‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ – ‘Mister Softee’: Bill Buckner to the rescue?

A review of tonight’s fantastic “Curb Your Enthusiasm” coming up just as soon as Koufax gives me some kishka…

“Mister Softee” was only a few minutes longer than a normal “Curb,” but it felt epic, like “Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Motion Picture.” I’ve watched it several times since HBO sent the screener out a few months ago, and I’m convinced it’s one of a handful of the show’s best episodes ever.

There have been times in the series (including this season) where it’s felt like Larry and the other writers tried to cram too many ideas into a single episode, but “Mister Softee” just felt richer, rather than overcrowded. It’s an episode that gave Larry a semi-serious girlfriend in Ana Gasteyer’s character, a new pal in Bill Buckner, a new enemy in Robert Smigel as the Steinbrenner-identifying Yari, and, of all things, a therapist in the form of Fred Melamed(*) as Dr. Arthur Thurgood. (Plus a cameo by Jerry “Hesh” Adler as the man who tries to recruit Larry for the minyan.)

(*) I didn’t love the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man,” but holy cow is Melamed wonderful as the ingratiating, hug-prone Sy Ableman. It’s one of those roles that’s so indelible that you can’t look at the guy after without asking, incredulously, “Sy Ableman?”

Now, because HBO sent out a trio of out-of-sequence episodes, I assumed that the explanation for Larry going into therapy was introduced in a previous New York episode. Instead, he’s just here, and while I don’t love Larry taking such an out-of-character step without some kind of build-up (or ridiculous excuse, like why Larry’s in New York in the first place), his actual encounters with the blabby shrink were marvelous, a rare case of Larry going toe-to-toe with someone who simultaneously has much to teach him and is just as smug and obnoxious in his own way as Larry. And the therapy provided a setting for a kind of Larry David origin story in the flashback(**) to the original Mister Softee trauma, which explains not only where “Pret-tay, pret-tay good!” comes from, but why Larry in general is so chatty and casual during sex (it’s a defense mechanism). The idea of Larry giving therapy a try is such a rich vein that I’m shocked it took so long to do it. Hopefully, this won’t be the final appearance of the good, if unconfidential, doctor.

(**) Fantastic casting for young Larry.

Speaking of which, I should note that many of this episode’s stories were done before in some form on “Seinfeld.” Substitute Keith Hernandez for Buckner, David Puddy (or the Brad Garrett character) for Yari, the blabby rabbi for Thurgood, etc., and you’ve seen Larry David do some version of these jokes before. (There was even a quick joke about his pride in finding a great parking spot, which was a familiar George Costanza refrain.) And you know what? I don’t care, because the execution was so good – and in the case of Buckner, magnificent.

Buckner’s had a lot of time in the last 25 years to take grief over letting Mookie’s grounder roll between his legs, and he’s become a very good sport about it. (It helps that the Sawx have since won two World Series and exorcised the ghosts, of course.) But this was just marvelous, from the zen-like way he lets all the attacks(***) wash off his back to the gag about him dropping Larry’s horseshit throw to, of course, his ridiculous and yet awesome moment of triumph in saving the falling baby.(****)

(***) One small nit-pick: while it made sense that the grieving Jewish nephew was mad at Buckner, I don’t know that I’d buy that every single person in New York would be cursing him out. Mocking? Sure. But in a friendlier, “Hey, thanks for the World Series, pal!” kind of way. He’s on the Mets’ home turf, after all.

(****) Yes, ludicrous and fake on every level (up to and including the mother somehow appearing on the sidewalk to take the baby back only seconds after Buckner makes the catch), and that’s entirely irrelevant.

And what was especially great was how all the different plot threads kept layering on top of one another. Larry blows the play at first because of the Mister Softee truck, which leads him to befriend Buckner and also keeps Yari from fixing the vibrator chair in his car. Then the brilliant idea of having Leon put on glasses to become more popular with white people gets him a second Mookie ball, which then leads to him having to give Suzy a horrifying ride in the vibrator-mobile (the kind of gag where you know exactly what’s going to happen and that only makes it funnier), which then puts him in a slight fender-bender with another Mister Softee truck(*****), which puts him right in position to witness Buckner’s miracle redemption.

(*****) This one driven by “Third Watch” alum Skipp Sudduth.

This hasn’t been a perfect season of “Curb” overall, but the episodes that have been good have been really, ridiculously good, and “Mister Softee” was the best so far. Wow.

What did everybody else think?