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Josh Reviews Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season Nine!

I thought for sure that we’d seen the end of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but after a hiatus of six years, the longest break in the series’ history (and the longest break I can think of in between series of a show that was not officially cancelled), lo and behold, we got a ninth season of Curb this year!

I thought seasons seven (which gave us a Seinfeld reunion) and eight (with such all-time classics as “Palestinian Chicken”) were among the show’s best.  Sadly I can’t say the same about season nine.  I know some critics have really trashed this season, which I don’t think is warranted.  I still got a lot of enjoyment out of watching each episode of the misanthropic Larry David’s misadventures.  But things were noticeably uneven this year.

Each episode was jammed full of a TON of wonderful ideas.  It’s as if Larry David had been keeping an enormous notebook of ideas for all the years the show was away, and decided to pack several seasons’ worth of ideas into this one season.  But the problem this created was that most episodes felt overstuffed, with great ideas that weren’t given the room to breathe and so were then tossed away too quickly, without having the time needed to build to a proper comedic punchline.

This season’s episodes were, mostly, longer than usual.  Most clocked in at around 35 minutes in length.  But I still felt that the episodes were overstuffed and, at that length, started to feel shaggy.  In a connected problem, for the most part the multiple storylines in each episode didn’t all tie together at the end, as had long been the hallmark of this show (and Seinfeld before it).  And so lots of great jokes or bits would up feeling like throw-away ideas that went nowhere, rather than the way all of the show’s comedic ideas used to weave together by the end of an episode.

Still, this season was packed with so many classic comedic ideas: The “accidental text on purpose”; Larry’s representing himself in court (and “yoo-hoo”ing a judge); “patient-doctor confidentiality”; Larry’s offending an Uber driver having a catastrophic effect on his uber rating (not to mention the whole idea of ranking one’s datability by an Uber-style rating); Larry’s refusal to say “thank you for your service” to a veteran like everyone else automatically does; pants with a short fly; a deep analysis of the face made by a restaurant chef after a patron requests a change to the way a dish is prepared; men’s obsession with opening jars; Larry’s advising a prostitute on her wardrobe; “foisting” a terrible employee on an unsuspecting friend; Larry’s distaste at public displays of affection… and so much more!

Probably my favorite comedic moment in the season came in “Never Wait For Seconds!”, in which a Muslim investigator questions a parade of people with whom we have seen Larry get into fights in Curb seasons past — only the investigator takes Larry’s side in pretty much every instance.  That was so funny, with such wonderful callbacks.  (Speaking of callbacks, I also loved getting to see Anne Bedian as Shara from “Palestinian Chicken” back briefly in the second episode, “The Pickle Gambit.”)

After so long away, I was pleased that this season made sure to include so many long-time Curb favorites. Jeff and Susie (Jeff Garlin and Susie Essman) are as important to Curb as Larry David himself, and both got lots of great (terrible!) stuff to do this year. Leon Black (J.B. Smoove) was introduced late in the show’s run (in season six), but at this point it’s impossible to imagine Curb without him.  His and Larry’s unlikely friendship has become one of my favorite things about the show, and their scenes together are always gold.

I was pleased to see Cheryl Hines and Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen and Richard Lewis all back again.  (Though listing all those names I am reminded that so many of these great storylines this year didn’t pay off the way I’d expected or hoped.  The idea of Ted Danson dating Cheryl is a great one that seemed rife for comedic potential, but after the first episode or two that story faded into the background.  I loved the bit about Larry and Richard Lewis competing as to who would get to the restaurant early enough to get the best seat — that is an all-time classic bit — though I wish Richard had been given more of substance to do this year.)

The one supporting character who did get a huge, unexpected spotlight was Bob Einstein as Marty Funkhouser.  This was the season of the Funkhouser!!  There was a ton of crazy Funkhouser stuff this year, and I loved it all, from his water-obsessed girlfriend to his amazing over the top apology (following Larry’s previous criticism) towards the end of the season.  (Though I think one of the season’s biggest missteps was the idea that Larry was involved in the death of Funkhouser’s young nephew.  That was too dark, even for this show, in my opinion, and it made it too hard to laugh at some of the great Funkhouser business that followed that event.)

For the most part, I enjoyed this season’s story-arc about the fatwa being called on Larry David after Muslims take offense at his attempt to mount Fatwa! The Musical.  I thought Larry’s ridiculous disguise in the season’s early going was very funny, and I loved the scenes of Salman Rushdie giving him advice.  I didn’t expect to actually get to see the production of Fatwa!, but I loved the glimpses we got of it in the finale.  That Lin-Manuel Miranda was so heavily involved in the show’s final two episodes was a fun surprise for me.  Mr. Miranda was a lot of fun playing an obnoxious version of himself, and of course the scenes we got to see of Fatwa! were a riot.  I liked the idea of Larry’s duel-gone-wrong with Lin-Manuel mirroring that famous sequence from Hamilton, although the comedic impact of that was significantly lessened seeing as how Curb had already done this exact same storyline, and much better, with The Producers back in season four.

As always, we got some fantastic guest stars this season.  Lin-Manuel Miranda was terrific, as I’d just mentioned.  I enjoyed Bryan Cranston as Larry’s therapist, with whom Larry gets into a debate about the chairs in his office.  I was delighted to see Lauren Graham in a multi-episode guest spot as a new love interest for Larry.  Ms. Graham was down for anything and she had great chemistry with Larry.  They gave her a number of stories with intriguing potential, especially the suggestion that perhaps her son doesn’t actually have autism, he’s just terribly behaved.  And so I was bummed that she wound up getting dropped from the show so quickly towards the end of the season.  (How is it that Larry’s threatening her son had no follow-up consequences?  How is it that the show didn’t mine more story out of her job as a network censor?)  Elizabeth Banks was fun as a woman turned on by Larry’s fatwa, though (are you seeing a trend here?) I wish she’d had more to do — she popped up for a few short scenes and then was gone.  I loved seeing F. Murray Abraham as a disgruntled actor in Fatwa!, and it was a pleasure seeing Nick Offerman back on TV as the Fatwa! stage manager.

For the past several seasons, Larry David had run Curb along with the trifecta of Seinfeld vets Alec Berg, David Mandel, and Jeff Schaffer.  But because Alec Berg is currently running Silicon Valley, while Dave Mandel is running Veep, this left only Jeff Schaffer to be involved with this season.  I highly suspect that the breakup of this team is a big reason for this season’s inconsistent quality.  TV shows are special, magical things, and sometimes that alchemy is hard to recapture.  I wasn’t expecting this to be a problem for Curb, since Larry David has such a strong comedic voice that has always driven the show, but I guess even the great Larry David was challenged by bringing his show back after so many years on the bench.

Still, even a weaker season of Curb is always enjoyable.  And with the news that a tenth season is already in the works, I am optimistic that 1) we won’t have to wait six more years for our next dose of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and 2) that the next season will be an improvement on this one.  I look forward to it!

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