Will Larry David ever learn in Curb Your Enthusiasm?

by Diana Wichtel / 25 October, 2017
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Who should get to be bride at a lesbian wedding? Is a text reading, “Sorry about your bird. The good news is I’m still alive”, a suitable response to the death of a friend’s pet parakeet? Is a project called Fatwa! The Musical ever a good idea?

These are some of many ill-advised questions packed into the first episode of the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, back after a six-year hiatus. The spectacularly callous and oblivious version of himself Larry David plays in Curb lobs unwanted observations like cherry bombs into almost every human interaction. See him send that parakeet text to his pal Richard Lewis. “Isn’t a dead parakeet funny?” says Larry. “You know why I’m laughing?” replies Richard. “At the sadness of your entire existence.”

See Larry ponder whether to hold the door open for someone behind him. He lets the door shut. This is not a world where anyone lets anything go. “Hey, no ‘after you?’” says the offended woman, who turns out to be a lesbian hairdresser called Betty. “I didn’t really get an ‘after-you’ vibe,” says Larry. “You’re a type. Shorter hair, a tie, a vest … It’s a look.” Most people would stop digging their way to social Hades and say sorry.

Even six years ago, this wouldn’t have been cutting-edge material: old guy confused about how to treat women. But this is an age when it can seem as if a gender-politics algorithm is needed to navigate who can say what and how we can define ourselves. Larry points out that Betty was still a distance away from the door. “Type plus distance equals no door-hold,” he explains brightly. “You have an equation?” says Betty. She retaliates by charging him double for a haircut. He walks uninvited into her house to complain – “The door was ajar!” – and declares that Betty’s pretty partner Numa should be the bride at their upcoming wedding.

Larry is never presented as harmless. His compulsive meddling breaks up the couple, adding to the impressive number of people who, by the end, will seek revenge. And ensuring some immortal lines of Curb dialogue: “What kind of psychopath interferes with the nuances of a lesbian wedding?” and “Stop saying ‘ajar’!”

Larry soon has something outside his airless, privileged little world to worry about. On Jimmy Kimmel’s show to publicise his appalling musical based on the Salman Rushdie fatwa, he outlines the plot with characteristic sensitivity – your eyes will water – and has a fatwa taken out against him. Everything that happens on Planet Larry is preposterous, yet has a remorseless internal logic. Rushdie reportedly approved.

But the episode is called not Fatwa! but Foisted! It’s the everyday acts of venality that will catch you out. Larry’s hopeless assistant, Mara, has a limp, a dreadful childhood story and constipation. Even Larry can’t bring himself to fire her. Then he hears Mara was foisted onto him by Kimmel. Foisting misfortune onto your friends is a thing, apparently. Larry gleefully foists Mara on to Susie, his manager’s wife, who exists entirely to hurl extravagantly sweary abuse at him.

Happily, every absurd plot line converges in a satisfying cataclysm of well-deserved karma. Never mind the fatwa; Susie is after him. Larry never learns. He has the impulse control and emotional intelligence of a three-year-old, which, with any luck, could make this season quite brilliantly in touch with the zeitgeist in the age of Trump. Curb Your Enthusiasm is a comedy of antisocial manners.

It’s also ultimately tragic. After the foisting, the fatwa and the parakeet text, Richard Lewis has the last laugh, offloading Larry’s heartless joke back onto him. He meets up with Larry, who’s failing to avoid attention in a violently bad wig as he awaits his fate. “You know what the good news is?” Richard tells Larry. “I’m still alive.” Foisted.

Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sky SoHo, Thursday, 8.30pm.

This article was first published in the October 21, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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