‘Curb’ Misses the Larry-Cheryl Marriage

Larry David, star of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (Photo by Kevork S. Djansezian/Getty Images via JTA.org)

A few weeks ago, before the start of the 11th season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” some Jewish Philadelphians made an interesting point about the show.

In an Oct. 14 Jewish Exponent story, they argued that “Curb” has had two distinct periods.

Before Larry David’s split from his show wife Cheryl, played by Cheryl Hines, and after.

Larry and Cheryl broke up after a season six episode in 2007; David brushed off his wife’s fearful call from a turbulent airplane because he had to deal with the TiVo guy. (Very 2007.)

The locals said that, when Larry was married to Cheryl, the show revolved more around their married world of friends and social occasions. Post-Cheryl, “Curb” has focused on Larry and Leon, played by J.B. Smoove, and Larry’s general misdeeds out in the world.

Some thought the shift made the show funnier. Others didn’t.

But regardless of where they came down, their larger point was hard to un-see during the first two episodes of the new season.

Whereas Larry used to be a ridiculous character grounded in a specific, married world, he’s now a loose cannon unmoored from any sense of normalcy. Several seasons into this dynamic, it’s harder to suspend one’s disbelief as a viewer.

In 2021, “Curb” feels like watching the Larry David caricature that America knows so well. It doesn’t, however, feel like watching a real character. The balance between the two used to make “Curb” feel at least somewhat real.

Yet this doesn’t take away too much from the show’s humor.

It’s certainly funnier and more shocking to watch a real person pick fights with people over awkward social conventions. But it’s still funny to watch the Larry David caricature do it, too.

The first episode of the new season, “The Five-Foot Fence,” aired on Oct. 24 and revolved around a classic “Curb” set piece: a funeral for the still-living actor and comedian Albert Brooks.

Brooks, like most “Curb” celebrities, plays an exaggerated version of himself. He wants to host his own funeral to hear people say nice things about him while he’s still living.

Larry, of course, mocks the bit and offends Brooks. There’s also a 10 out of 10 cameo from Don Draper himself: the actor Jon Hamm, who totally commits to the funeral bit.

When Hamm opens his eulogy to Brooks with the Yiddish word tsuris, meaning trouble or distress, you know that’s what’s coming. And it does, in the form of a hilarious, topical COVID joke that will take you back to the lockdown days of March 2020.

The rest of the episode features a classic Larry-Susie fight over whether Susie “plopped” on the couch, forcing Larry to spill wine, a commentary on how walking into a glass door makes you look unattractive, a shakedown of Larry by a local restaurant owner and a deeply uncomfortable dispute over money.

It all works, and it will make you crack up from your seat on your couch.

The same is true of season 11, episode two, “Angel Muffin,” which aired on Oct. 31.

That one centers on maybe the most vintage “Curb” bit there is: Larry and his best friend/manager Jeff, played by Jeff Garlin, doing ignorant and moronic things together.

Larry picks a fight with a Netflix executive, with whom he’s developing a show, over an automatic toilet seat in the building’s bathroom that won’t stay up. And Jeff recommends a dentist to Larry so Larry can help him get intel on one of the office’s assistants.

Jeff slept with the woman and paid for her abortion. But he believes she’s sticking him up by asking for more money to deal with “complications.”

David and Garlin having trivial conversations and getting into dumb shenanigans remains the underrated heartbeat of the show’s schtick. Like the bits in the first episode, it still works, too.

It remains difficult to get through a “Curb” scene without laughing and then enunciating “Oh my God!” And for a few seasons post-Cheryl, Larry being alone was a breath of fresh comedic air.

He became pals with the hilarious Leon; he brought the “Seinfeld” crew back together for a reunion in a failed attempt to cast Cheryl and win her back; he had relations with a Palestinian woman who hated Jews; he went to New York City; competed for a love interest with Rosie O’Donnell; and turned Bill Buckner, the Boston Red Sox first baseman who blew the 1986 World Series, into a momentary comedic sensation.

But the novelty has worn off. Now, “Curb” is just Larry schtick. We have reached the point where the legend stands above the show, instead of making it great.

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