the wedding, or get involved in a real fatwa. “The Pickle Gambit,” unfortunately, felt just labored(*), telegraphing most of its plot developments and punchlines, and leaning on that telegraphed plot to deliver most of the humor, rather than Larry’s interactions with different characters.

(*) Both of this season’s episodes so far have clocked in at close to 40 minutes, and the fifth episode — which I liked, but which dragged in spots — also felt long. For the most part, David has taken advantage of having more time to play with per episode than he had on NBC for Seinfeld — and one of the series’ best episodes, “Mister Softee,” was also super-sized — but there’s a length at which any sitcom episode, even from a great series, becomes difficult to sustain.

Most of what was effective in “The Pickle Gambit” worked on a smaller scale: Ted Danson taking pleasure in Larry getting rejected by Mary Steenburgen, Marty Funkhouser explaining why his nephew can’t masturbate lefthanded (“You need rotation! You need tempo! You need feel!”), and Larry exploiting men’s innate need to help open a pickle jar to help him sneak back into the hotel he’d been barred from by Jim Rash’s manager. But even the last bit derailed towards the end; the show hadn’t developed the idea enough to make it clear that Larry would sabotage himself just to prove he could open the jar, when he should have either been tailing Ted and Cheryl (who are, as we all assumed last week, dating) or getting the contact info of Bianca Kajlich’s Paula the prostitute(*).

(*) I appreciated that Larry’s advice on upgrading her wardrobe paid off, as his attempts to help other people with their businesses (or Jerry Seinfeld’s back in the day with Babu) tend to end badly. Also, I now want The Deuce season 2 to feature a young Larry David serving as a consultant for Candy and Darlene.

But it was clear from the start that Larry’s fixation with the cookies — and Rash’s fixation with the tongs — would lead to trouble, that Larry’s new bodyguard Swat would intercede at the wrong moment, and that Larry’s video chat with the Iranian consul (a Seinfeld fan who loves “The Puffy Shirt”) would end disastrously, and the execution of each just seemed to go on for a very long time while usually featuring Larry at his dumbest.

Even the return of Anne Bedian as Shara from Curb “Palestinian Chicken” was disappointing, as if she was just brought back to do the thing (scream hateful anti-Semitic sentiments during sex with Larry) that people loved last time. To a degree, that’s every recurring character on this show — the mere presence of Bob Einstein as Funkhouser makes me smile every time — but there wasn’t enough variation on what she did last time to make it worth bringing her back, rather than leaving her as a memorable one-off character from an inner circle Hall of Fame episode.

I expected some episodes like this, since season eight gave us ones along these lines more often than not. But I mostly enjoyed the other two I’ve seen, and hopefully we get at least a couple of brilliant ones to make it worth sitting through the more formulaic outings like this.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com. He discusses television weekly on the TV Avalanche podcast. His next book, Breaking Bad 101, is out tomorrow and available for preorder now.

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