Top Episodes is a feature in which we handpick the definitive best episodes of a groundbreaking, beloved, or otherwise awesome television series. This article originally ran in 2017 and has been updated.
In December 1997, I threw up on Jason Alexander.
Well, maybe it was at his feet — the jury’s still out.
Alexander, then about to enter his final season portraying the neurotic and quick-tempered George Costanza, was enjoying a pleasant breakfast buffet in Maui. Almost seven years old and raised in a household where Seinfeld was routinely on TV, I had seen him around the resort for a few days, always too nervous to say anything. On my last morning before flying back home, my parents pushed me to approach his table; who could say no to an (allegedly) cute first grader?
But something happened on the short walk across the restaurant — my stomach started to churn, later giving way to the flu. When I opened my mouth to speak, only vomit came out.
“It was horrifying,” my dad says. “We didn’t know what to do!”
Since the last season of Seinfeld had likely been written at this point, I’ve long been curious why this incident never made it into Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David’s LA-based comedic tour de force, assuming Alexander told his producer and co-stars about the episode. But on second thought, it makes sense my story was never a random side plot — it wasn’t petty enough.
David, the real life version of George Costanza, complains and argues his way through dinner parties, frozen yogurt lines, celebrity birthday parties, memorial services, and virtually everywhere in Los Angeles, Manhattan, and at one point, a Parisian parking lot. Over the course of eight seasons, David and his friends with extremely high tolerances for bullshit float in and out of some of the most awkward and cringeworthy situations ever put on the small screen.
Of course David couldn’t have included a story about a kid puking up breakfast at his feet, because he first had to fight back against stop and chatters, teach a girl scout how to use a tampon, fire a chef for wearing a toupee, and argue with David Schwimmer’s father about the ratio of cashews to raisins in a trail mix package.
As our favorite bald respecter of wood returns this week, we decided to revisit our favorite Curb episodes, chock full of hair-raising awkwardness and some of the funniest one-liners in TV history.
And almost 20 years later, if by any chance you’re reading this Jason, I’m sorry.
— Steven Edelstone
20. “Shaq” from Season 2, Episode 8
Premiere Date: November 11, 2001
Are You Crazy? (Larry’s Big Issue) “Breaking news: death’s less important when the Lakers lose,” Earl Sweatshirt raps on Doris single “Hive,” a play on how important the Lakers are to the city of Los Angeles (at least when they’re good). Larry and Richard Lewis get Jeff’s courtside seats for the opening game of the season, right next to the Lakers bench. When Shaq runs to the scorers table to get subbed back in, Larry stretches out his legs, tripping the Lakers’ star player, knocking him out of the game. Everyone in Los Angeles hates Larry, even yelling at him on the street, but unexpectedly, everything starts going his way.
“Get the Fuck Outta My House, Larry!” (Susie Quote) One of the few episodes where Susie doesn’t appear, the best insult comes from Jeff, obviously furious after he loses his hard-won Lakers season tickets. “What the fuck, what the fuck?” he screams at Larry as he runs into him across the street. “What can I do? Can I do anything?” a defeated Larry asks. “Buy the team!” Jeff responds.
Vanilla Bullshit Things (The Best LD Observation): “Can someone tell me what they did to the bottom of the broccoli?” Larry complains to deaf ears at dinner in the episode’s opening scene. “Is there one person at this table that can eat cauliflower?” he continues, though the other five people at dinner, Cheryl included, completely ignore his whining.
He’s Not My Best Friend! (Hilarious Moment Involving Someone in Larry’s Circle) Surprisingly, most of Larry’s inner circle is absent for this episode, with Jeff only appearing in a couple scenes and Cheryl and Richard taking a sort of backseat to the general plot. The best moment involving any of the major characters comes in the form of Cheryl’s disapproving looks when Larry decides to buy the entire coffee shop whatever they wanted. “This new Larry is too enthusiastic. I miss the old Larry!” she complains.
Stop and Chat (This Episode’s Guest Star): By 2001, Shaquille O’Neal was coming off of a championship season and was the biggest star in his sport, so this was a huge get for the show. But as we all know now, Shaq is a hilarious personality, which showed throughout this episode. “The whole world knows that peanut butter is a dairy product,” he proclaims while playing Scattergories with perfect deadpan. Though he’s only on screen for maybe 25% of the episode, Shaq steals the show, as he nearly always does.
Socially Assassinated (Who Gets Fucked Over): The Lakers team doctor, Craig Wiggins (Joel McKinnon Miller), at Shaq’s hospital bedside following the injury, cheated at Scattergories, adding a couple extra words to his list after the timer ran out. Larry caught the doctor fudging the score and when Wiggins went to the bathroom, he told the star player about it, resulting in Shaq firing his doctor.
Episode as a GIF:
Get In That Ass (Best Advice Given): “Aren’t you going to say goodbye?” is the episode’s mantra, repeated multiple times as Larry fails to say goodbye or good night when he leaves social situations. It’s not the best or most pointed advice out of the show’s history, but it hilariously gets recalled towards the end when Cheryl’s parents decide to fly home early so they could “leave you with your chaos.”
Pretty, Pretty, Pretty Good (Analysis): “I get so much satisfaction out of seeing 19,000 people disappointed when they lose,” Larry says at the beginning of the episode (though he may not enjoy it when his team wins either). But his pleasure at seeing disappointment works out much better than he could have imagined — he gets out of having to write a letter of recommendation for an acquaintance and doesn’t have to make a page in a birthday book. For once, his being hated by everyone actually benefits him, flipping the script of how Larry’s usual interactions generally go.
— Steven Edelstone
19. “The Ski Lift” from Season 5, Episode 8
Premiere Date: November 20, 2005
Are You Crazy? While the preceding episodes don’t conceal it, “The Ski Lift” confirms one thing: there are no depths that Larry won’t sink to in order to avoid taking the kidney test to see if he’s a match for his bedridden friend, Richard Lewis. When he and Jeff are exposed for hoping Lewis’ comatose cousin Louis Lewis quietly passes on — thereby possibly giving Richard one of his kidneys — plan B is characteristically ambitious.
After discovering the head of the kidney consortium, Ben Heineman, is prone to helping out “friends,” Larry invites him and his daughter on a ski trip in the hopes of bumping Lewis up. How Larry gets to that point (and the way he conspires to convince the Orthodox Heineman father and daughter that he also practices) makes for a brilliantly mortifying 30 minutes.
“Get The Fuck Outta My House, Larry!” Consigned to the floor of the ski lodge during their stay, Larry tries to quietly climb in beside his fake Orthodox wife Susie in the middle of the night. With Jeff quietly accepting his lot on the floor in the next room, Larry screws up and Susie’s reaction is perfectly heartless. “You think I care about your back? Do you know how much I’ve done for you already this weekend? Get the fuck out of the bed!” Whimpering and shivering, Larry tries to explain that he’s cold. “GET THE FUCK OUT OF BED!” Susie makes her point loud and clear.
Vanilla Bullshit Things: Nearing the end of his tether, Lewis straight up tells Larry that he’s counting on him “stepping up” and taking the kidney test at the start of “The Ski Lift.” Before plucking up the courage for that, however, he absently whines to his old friend that his baseball hero Mickey Mantle, whose 500th home-run ball he owns, once got bumped up the list. Without missing a beat, Larry says, “Yeah, well, maybe if you were a bigger celebrity you’d be on the top of the list!” Sometimes the truth hurts but, seeing as Larry and Lewis’ friendship is largely based on being frank with each other, Larry’s scathing observation manages to transcend offense.
He’s Not My Best Friend! Larry rarely holds back when it comes to giving his small yet close circle of friends a piece of his mind. Every time he hangs Jeff out to dry with a cutting putdown or caustic observation? Chances are he’s coming from a good place. When he refuses to change how he acts around Lewis when he’s knocking on death’s door? That’s true friendship. Early on in “The “Ski Lift,” Larry refuses to budge on taking the kidney test for his old friend. After serving him with a putdown of his own, Lewis turns to Larry and says Larry’s sweater is appropriate for an Andy Williams Summer Show. Subtle enough, but also quite scathing.
Stop and Chat: From Hugh Hefner and Gary Player in “The Smoking Jacket” to Rosie O’Donnell in “The Bowtie,” Season Five of Curb You Enthusiasm has its fair share of guest stars cropping up here and there. Though it’s short-lived, comedian George Lopez advises Larry to befriend Ben Heineman, making him quite instrumental in how “The Ski Lift” plays out. “Buddy up to him, kiss his ass. Who knows? He’ll probably bump Richard up the list.” Were it not for, you know, Larry being Larry, he might well have.
Socially Assassinated: When Larry removes his glasses and tells Lewis’ nurse Lisa Thompson, “I think you took the ball, stashed it in your unusually large vagina, and marched right out of here,” the expression on Lewis’ face is an absolute joy to behold. Yes, Larry goes there. In another instance, his accusation would be pretty indefensible. But, seeing how Lisa a.) needlessly tries to convince Larry that her old flame, Jeff “These Big Vagina Ladies Are Getting Away with Murder” Greene is severely under-endowed and b.) did, in fact, steal Lewis’s baseball, Larry’s cell phone and god knows what else, Larry’s audacious claim actually winds up proving to be riotous. Still, if you can manage to watch this scene without your jaw hitting the floor, you’re probably not doing it right.
Episode as a GIF:
Get In That Ass: You know you’re really breaking down the walls of social taboo when Larry David — LARRY DAVID — turns to you, with an expression of mild disgust, and utters the words, “Way too much information, ok?” Although he isn’t wrong, when he offers up this counsel to Lisa early on in “The Ski Lift,” one can’t help but think he should consider heeding his own advice now and again.
Pretty, Pretty, Pretty Good: Although Season Five is arguably the weakest of the show’s eight seasons to date, “The Ski Lift” is a masterclass of highlights. Speckled with some exceptional one-liners from Larry, Lewis, Jeff, and others, it’s a by-the-book blueprint of how keeping it fairly streamlined and focusing on two or three narrative arcs is often key to making the finesse of Larry’s writing shine through. Finding LD to be someone who is prepared to adapt a totally new persona in order to shirk responsibility — as a man who offers a starving Orthodox woman edible panties as a snack — this is the definition of a watching-through-one’s-fingers episode.
— Brian Coney
18. “Chet’s Shirt” from Season 3, Episode 1
Premiere Date: September 15, 2002
Are You Crazy? Everything revolves around the episode’s namesake, which Larry first sees in a photo of Cheryl’s friend Barbara’s dead husband (that photo, by the way, is so hilariously humdrum). So taken by this two-toned black and white shirt, Larry ignores Barbara’s tears — hey, it’s been four months — and needles her about where her dead spouse got it. Eventually, he finds himself in ownership of three of them, one of which he gives to Ted Danson, who is irked when he realizes it has a tear in it — “You didn’t get me a gift,” he tells Larry, “you got me a defective shirt.” Things pretty much go downhill from there, despite Larry’s excitement about investing in a new high-end restaurant.
“Get the Fuck Outta My House, Larry!” No Susie this episode, but Larry is hilariously dressed down by a dude who’s apoplectic after seeing Larry throw an apple in his curbside trash can. “Next guy I see throwing garbage in there, I’m gonna kick his ass,” he warns. “I’ll give that message to the next guy,” Larry dryly responds.
Vanilla Bullshit Things: Larry’s potential investment in Bobo’s prompts plenty of restaurant industry observations. What’s with the lack of sweet potatoes in California dining, Larry asks, and why is it so hard to get a waiter’s attention. His solution to that latter issue? Bells at every table, each at a different tone so the waiters don’t get confused. “I’m so appalled by the idea that I’m struck dumb,” says fellow investor Michael York. Larry’s also very anti-kabob (a “kabobaphobe,” York quips): “I’m a little afraid of the stick, frankly.”
He’s Not My Best Friend! Ted wants Larry and Jeff to play Wizard of Oz characters at his daughter’s birthday party, and Jeff’s robust frame makes him a shoe-in for the Cowardly Lion. Unfortunately, Larry refuses to play the Tin Man — “I have no connection to the Tin Man” — and demands to play the Lion, resulting in Jeff relenting. “You do the lion,” he says. “I’ll be the fat Tin Man that’ll disappoint children.”
Stop and Chat: Ted’s a welcome presence any time he pops up, and “Chet’s Shirt” offers him an opportunity to show how he can be just as petty and obnoxious as Larry when it comes to the dumbest bullshit. Just look at them tugging the thing in the final moments — these are two children.
Socially Assassinated: Despite his good intentions, Ted ends up without a shirt and on the verge of an ass-kicking in the episode’s final moments. What he doesn’t realize is the dude who’s mad about Ted using his garbage can wouldn’t be nearly as pissed if it weren’t for his previous encounter with Larry. If Curb has one undeniable truth, it’s that Larry’s bad influence is ever rippling outward, ruining everyone who enters its orbit.
Episode as a GIF:
Get In That Ass: “If you give somebody a gift it’s supposed to be a gift, not a problem,” Ted says after Larry gives him a shirt with a hole in it and expects Ted to go get it fixed. Ted’s being kind of an asshole, but he’s not wrong.
Pretty, Pretty, Pretty Good: ”Chet’s Shirt” was the third season’s first episode, and here we see the show actively working to broaden its world. If the first two seasons felt relatively contained to Larry’s entertainment circles and comedy pursuits, the third season adds an extra layer with the restaurant storyline, which allows us to see our hero flailing around and annoying people in a world he doesn’t understand.
This episode also gives us one of Ted’s best performances, where he struggles not just with Larry’s behavior but with the general sense that their friendship is doomed. “Why are you doing this?!” Ted cries at one point. “Every time we get together we push and pull like this!” It’s such a genuine expression of frustration in a show that’s built on so many exaggerated behaviors, which of course only makes it funnier. On Curb, the realer the anger, the more hilarious it is.
— Randall Colburn
17. “The Seder” from Season 5, Episode 7
Premiere Date: November 13, 2005
Are You Crazy? Someone’s been taking Larry’s newspapers, and LD wants to get right down to the bottom of it. The good news is that he has two possible witnesses in “cranky neighbors” Mac and Ethyl, who claim they’ve seen a man in a suit roaming around his property. That juicy bit of information is enough for Larry to whittle down the suspect list to his other neighbor Dr. Mark (Rob Huebel), who has recently reunited with his estranged wife.
His return is one big exclamation mark for Larry, who theorizes that Mark may be snagging the papers out of spite, seeing how LD forgot to get him and his wife a Christmas gift earlier. Naturally, he uses his Seder dinner as a way to bring them all together… like a scheming count.
“Get the Fuck Outta My House, Larry!” Nobody’s psyched that Larry invited (friendly) sex offender Rick (Rob Corddry) to Seder, especially Cheryl who nearly has a panic attack on their stairwell earlier in the episode, but leave it to Susie to keep things real. “What the hell are you trying to pull, Larry?” she lights up with that Susie rage. “He should not be in our presence on a holy day. Any day. What the hell are you doing?”
Vanilla Bullshit Things: When Larry helps Mac and Ethyl with their groceries, he sees they bought some grape juice and beams with joy. “What is this? Grape juice? You guys drink grape juice? You never see people drinking grape juice. I think it’s a very underrated juice.” Of course, that camaraderie doesn’t extend to Mac’s own observation that everyone’s parked in front of his house for the Seder, to which Larry humorously protests: “Are you going out tonight? I think you’re here, aren’t you? So what’s the problem?”
When Mac continues to complain, stressing how this happens “every time [Larry] has a party,” Larry offers a BS apology and adds: “I’ll inform them next time.” Classic LD shrug-off.
He’s Not My Best Friend! Save for Jeff, who attends the Seder with Susie and Sammi, Larry’s Jewish rat pack sits this one out, leaving him all the time in the world to work on his golf swing and pal about with Rick the Sex Offender. Still, Jeff brings plenty to the table in this episode, pun intended, namely his conservative brother-in-law, Len Dunkel (Stephen Tobolowsky), who believes in all sorts of a wackadoo bullshit. “Have you heard of the theory, the 77?” he asks a befuddled Larry. “Okay, every 77 years there’s a great president. Washington, Lincoln, F.D.R., and… George W. Bush. We’re turning the whole damn world around.” Larry’s little grin says it all: You’re a fucking idiot.
Stop and Chat: Who would have thought that the one stop-and-chat to truly win over Larry would be from a sex offender? That’s kind of the joke, because really, out of all the run-ins from Curb history, few have warranted an unlikely friendship like that of Larry and Rick’s. On the surface, the guy’s a total ace in the hole: he’s got “the touch” for rickety newspaper boxes, he plays golf (and eats and breathes, in that order), he knows how to help others with their golf swing, he can make a whole batch of latkes, and he’s incredibly honest. But, he’s also a sex offender, and that’s just not good for anyone. Kudos to Corddry, though, for bringing charm to the character, and making us kind of see why LD would invite him over for dinner.
Socially Assassinated: Although he acts like Don Corleone all throughout the Seder — shaking down Dr. Mark the second he arrives with threats both passive (“Something wrong, doctor?”) and aggressive (“You took that paper. I know you did.”) — Larry’s hit list really only comes down to Len, who’s later outed by Larry for pointing his son toward the hidden matzoh/afikoman. But even that’s debatable given that the source of Larry’s information comes from Rick, who, in the “throes of a moral quandary,” confesses that he saw Len whisper the location to his son. Maybe it’s just Tobolowsky’s delivery, but the way Len spits back to Larry, “Oh, your friend the convicted sex offender!”, leads this writer to believe that nobody at the table really looks down upon Len. Then again, there’s very little time to process the information since Sammi starts choking soon after. Thank god for Rick!
Episode as a GIF:
Get In That Ass: It’s not the most orthodox of friendships, but Larry’s bond with Rick warrants a revelatory golf lesson for LD. After the two meet cute, they head back to Rick’s, where he helps Larry with his swing, all by using his state-of-the-art camera equipment to map out what he’s doing right and wrong. “Watch it in slow motion, okay,” he tells Larry, who he affectionally dubs his “best student of the day.” “Look at that. See, you’re bringing your hips through.” In any other situation, it might be a pleasant afternoon between two grown men, but then you remember Rick’s sordid past, and you immediately start questioning why he has this equipment, and the whole scene turns icky pretty, pretty… pretty fast.
Pretty, Pretty, Pretty Good: From strictly a narrative standpoint, “The Seder” works exactly like an old Seinfeld episode, specifically in the way that David weaves in an unlikable character into an unlikely situation, and wraps everything up with a baker’s bow. But, there’s something here that goes thematically deeper than your traditional episode, as if David’s actually trying to say something with the premise itself. By pairing Rick’s story with the traditional Passover Seder dinner, it’s almost like he’s commenting on the hypocrisy of our own social values, namely how we’re so easily wont to cast aside people as we try to preach about unity.
Sure, Rick fuels Larry’s ego, praising “The Puffy Shirt” episode and regaling him with all sorts of flattery, and that’s easily why he wins over LD, but there’s something to be said about Larry’s invitation. He didn’t have to invite him, but he felt guilty about not doing it, and that guilt says a lot about the episode as a whole, and also about Larry as an individual. For as long as we can remember, he’s always existed on the fringe as an outsider of popular opinion, and one might argue Rick’s situation spoke to him. Or, maybe this is all bullshit and just a great premise. You make the call.
— Michael Roffman