With a million things in the world over which to be incensed and terrified—terrorism, environmental calamity, nuclear war, everything and anything related to our criminal commander-in-chief—it’s nice to know that Larry David is still around to fret and grumble about the minor things in life. There’s nothing particularly novel about the return of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, and that’s precisely how Larry—and fans—want it. Once more griping about the trivial and the absurd, the star is in fine finnicky form in the tenth season premiere, this time around complaining about overactive pregnant women, excessive use of talcum powder, and cups of java that are so cold, they don’t pass the “nose test” (i.e. David sticking his schnoz in the cup to gauge the beverage’s temperature).
As is generally the case, Curb doesn’t make many nods to prior outings in an attempt to create some sort of overarching serialized narrative; when we pick up with David at the outset of tonight’s premiere, he’s his same old egotistical, crotchety self, bantering with trusty cohort Leon (J.B. Smoove) about black and white skin colors. A trip to the new coffee shop of Mocha Joe (Saverio Guerra), an old nemesis from the season seven finale, leads to predictable antagonism, thanks to a scone that’s too soft, a table that’s too wobbly, and a cup of java that Larry and Leon both claim is way too cold. Enmity ensues, with Larry creating hostility over inconsequential matters because he just can’t let anything go—and, of course, loves nothing more than to nitpick everything to death.
Directed and co-written by long-time Curb-er Jeff Schaffer, the episode veers into timelier territory when Jeff (Jeff Garlin) tells Larry that he doesn’t want to play golf with an old friend because the guy now has a habit of wearing a MAGA hat—the sort of thing that’s frowned upon by most who reside in Larry’s well-to-do Los Angeles. While Larry agrees that the MAGA hat is repulsive (he and Leon have previously sneered at a guy wearing one), he also realizes, in a moment of inspiration, that it’s exactly what he needs to get out of a lunch with Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal, whom he’d recently run into at Jeff and Susie’s (Susie Essman) dinner party.
Thus, Larry sets about wearing the MAGA hat as a “people repulser.” And naturally, it works like a charm, compelling Phil—and most others, save for an angry biker—to flee his company, much to his delight.
It’s pure Curb genius that Larry—recently famous for playing Bernie Sanders on Saturday Night Live—would use a Trumpian symbol in a manner that’s simultaneously self-serving and critical of the president. And it’s paired with a sly address of the #MeToo movement, which isn’t mentioned by name but plays a significant role in this stellar premiere. For starters, Jeff is aggravated that he’s now constantly mistaken for Harvey Weinstein (a pitch-perfect joke predicated on the duo’s resemblance to one another). Then, Larry—hungry at the party for pigs in a blanket, but unable to nab any—incites the wrath of a caterer who thinks he’s “ogling” her, resulting in a pantry confrontation that ends with Larry accidentally grabbing the woman’s breast. A testy conversation with his new assistant over her tattoo only exacerbates the public impression that Larry, through his usual combination of arrogance, insensitivity, and social cluelessness (and carelessness), is a sexual creep.
That these women’s claims of sexist mistreatment and abuse are unfounded—Larry’s a buffoon, not a predator—might read like Curb’s critique of #MeToo if not for the fact that the show’s only real target remains Larry himself. Amidst such hot-button material, there’s plenty of the comedian’s typical nonsense, including his disgust over Susie’s friend running on a treadmill and drinking coffee while on the cusp of giving birth. Larry’s intensifying clash with Mocha Joe soon comes to include Richard (Richard Lewis), who agrees to boycott the coffee peddler before promptly backtracking on his pledge of solidarity. And tying the entire episode together is the phrase “Happy New Year”—a salutation that Larry thinks shouldn’t be used after a calendar year’s first few days, and which he soon begins spitting at people, hilariously, as an outright insult.
Like last year’s “The Accidental Text on Purpose,” Curb tries to define a new weirdo social custom via “The Big Goodbye,” a technique in which Larry, having avoided someone at an evening event, makes up for that slight by giving them a raucous farewell on his way out the door. It’s a so-so concept around which the story thankfully doesn’t pivot, with the action instead splitting its time between various points of equally amusing interest. There’s a sense that Larry is eager to cram this installment full of every random frustration he’s had since the show’s 2017 outing, which gives the proceedings an enlivening rat-a-tat-tat energy.
“There’s a sense that Larry is eager to cram this installment full of every random frustration he’s had since the show’s 2017 outing, which gives the proceedings an enlivening rat-a-tat-tat energy.”
Most exciting of all, however, is Curb’s apparent decision to have its season-long narrative concern Larry’s attempt to get back together with ex-wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines). That unlikely affair, conducted behind the back of Cheryl’s new beau Ted Danson, begins at Jeff and Susie’s party with a humorous ventriloquist-dummy routine and innocuous kiss, escalates with a one-night stand, and then takes off with a ridiculous bit of oral sex that turns disastrous thanks to Larry’s use of the aforementioned powder. It’s a twist of the highest nonsensical order, and suggests that Larry’s romantic life will be front and center in this latest run—a highly personal focus that can only lead to the sort of awkward, bumbling, inappropriate humor that’s long been the star’s trademark.
Whether Larry and company can keep things lively, loony, and laugh-out-loud funny for another nine episodes remains to be seen. But on the basis of this premiere, I’d say the chances are—yes, you knew it was coming—pretty, pretty good.
For more, listen to Curb Your Enthusiasm star Jeff Garlin on The Last Laugh podcast.