A review of last night’s Curb Your Enthusiasm coming up just as soon as I dress up for the Little Drummer Boy’s funeral…
Two scenes in “Running with the Bulls” made me whoop with laughter in the way Curb does at its very best. In one, Larry and Leon discuss the problem of Larry’s pants with the short fly, why Leon buys all his pants from Jamaica, and how the tiddlywinks approach might solve Larry’s issue in the short term. In the other, Larry — mindful of Dr. Templeton’s concerns about “patient-doctor confidentiality,” and realizing his new shrink is within earshot — loudly insists to Susie that he can never tell her who told him about the Barney’s Warehouse sale, which only increases her suspicions that Jeff is cheating on her again.
The former really had nothing to do with the rest of the episode, though Dr. Templeton winds up also recommending the tiddlywinks approach when Larry brings it up at their next session; it’s just an excuse for J.B. Smoove to say ridiculous things about penis size for two minutes. The latter, meanwhile, is a classic bit of Curb humor where multiple plots intersect, causing no end of trouble for Larry and/or one of his friends.
So far, season nine has tended to be much more successful at the first kind of the scene than the second. When it’s just Larry or Leon or one of the other regulars doing their respective schtick, it can still be screamingly funny, just because there are so many great comic performers assembled here. But when the humor has to tie into the overlapping stories of the episode — what was once this great show’s comic trademark — things very rarely click, in part because there’s just too much story to satisfyingly tie together each week, even when the episodes are slightly longer.
Even the Larry/Susie scene is funny more for his over-the-top delivery of the lines than for the context, because one of the running gags of the prior Larry/Templeton scenes is that Larry’s really not invested in therapy and wouldn’t mind at all if Templeton dropped him as a patient. So it doesn’t fly with the rest of the episode that he’d make such a fuss in order to preserve this tradition of confidentiality that he (rightly) doesn’t believe exists, just as the episode’s punchline about Templeton sticking Larry with the cost of the new office chair didn’t quite land, since why would Larry do this for a man he doesn’t respect and doesn’t care about maintaining a relationship with? I had high hopes for the Seinfeld reunion of David and Bryan Cranston (whose first big breakout role was as kinky, regifting, converted Jewish dentist Tim Whatley) — and for any opportunity for Cranston to do straightforward TV comedy post-Heisenberg — but Templeton was more of an understated straight man role a lot of the time, even when he was being insistent on the patient-doctor nonsense.
The rest of the episode was, like most of the revival so far, a bit too busy(*), and at times too dark. Funkhouser’s nephew Kenny dying largely as a result of Larry’s actions (first injuring his arm, then introducing him to the prostitute) is maybe not the worst thing a Larry David character has done — there’s a more direct line, for instance, between George Costanza cheaping out on the wedding invitation envelopes and Susan dying — but it’s up there, and it becomes very hard to keep the usual Larry/Marty comedy going. Even if Marty is presented as rightfully bitter about Larry’s role in all of this, there comes a point where he just wouldn’t want Larry around, and certainly not at the memorial, which Larry predictably ruined when his fatwa nightmare seemed on the verge of coming true. For that matter, when Jeff has cheated on Susie in the past, Larry has usually been reluctant to get involved in covering for him, where here he jumps in on his own to defend Jeff when Susie (rightly) asks why he’s been seen driving around with another woman.
(*) Was the business about one of Marty’s kids going through a gender transition meant to be a set-up for a future episode, or just another thing for Larry to be an oblivious boor about for two seconds before we moved on to all the other subplots?
When the episode was Leon being Leon, or Larry and Richard Lewis insulting each other at the gallery and then the restaurant, “Running with the Bulls” felt satisfying enough. But I’m still waiting for Curb to roll out a precision comedy engine of an episode like it could at its best.
What did everybody else think?