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‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Season 9: Still Despicable, Still Hilarious

Larry David returned to HBO on Sunday night after six years, but don’t worry: the extended hiatus didn’t change him or his show one bit

HBO

Six years after the last season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, it was only natural to wonder what Larry David’s HBO comedy would look like in 2017. What had Larry David, the character, been up to for the past six years? How had the perspective of Larry David, the person, changed? Did some radically different vision of the show compel David to come out of hiatus, or was he just looking for a platform to deliver a signature rant on the dangers of Twitter? To get our worst fear out in the open: in this time of endless sequels and reboots and updates and reimaginings, would David tamper with the essential DNA of the show to justify its resurrection?

What a relief, then, to find that Curb is exactly what it once was, no more (well, a few minutes per episode more) and certainly no less. Though with a marketing tagline like “Nothing has changed,” we can’t say David didn’t warn us.

“Foisted!” isn’t a grand relaunch or even a mission statement. Instead, the Season 9 premiere is a characteristically un-self-conscious reintroduction to what David recently called “the perfect outlet for the idiotic things that consume me.” The picture quality’s a little better and the guest star density higher, but this is still a symphony of impolitesse instigated by Larry, crescendoing with a sucker punch, and named for a made-up term for a minor yet recognizable strain of dickishness. It’s pure, uncut Curb, and for every curmudgeon who does Larry proud by asking, “Why bring it back, then?” there’s a dozen fans just grateful it’s on TV again. Because while Curb has had dozens of imitators in its absence, nobody can out-Larry Larry David.

True to form for a show that announced its main characters’ divorce like it was a trip to the supermarket, Curb hand-waves Larry’s extended absence in abrupt and gloriously offensive fashion: he’s been locked away writing Fatwa! The Musical—it’s exactly what it sounds like!—and is finally ready to shop the finished script around to Broadway producers. From there, it’s all incompetent assistants, bungled talk-show appearances, and shameless disrespect for the nuances of gay weddings. In a situation reminiscent of Season 3’s “The Grand Opening,” where Larry couldn’t bring himself to fire a chef under the false impression he’s a Holocaust survivor, Larry’s saddled with a terrible assistant (Carrie Brownstein) who also happens to be handicapped and an abuse victim, and therefore (in Larry’s eyes) unsackable. With the help of Leon, who’s been living in the guest house, Larry deduces the assistant’s been “foisted” on him by an equally guilty Jimmy Kimmel—and, the host later confesses, on Kimmel by Martin Short before that. So Larry foists her on Susie, who’s starting a soap business. There’s somehow also time for Larry’s own personal fatwa, the lesbian couple he breaks up, and Richard Lewis’s dead parakeet.

It’s quite a lot of plot—one of the few details let slip before the premiere was that every episode would run relatively long because David and his collaborators were making up for lost time—but all of it unfolds, in Curb fashion, with startling ease. We’re so busy laughing and wincing that we don’t notice how David and co-story writer Jeff Schaffer lay out A, B, C, and D plots before setting them on an organic collision course, culminating with Susie cornering a naked Larry in the shower. “People don’t really appreciate how much time we spend writing the outline,” Schaffer, who also directed “Foisted!,” told Variety. “It’s the same way we wrote Seinfeld. You come up with funny stories, then you have to do all this comedy geometry to get these stories interweaving.” That effort is partly belied by Curb’s famously improvisational style, in which performers riff off each other and constantly half-break in a way that adds to the institutional realism. (David initially cast Cheryl Hines, then an unknown, as his wife because he wanted viewers to think he was really married; this morning, I woke up to a text from my own father asking if Fatwa! The Musical was actually happening.) Mostly, though, Curb’s “comedy geometry” is covered up by how funny it is when Larry gripes, Jeff yells, and Susie rips a new one—laughter being the ultimate distraction from strenuous effort.

It’s this balance between sharp and shaggy that’s been conspicuously missing from TV in Curb’s absence. God knows we have enough examples of cringe comedy, entertainer autobiography, and meanness as competitive sport to stock an apocalypse bunker with several decades’ worth of entertainment. What we didn’t have is Curb Your Enthusiasm, which kick-started all three separate trends in 21st century TV comedy, combined them into one, and added an extra layer of difficulty by having actors write their own dialogue as they go. Curb also preserves certain nostalgic aspects of pre-Curb sitcoms alongside its cable-friendly features like obscenity and Olympic-level casual bigotry: self-contained episodes (apart from the whole fatwa thing) and laughs above everything else. TV comedy, at least the serialized, Emmy-nominated kind, has largely moved away from one-liners and toward existential crises, but you’d never call Curb a dramedy.

So, why bring the show back if it’s just going to be the same thing it always was? When what you’re reviving is something this beloved and this irreplicable, you don’t need a reason at all. “Just because” is more than enough.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.