‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Investigates ‘A Disturbance In The Kitchen’

A review of last night’s Curb Your Enthusiasm just as soon as I take back your unsucked candy…

“A Disturbance in the Kitchen” was another mixed bag for this revival season. Certain scenes — Salman Rushdie explaining the fatwa advantages to Larry, Larry enthusiastically making an ass , of himself in court — really popped, but on the whole it all feels looser and less precise than this show can be at its best. A lot of bits seemed very Curb-y in theory, but the execution needed a few more passes.

This was clear almost from the start. The restaurant manager’s gift for evading even the most innocuous question (the color of his tie, for instance) was clever, but it felt like Larry got way too upset about the eponymous disturbance way too quickly. Responding with an absurd level of ire to a small inconvenience is a fundamental Larry David character trait, but he usually has some more build-up before it happens, either in terms of when in the episode the tantrum takes place or how many things have prompted it. He started screaming his head off at the chef(*) before the episode had barely started — better it had come after his second time at the restaurant — and it set the tone for a half-hour in which too many jokes seemed either rushed or incomplete, all the way through to the payoff. On the one hand, I appreciated that we finally got to see what actually happened during one disturbance. On the other, the show’s karmic system of justice at its best tends to incorporate multiple sources at once, and it felt like the chef should have been participating in Larry’s latest humiliation, rather than being exasperated witness to it.

(*) With Alec Berg and David Mandel busy running, respectively, Silicon Valley and Veep, Jeff Schaffer is usually the only season eight veteran getting shared story credit with David, and he’s also directed multiple episodes this year. Since he was also co-creator of Th League, he’s also starting to sprinkle some old friends into guest spots, with Stephen Rannazzisi here as the angry chef, and Katie Aselton appearing in the fifth episode (the other one shown at the premiere). I wouldn’t be surprised to see more League players pop up before this season is over, even the insanely busy Mark Duplass and Nick Kroll.

A lot of the episode was similarly rough around the edges. Even the courtroom scene was funny mainly because Larry David the actor is often at his most appealing when Larry David the character is having fun, as he was here playing the role of his own indignant defense lawyer in the matter of whether a citizen can beep a cop — or, for that matter, “yoo-hoo” a judge. (It wasn’t just that he tried to compare himself to Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson, but that he didn’t remember who Harriet Tubman was.) But there were no stakes to the scene because the fine was so small, and Larry was never even at risk of a contempt of court charge; his feud with Damon Wayans Jr’s cop could have continued just as easily if we’d jumped from Larry getting the ticket to Wayans bringing Susie’s Little Sister home from her boyfriend’s.

Elizabeth Banks as proof that the concept of “fatwa sex” is real, meanwhile, was better in theory than execution. Banks herself seems exactly the type of woman/celebrity whom Larry would be delighted to hook up with, yet her fictionalized self seemed both a bigger departure than Curb‘s more famous guest stars are asked to play. I don’t know that this is what Ted Danson is really like, but it seems plausible(*) in a way this didn’t, and there wasn’t enough of an underlying conceit for “Elizabeth Banks” beyond her being shallow and not too bright. Maybe Banks and the show would have been better off letting her play an entirely different character than herself.

(*) The running gag with the Tesla’s unsubtle car horn was yet another piece of the episode that probably should have come back around again at the end somehow, but I appreciated that when the big truck driver started attacking Danson, the first TV show he thought to cite as proof that he’s a beloved TV icon was Becker.

All three installments so far have run more than a half-hour, which in theory would let each joke and comic story point develop to its fullest. But each episode has been overstuffed with story and character, as if David (with help from Schaffer and others) had so many ideas during this six-year hiatus and wanted to squeeze in every last one in the event this winds up really being the final season, so a lot of what’s working best comes less from the series’ trademark Swiss watch precision storytelling than from the innate appeal of Larry or Leon or Susie as characters and foils for one another.

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 on sale now.