Our Sultan of Shrivel, Our Czar of Can’t-Look-Away, Seinfeld creator Larry David returns with the ninth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm this Sunday, after a six-year absence. For eight seasons between 2000 and 2011, the man who perfected the weeknight sitcom in the ‘90s upped his own ante, taking harrowing discomfort to Herculean echelons Darren Aronofsky could only dream of. If you thought mother! was gruesome, try watching David explain a poorly landed affirmative-action joke to a dinner party full of black guests. Curb Your Enthusiasm took elements of mumblecore, Neil Hamburger, and postmodern anti-comedy, fusing them with Seinfeld’s borscht-belt humor, with David as its perfect conduit, the hapless, self-destructive schlemiel.
The series would’ve been nothing without its rich nuance, though; David genuinely cares for his once, former, and possibly future wife Cheryl, and they had plenty of tender flirtations even after his worst exercises of judgment. Even his occasionally lecherous manager Jeff Greene and his own foul-mouthed, Larry-hating chainsaw of a wife Susie brought profane slapstick to a household that had identifiable relationship elements if not plausible ones. But we’re not here to celebrate those aspects. We’re here to cringe, sigh, gape, perhaps even scream, at the deeply inadvisable and futile efforts of Larry David, a superhero who can leap from one problem to a much, much bigger one in a single bound. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … a man who respects wood.
Here are the 10 most jaw-dropping instances where our Bald Asshole turned a bad situation into a world-historical ballet of errors.
10. Saying and then not saying the N-word
From “The N Word”, Season Six, Episode Eight
Only with this show would a white protagonist uttering the N-word rank at only No. 10 on a list like this, and that’s due to a couple key factors. One, only the Trump presidency has been building to a moment like this for a longer time – when your uproarious rated-R comedy series gets to a sixth season, there are only so many ways you can still shock your audience. We’d been expecting this ever since Larry confessed in the very first season, “I tend to say stupid things to black people sometimes,” and taking in a displaced African-American family via Hurricane Katrina called the Blacks for the Season Six arc was basically circling the wagons.
And two, Larry was merely quoting a racist on his cell phone that he overheard in a hospital bathroom. As he repeatedly recounts the use of the most vilified slur in America to various acquaintances, the show, by this time, knows we know a black person is going to walk by at that exact second, which sets up the rest of the dominoes, i.e. hearing the word causes Jeff’s black surgeon to shave the manager’s head under duress and postpone the procedure. So, when the show flips the formula in a hearing at the end, where Larry is required to testify what he heard, the walls are instead closing in because he’s already seen the damage the word has done. In his head-shaking anxiety, you can feel the palpable fear in your own embarrassment for the schmuck.
09. Heckling Jeff and Susie’s daughter Sammi
From “The Hot Towel”, Season Seven, Episode Four
Once again, Curb Your Enthusiasm forces one to rewire the standards to which they order decency. For anyone else, scoffing and booing someone’s kid while they sing would be an unthinkable act of self-mortification. But it’s hardly the most damaging thing Larry’s done to a child, or even this particular child, Jeff and Susie’s daughter Sammi – let’s not forget how he inadvertently got her drunk and stole her dog in Season Three. But this is the rare Curb scene where you’re actually fantasizing about being in Larry’s shoes rather than him pilfering nightmare fuel from your deepest subconscious.
After all, wouldn’t you feel miffed if you bought someone a $300 gift certificate to a swanky restaurant, only to have it be overshadowed by your obnoxious friend trying to pass off their daughter’s bad singing as a “gift from the heart.” As such, each beat, from Larry loudly proclaiming, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” to him prematurely interrupting the song and shutting it down altogether, and to the shocked faces of partygoers and Susie’s somewhat muted rage, is heart-racing for both better and worse.
Of course, no one’s sympathizing with him when he later screams, “Shut the fuck up!”, at the singing teen once again — in her own home, no less, where Susie really gives him what he deserves: “You heartless piece of shit!” And then, he gets his ass kicked.
08. Hoisting Himself On His Own Petard After Trying to Get Cheryl Back
From “Seinfeld”, Season Seven, Episode 10
The seventh season of Curb is a wet dream for Larry David supernerds because it’s a Seinfeld reunion, and it’s also terribly lenient on our leading man, with partner-in-crime Jerry Seinfeld soaking up some of his foibles with empathy and understanding that he only receives from Jeff, like, half the time. What’s more, his plot to try and get Cheryl back by including her in the reunion episode as George’s girlfriend actually looks like it’s working. In fact, just about everything seems to be going well for him finally, save for a minor scruple involving Mocha Joe (don’t ask) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ $500 side table (which he could replace without thinking). But, no one stops Larry quite like himself, and after another series of fortunate bones get tossed his way, including Cheryl showing up at his place, he still manages to lose her. Why? Because she doesn’t “respect wood.”
07. The Double Goodbye
From “Porno Gil”, Season One, Episode Three
Only three episodes in is where Curb found its calling as a spinner of anti-fantasies, putting Larry through the unthinkable: the faux pas of breaking a lamp at the party of someone you barely know and being asked to leave, then forced to return again to that murder scene because you left your expensive watch. Sure, maybe that wouldn’t be so horrifying on its own if it were you, but it’s Larry David, who wouldn’t take off his shoes in the house like the hosts requested, and gets chewed out loudly and thoroughly by the woman sweeping up the glass from the lamp.
Cheryl, of course, leaves him to his own devices, even though she wanted to leave the party most of all – the host, Gil (Bob Odenkirk) is a porn actor fond of recounting tales from on the job. Imagine telling someone you just disrespected twice in their own home, “My feet have a tendency to get a little chilly.” At the same time, the audience can feel that tiny silver of justified smarm in their anti-hero’s soft-spoken bullshit when Gil’s wife Melanie shrieks, “He’s psychotic, get him out of the house!”
06. Discussing a nine-year-old’s “pussy rash”
From “The Table Read”, Season Seven, Episode Nine
Do you honestly think Larry is getting out alive when an adolescent girl with a “rash on her pussy” won’t stop texting him? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.