The Pitch: It’s a new year and everyone’s happy except Larry David. In the Season 10 premiere, our bald social assassin is angrier than ever. He’s breaking selfie sticks. He’s pushing down scooters. He’s dishing out cutoffs left and right. It’s mass hysteria for a hysterical man. Even worse, Larry has an old enemy back in his crosshairs, the inimitable Mocha Joe (Saverio Guerra), whose new storefront is nothing but a vacuum of disappointment. The scones are muffins, the tables are wobbly, and the coffee’s not even hot enough to require a single nose test. And while there’s a chance he could reunite with his ex-wife Cheryl (Hines), he also might be the next headline in the MeToo movement. So, in other words, Curb Your Enthusiasm is pretty, pretty … pretty good again.
Back to Basics: One of the biggest issues of Season 9 — and even Season 8, to a certain extent — was that Curb attempted to emulate the cartoonish trajectory of Seinfeld. Whereas Larry once went toe to toe with everyday grievances, he was now dealing with larger-than-life obstacles, from being banned from New York City by Mayor Bloomberg to being issued a fatwa by the Supreme Leader of Iran. With Seinfeld, that evolution worked because you were watching similarly evolving characters in a medium that demands such extravagances (not to mention, it just earned it). The issue for Curb is that the turn essentially loses what made the show so revelatory. Because when you dial back to the roots of the series, the novelty was seeing all our favorite Seinfeld-isms incorporated in a not-too-distant reality fully embellished by Robert B. Weide’s docuseries style.
“Happy New Year”, then, is a refreshing return to form. For the first time in over a decade, Larry seems to be dealing with the kind of guff that we can relate to once again. There’s the aforementioned stupidity of the selfie sticks and scooters, accoutrements of our ensuing modernity, but there’s also a glutton’s worth of more analog gripes. Like cutoffs for wishing someone a happy new year (or even assuming it’s happy). Or leaning on a big goodbye to avoid socializing with schmucks at gatherings. Or the insistency on calling someone after you land. These are all the type of things we can nod at and yet also the kind of trinkets that can naturally move the story — and this episode does feels natural. There’s a very laissez faire attitude to the premiere, a tone that’s set by its opening scene: Larry and Leon (J.B. Smoove) just shooting the shit and having a stroll.
Just like the old days.
Make Larry Great Again: But, as we all know, it’s not the old days. It’s Trump’s America. It’s outrage culture. It’s the MeToo Movement. All of these topics are going to factor into this season, but not in the way that seems so egregiously played out. At least not so far. With “Happy New Year”, writers David, Jeff Schaffer, and Steve Leff wield in the topical through situational means, be it Larry wearing a MAGA hat to get out of a lunch, or accidentally groping a caterer while reaching for h’ordeuvres, or Jeff hilariously being mistaken for Harvey Weinstein. Like Seinfeld‘s greatest hits or Curb‘s own salad days, there’s a cadence and a finesse to these scenarios that work for the story as opposed to the other way around. There’s a naturalism to them that’s aided by the industry we’re watching, and the fact that there’s admittedly a tangibility to these topics.
What also helps is Larry’s own irascibility. Ten seasons later, he’s crueler than ever, unwilling to relent and unlikely to change. Those days where he’d passively aggressively shrug and say, “Okay… okay…”? Long gone. Instead, we have a freewheelin’ jerkstore who’s willing to mansplain to pregnant mothers, call out opportunistic interracial couples, hideously make fun of his ailing ex-wife, and question someone’s personal tattoos. But there seems to be a day of reckoning ahead for LD, just as he’s attempting to do the same with his rival Mocha Joe, and seeing these parallel narratives unfold will be a delight. But again, it works because these are grounded grievances, made even more believable by the fact that Larry is such a beacon of problematic tendencies. He’s a melting pot of unpredictable micro-aggressions, so of course he’d be embroiled in cancel culture.
Curb Quotes to Keep:
–Larry to Philip Rosenthal about exporting Everybody Loves Raymond to Ethiopia: “I don’t like to leave the continent.”
–Richard Lewis to Larry about boycotting Mocha Joe’s: “What are you? My Jewish puppet master?”
–Leon on the color of his skin compared to Larry’s “porridge, cream of wheat” complexion: “I’m like a fucking Yoohoo.”
–Larry to Ted Danson about calling Cheryl after flight: “You don’t need to call her when you land. If there’s a plane crash, we’ll know about it.”
–Leon to Mocha Joe and his wobbly tables: “I got an uncle with a wobbly leg. Hate that motherfucker. Always leaning on everything.”
–Larry to Randy drinking coffee: “She has no regard for this fetus.”
–Larry complaining about Cheryl’s nightstand: “If all tables in this house were wobbly, you could live with that? You could live in a wobbly house?”
The Verdict: Simple, brisk, and remarkably timely, Curb Your Enthusiasm feels revitalized. There’s a sense of place again to the series, to the grievances, to Los Angeles that was lost in the past two seasons. Much of this stems from the less-is-more camerawork that Jeff Schaffer exhibits in this episode, but also the breezy narrative at hand. Sure, it’s sloppy as hell — and it’s best not to count up the number of ensuing arcs — but that’s also what makes it feel like Curb again. Looking back, the series has always been at its strongest when it affords itself to be unpredictable, to let the moments bleed, and to not be too beholden to them. There’s a whiff of that in “Happy New Year”, where you don’t really know if Larry’s exploits might lead to bigger problems or they just might be one-time stumble. If they can keep that anarchic pace going, then we’re in for quite a cup at Latte Larry’s.
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