Larry David has never been more relevant. Although his landmark HBO series, Curb Your Enthusiasm, has been on the back burner for over half a decade, his brand has only grown stronger, conquering new avenues with varying degrees of success. In 2013, he co-wrote and headlined Greg Mottola’s 2013 HBO movie, Clear History, alongside A-listers like Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Bill Hader, Kate Hudson, and Danny McBride. In 2015, he wrote and starred in the Broadway blockbuster, Fish In The Dark, which shattered all kinds of records during its short run. And later that same year, he turned heads across the nation with his Bernie Sanders impersonation for Saturday Night Live, a stint that carried over into 2016 and even included a pretty, pretty… pretty good hosting gig. (His first, to wit, which is quite ironic given his past working history with the show.) So, while, yes, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen him bring bread to Susie’s dinner parties or argue with Michael J. Fox over Parkinson’s etiquette, he’s hardly left the pop culture discussion, and with streaming being what it is these days, all of Curb‘s most popular quotes and deepest references have become more or less ubiquitous.
That’s what makes the series’ ninth season so intriguing (and also somewhat troubling). It’s been nearly 20 years since David first introduced his meta-role with the 1999 hour-long special, Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm, and naturally, there’s an expectation by now to his outrage by both his fans and the show itself. This was actually something the series mildly struggled with in the last go-around, as Larry was ascribed the role of a “social assassin,” making him less of a victim of social circumstances and more of this raving anti-hero waiting to pounce on any ridiculous social snafus. Yet, similar to the latter half of Seinfeld, some might argue the series has only grown stronger in light of its inherent self-awareness, what with episodes like “Palestinian Chicken”, “Mister Softee”, and “Larry vs. Michael J. Fox”, all of which were recently featured on our best-of list from this past week. The truth is that it doesn’t really matter how far David takes the joke, and by that same extension, what era he happens to be in. This is a show that thrived under both W. and Obama, and only grew stronger in the wake of 9/11, so really, it’s kind of impervious, much like the very character it revolves around.
“Foisted!”, the season nine premiere, offers another facelift on the long-running series. For starters, it’s about the slickest the show has ever appeared, opening up with sweeping cinematic shots over Los Angeles, as if to bring us back to the world we’ve been removed from for so long. (Let’s not forget, we haven’t actually been back in Los Angeles with the series since early season eight.) From there, returning director Jeff Schaffer’s work is about on par with the direction and cinematography of Clear History, coming off much like a Curb Your Enthusiasm film, and that’s not exactly a good thing. Granted, the series has always evolved with the times, moving from what appeared to be handheld digital cameras in the early aughts to a much higher definition sheen in the later years, but this new look is distracting to say the least. Reason being, the cinematic wash makes the comedy appear scripted, thanks to the sharper portraits and crisp shot selections, as opposed to the rugged direction of yesteryear that made everything appear more natural, as if you were seeing the action unfold at the same time as Larry. Couple this with the series’ ensuing self-awareness — LD might as well have been facing the camera during his lone “pretty, pretty … pretty good” moment — and it feels like a whole new iteration of Curb Your Enthusiasm, for better or worse.
Definitely not worse, though. We’re only a single episode into the new season, and already there’s enough of the new Larry to love, whether it’s the way he gets a kick out of imagining an office chair that doubles as a toilet seat for his constipated assistant (Carrie Brownstein), his hands-on attitude at meddling with the nuances of a lesbian relationship and their forthcoming wedding, or the way he insists that Leon (J.B. Smoove) keep him in the loop on all things young and hip — you know, like lampin. There’s even something to be said about the ludicrous off-screen image of Larry working on a play for five years titled Fatwa, ostensibly a reference to the aforementioned Fish In The Dark. The fallout from said play, particularly when Larry foolishly mocks the Ayatollah Khomeini on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, is also funny and quite fitting, a not-so-subtle nod to our world of outrage, as if David’s perhaps suggesting there might not be room for our social assassin anymore. But it also tilts dangerously close to the higher-concept stuff that tends to chip at the steadier footing that Curb traditionally operates upon. Hey, we’re all about the induction of Andy Buckley, aka David Wallace from The Office, as a government agent in the Curb universe, but if it means we’re going to be seeing LD on the lam all season, then, well, let’s just hope it doesn’t get too fucking ridiculous.
Then again, if it does, so what? We’re nine seasons into this series, and the idea that this needs to stay grounded is also kind of preposterous. It all goes back to the show before this show. While it’s not exactly fair to keep comparing Curb to Seinfeld, it absolutely makes sense to compare Curb to Seinfeld, and if you recall, that show handled crazy by making crazy feel normal. Sure, Curb doesn’t have the luxury that Seinfeld had when it comes to heightened realities, but after watching “Foisted!”, that certainly seems to be the case at this point. After all, Larry David is much more of a larger-than-life character in real life than he is on the show, thanks to his recent national prominence (fun fact: he might even be related to Sanders, and if that’s not a Curb episode in the making, good lord), and while that was initially a concern heading into season nine, it may wind up being a blessing in disguise for the series, especially if this season ends up leaning on the fatwa storyline as its core narrative (and all signs point to yes on that matter). By that same measure, it could also be a curse, as we’ve already seen what happens when the show gluttonously revisits all the expected catchphrases and all the familiar motifs. You know, the “pretty good”s and the “okay”s and the “Fuck you, Larry”s. In the end, this season could simply be a belated victory lap — not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Did you notice that…
— Larry’s driving a new electric BMW. Bye-bye Prius.
— Leon, aka Larry’s new assistant: “Larry David’s office, what the fuck is up?”
— Betty charges Larry $150 for a haircut and $75 for Jeff’s. She also boldly argues against his bald theory.
— Larry’s text to Richard Lewis: “Sorry about your bird … the good news is I’m still alive”
— Cheryl’s still in Larry’s life and is currently running PAM, People Against Mutilation
— There’s a Producers poster in Larry’s office featuring he and David Schwimmer. Break open the mixed nuts.
— Sammi, yes, this Sammi, is getting married to an Afghan war vet. Larry’s aside about PTSD is vintage Curb.
— Larry selling Susie to his assistant: “She’s a fucking saint!”
— Advice: A door may be ajar but that does not mean you can come in.
— Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen have split up for some time now. Ted’s lovin’ it.
— lampin, according to Urban Dictionary, is “chillin; hanging; relaxing crossed with stylin”