Curb Your Enthusiasm review – Larry’s back, and funnier than ever

The return of the angriest yet most comforting comedy on television brings the perfect formula of celebrity cameos, snark and screaming

After the 10th season of Curb Your Enthusiasm debuted in January 2020, it seemed like all anyone could talk about was Larry David’s deployment of a red Maga cap as a tool to conveniently repel people in liberal Los Angeles. Surely season 11, the first of the Covid era, would feature a spin on pandemic life no one could see coming, right? Well, there’s never been anything about this show that’s been predictable; you can practically hear Larry David shrug an “eh” at the thought of tackling such an obvious issue.

Which isn’t to say the season premiere, airing 21 years after the series premiered as an hour-long HBO special, won’t be considered an instant classic to many. Indeed, we now live in a world where Jon Hamm has spoken Yiddish on television, a true hallelujah moment for an admittedly small percentage of the world’s population, but a gift wrapped in a bow to Larry David’s most dedicated core. (We knew Hanukkah was coming early this year, but not this early.)

The three mamaloshen terms were beshert (meaning “meant to be,” often as a descriptor of a loved one), tsuris (meaning “troubles”), and shanda (which is a good way to describe someone who gives tsuris to your beshert.)

Hamm (oy, Hamm of all names?) accuses Albert Brooks of being a shanda when an embarrassing secret is discovered at the end of the episode, one of the only references to Covid. David’s decision to largely put the pandemic in the rearview fits perfectly with the tone of the series, which has always shoved aside life’s bigger and more realistic problems and focused on the frustrating aggravations of minutiae.

As ever, season 11’s first episode sees David and his band of wandering Jews roaming from lunch to dinner to the occasional business meeting, the swirl of a consequence-free life devoted to screaming at one another about how to properly sit down on a sofa or whether it’s right to bug a guy with early onset dementia over a forgotten payment. Even though tension, conflict, loud voices, and fury erupt from the screen, this display holds, for some (and I count myself in this group, so help me), a great catharsis, even comfort. The exaggerated wealth in Larry’s circle brings no joy, but excludes no worry. It’s like the old joke: I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. Rich is better.

This season’s premise is bit less absurd than the last one’s “spite store” (Larry opening a coffee shop next door to one that has wobbly tables and squishy scones) and feels like an expansion of one of the better arcs from Seinfeld. Larry sells a pitch to Netflix to create a new show – Young Larry – loosely based on his early years as a comic. When he leaves the first meeting and says, “Don’t give me any notes!”, one has to wonder if this wasn’t a moment of cinéma vérité. HBO can’t be too thrilled with all the Netflix branding filling out the frame.

The episode begins with a ridiculous red herring: Larry is awakened in the middle of the night, and by the time he gets downstairs a burglar has fallen into his pool and drowned. There’s not a moment’s thought about who the person actually is, but the fact that Larry’s pool lacks an up-to-code fence means trouble. The dead burglar’s brother, sensing an extortion opportunity, wants Larry to cast his untalented daughter, in the new Netflix show. Despite the fact that she is a not-exactly-svelte Latina (played hilariously by newcomer (Keyla Monterroso Mejia) and the character is a thin Jewess named Marsha Lifshitz, Larry agrees.

Which brings us back to Jon Hamm. Larry bumps into him at Albert Brooks’s house. Brooks (who has not appeared on the show before, somehow) has decided to take a page from Huck Finn’s book, and wants to see how his own funeral would look. He says he’s been to a few of late, and it struck him how much it stinks that the one person who would most like to hear all the praise is the one who is dead.

It’s unclear if Brooks will stick around this season or if he is just passing through. (Weirdly, Richard Lewis, who spars with Larry better than anyone, wasn’t seen at all in the episode, and neither was Cheryl Hines, but her name was in the closing credits.) Someone not likely to reappear is Lucy Liu, who Larry has just started dating, but the relationship falls apart after he walks into a glass door (“It looks like air!”) and he begins to look feeble in her eyes. The rest of the usual gang, Jeff (Jeff Garlin), Susie (Susie Essman), and Leon (JB Smoove) are back, for the usual symphony of screaming and four-letter words. It’s a perfect formula.

There are times when I take a step back and realize how strange it is that Larry David (or even the watered-down version, George Costanza) is so popular in the mainstream. I recently asked a fellow New York Jew about this phenomenon, and the best we could come up with is that for everyone else it must be like watching Star Wars: a peek into an alien fantasy realm. But for me, it’s like a visit home.

  • Curb Your Enthusiasm airs on Sundays on HBO and on Mondays on Sky Comedy


Jordan Hoffman

The GuardianTramp

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