The ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Season 10 Premiere Is Pretty, Pretty Relentless

     January 20, 2020

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Within minutes of the Season 10 premiere of Curb Your EnthusiasmLarry David (“himself”) grabs a stranger’s selfie stick and breaks it in half over his knee, casually continuing his stroll with Leon (J.B. Smoove), not taking a moment to reckon with what just happened. It’s a startling way to begin the new season of the adored, acerbic HBO comedy, a surreal burst of physical energy immediately bursting out of what’s typically a slow-burn, tightly contained show full of rising potential energy. A minute after this outburst, Larry complains about Mocha Joe’s (Saverio Guerra) scone density. A minute after that, a wobbly table. And then his cold coffee, to the point where he dips his nose into the drink — another immediate display of physical comedy, startling with its zero-to-100 pace. And then: his administrative assistant using his office bowl to feed his dog, a misunderstanding with cleaning glasses, a belief that David’s agent Jeff Greene (Jeff Garlin) is Harvey Weinstein, and on and on and on, David’s creative team practically punching us with comedic idea after comedic idea. Is this all funny? Yeah, it absolutely is — I cackled out loud throughout the 38-minute episode. But it feels atypically aggressive, strangely paced, and in some cases destructively impatient.

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Image via HBO

Again — I cannot reiterate how hard I laughed at this episode of television. There’s perhaps no show that can elicit such primal, guttural laughter than Curb Your Enthusiasm, and it often felt great to lock in to its particular POV. Smoove’s Leon continues to be one of television’s great comedic voices of reason. David and his co-writers Steve Leff and Jeff Schaffer continue to dissect and define those prickly social constructs most would never dare speak of (I have one million percent done the “Big Goodbye,” wherein you avoid a person you don’t want to see at a party all night until right before you’re about to leave). Much of the show’s reckoning with our miserable contemporary politics, be it Jeff’s constant mistaken identity for Weinstein, or Larry’s delightfully cynical usage of a MAGA hat, hit that sweet spot of sour candy laughs — it hurts in the best way possible. Isn’t this enough to recommend a new season of Curb? Yes and no.

Schaffer, known for helming episodes of screwball TV masterpieces like 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, might be responsible for the episode’s newfound quickness and surrealness. And I definitely don’t mind a largely “returning to status quo comedy of errors” show finding new wrinkles in its well-oiled voice — it’s been refreshing to watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia change and grow, and a lack of growth is arguably what hobbled Seinfeld‘s final season. And some of the new flavors taste great — in particular, Larry gives a speech to Mocha Joe vowing revenge that felt deliciously Shakespearean and tightly scripted, a satisfyingly surprising counterpoint to the show’s generally loose vibes. The problem for this particular episode comes from the show’s pace moving too quickly past some necessary damage control for Larry’s decisions — particularly, it must be said, decisions involving women’s bodies.

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Image via HBO

For as delightfully acidic as many of the episode’s “contemporary goofs” are, it severely fumbles the ball when making its big #MeToo jokes. You see, thanks to a particular series of farcical misunderstandings involving, among other things, pigs in a blanket, the episode is interested in framing Larry as a harasser of women who deserves to be, as our contemporary parlance so indelicately says, “#MeToo’d”. This is, by any account, tricky territory to wade into, particularly coming from the creative minds of a bunch of old white guys. Now, do we come to Curb for reverence and delicacy? Of course not. But we do come to Curb to see Larry stumble his way into horrible circumstances and then desperately try to unstumble himself. And in one key sequence, we never see Larry “unstumble,” or even admit contrition for literally groping a server at a party (Briga Heelan, from the eternally underrated Great News). Yes, it is an “accidental groping.” But the show quickly cuts away from the action, without showing Larry trying desperately to explain what happened. In fact, he never mentions the incident to a single other person in the episode.

Not only does this rob the episode from one of its key comedic energy generators — the “unstumbling,” if you will — it feels like an act of abrupt erasure of consequences, particularly in the context of an episode chock-full of “Larry does bad things involving women’s bodies,” including: Having lots of opinions on Lennon Parham‘s pregnancy, using Megan Ferguson‘s shirt as a glasses-cleaner without asking, giving Cheryl Hines an allergic reaction from an ickily framed act of oral sex, literally thwacking Parham in the head with a heavy door. To be fair — it is likely the show is setting up “Larry gets #MeToo’d” as a season-long arc, so it could be delaying David’s reactions until it absolutely needs them. And we do see Heelan and Ferguson discuss what to do about David, giving them some agency. And in no way shape or form do we view David as a “hero” or condone what he’s doing (he even admits to understanding Hines’ “moral superiority” when rekindling something with him), and in no way shape or form do I view “taking away opportunities for surprising physical comedy from female comedians” as something worth pursuing. But all of this did combine with the show’s newfound energy to create something of a bitter aftertaste, a need for immediate reckoning with the fire it’s so interested in playing with.

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Image via HBO

The last season of Curb Your Enthusiasm aired in 2017, meaning it’s been three years since Larry David’s vision hit the screen. Perhaps this wild premiere needed to be wild, perhaps David needed to get out as much pent up frustration and creative energy he’s accumulated in the three year gap. Perhaps the remainder of the season will slow down and feel more like previous series highlights. But, if this rat-a-tat pace remains the new energy for the new season, it’s gonna take some getting used to. For better or for worse, this episode of Curb is the Mad Max: Fury Road of Curb — we’ll see if the rest of the season is given any room to pump the breaks and deal.

Rating: ★★★

Curb Your Enthusiasm airs on HBO Sunday nights at 10:30pm EST.

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Image via HBO

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