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Valley of the Sex Dolls: Love Is Dead on ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

“Insufficient Praise” loops in Clive Owen, Vince Vaughn, and Isla Fisher as Larry David grows even more skeptical of the strength of human connection

HBO/Ringer illustration

The midpoint of Curb Your Enthusiasm’s 10th season, “Insufficient Praise,” paints a depressing picture of love. Larry is alone; Cheryl and Ted are estranged; Leon fantasizes about Betty Boop and falls so hard for a sex doll that he doesn’t have time to hit on a housekeeper; Freddy Funkhouser—Marty’s half-brother—is surrounded by sex dolls, and his ancient Uncle Murray is addicted to porn; Richard Lewis and Clive Owen are smitten by and then separated from the same woman, a professional crier named Carol who uses her talent for tears to manipulate men. The only character who’s happy is Funkhouser, who will never return from his euphemistic trip to China. When Jeff and Susie boast the show’s most robust romantic relationship, it’s a strong indication that everyone else is woefully unlucky in love. Other people lie and cheat, so why not seek solace in an unattainable vision from the ’40s, an online library of prurient pixels, or the dead-eyed embrace of a balloon?

Naturally, Larry is responsible for much of this misanthropy. His tryst with Cheryl is the last straw for Ted. The sex doll he doesn’t want enthralls Leon. His well-intended tip to Uncle Murray, who’s unaware that the internet is for porn, sends the old man (played by the late Carmine Caridi) spiraling into a deeper addiction. He pierces Lewis’s illusions about the professional crier’s sincerity, dashing his best friend’s dreams of late-life fatherhood. “You ruined another woman for me,” Lewis laments. Larry’s blasé voicemail and dismissive remarks about Clive’s craft shake the actor’s confidence, and when Larry hires Carol to restore it, she ends up in Owen’s arms, just before Larry’s mother’s mink gets her hit by a truck.

Larry is a habitual liar, but he’s also a hard-truth teller, and given the venality of the friends and nemeses who populate his life, he has ample opportunity to find fault. Curb has never been about celebrating the strength of human connection. Maybe Freddy is right, and balloons are the best we can do.

“Insufficient Praise” also reveals the latest improvements to Latte Larry’s, where a window poster promises low prices, no wobbly tables, and hard scones. One perk it doesn’t promise: toilets. “There’s no defecation here,” Larry insists. However, he’s planning a urinal revolution that might make up for his no. 2 intolerance. Although Larry doesn’t doodle well, he’s drawn up ambitious blueprints for a “pee cube” that could banish splashback and puddles. But his bathroom brainchild is still a work in progress: Leon suggests that the prototype is unsuitable for big-ass Johnsons, and it looks unsettlingly like a penile guillotine. It’s also unclear whether Larry expects his female customers to hold it until they leave the store, or whether he cares about Latte Larry’s being ADA compliant.

Latte Larry’s plays only a small part in the episode, which revolves around a trio of guest stars: Curb superfan Owen, who’s playing himself, Vince Vaughn as Freddy Funkhouser, and Isla Fisher as the “con crier,” who weeps openly whenever it works in her favor. (Between Vaughn and Fisher, the Wedding Crashers vibe of this episode was strong.) Owen’s presence makes it more difficult for Vaughn to inhabit his character—with the former appearing as himself, the latter’s turn as a fictional character causes some cognitive dissonance—but unlike Owen, he doesn’t have to hold down a one-person play: All he has to do is send Larry a sex doll, encourage him to cuddle it, and exhort him to set off on “whatever your journey is.”

In classic Curb fashion, Owen—a new client of Jeff’s—plays a precious, insecure celebrity stereotype. When Larry sees him act in Kon-Tiki, he’s genuinely awed by Owen’s ability to elicit sobs, but when Jeff forces him to make a congratulatory call the next day, he can muster only a tepid “Good job.” We know Larry has trouble talking lefty, but here his handicap is voicemail performance anxiety. As the person who complained about an insufficient apology in the Season 9 finale, Larry recognizes that Owen has a point about his insufficient praise, but he’s unable to summon a more effusive second take, which gets in Owen’s head and hampers his performance.

(Sidenote: Is Clive Owen still a big fuckin’ deal, as Leon claims? I like Clive Owen, but he’s had a rough run. Only one of his past 10 movies—2016’s The Confirmation, which went straight to iTunes—earned a Rotten Tomatoes score over 60 percent. He’s never headlined a major moneymaker, and the most recent of the four films he’s best known for, according to IMDb, came out in 2006. No wonder he seems to be pivoting to TV, where he won some acclaim for The Knick and is set to star as Bill Clinton in the third season of American Crime Story and play a lead role in the Apple TV+ adaptation of Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story. As for his film work, maybe hiring a professional crier wouldn’t be a bad idea.)

In the end, the show goes on, although the professional crier seems to have heaved her last sob. As usual, the episode’s separate strands get tied together. Ted, who settles into his heel role, first financially backs Mocha Joe to spite the spite store and then snitches to Cheryl about Larry’s sex doll after being tipped off by the mailman, who’s still holding a grudge against Larry. (“Mailmen know.”) And as Larry tries to dispose of the doll, Susie’s squeamish ex-housekeeper and Cheryl find him in a compromising position, further jeopardizing his campaign to win back his ex-wife. At least “Insufficient Praise” has a happy ending for Uncle Murray, who completes his crash course in masturbatory aids when Larry donates the doll as a substitute for cybersex. Beyond that, the episode nicely sets up the second half of the season, which figures to be an all-out battle between Larry and Leon and Ted and Mocha Joe, with Cheryl’s affections and the success of the spite store at stake.

For what it’s worth, I’m with the inconsiderate lady at the next table over: It’s way worse to be hot than to be cold.

Best Supporting Character

Clive Owen may be the bigger star, but Isla Fisher had the harder assignment: looking legitimately distraught while describing the subway stole disaster that supposedly struck after a childhood viewing of La Cage aux Folles.

She also slapped Larry, single-handedly salvaged Kon-Tiki, and met a tragicomic end. I only wish we could have seen the waterworks that accompanied her successful attempt to persuade Richard to eat Chinese instead of Italian.

Newest Inductee into the Curb Doll of Fame

Kudos to Leon’s dearly departed Sherri on becoming the second-best doll in Curb history, ahead of the biracial doll but behind Judy the headless doll.

Loudest Jeff Outburst

Larry’s “stout friend” has two especially memorable moments in “Insufficient Praise.” The first comes in response to Larry’s extremely strange flex about being able to submerge his hands in “boiling, scalding water” without feeling pain, which incites a boiling, scalding debate about whether Larry has “special hands.”

The second is his delighted response to Larry’s impression of Raymond Massey as Abraham Lincoln in the 1940 film Abe Lincoln in Illinois: “Raymond Massey as Lincoln, you never see that!”

Best Leon Line

“If I lived in the fuckin’ ’40s, and some girl said poop-poop-a-doop, I know I’m tappin’ that ass.”

Honorable mentions to his assumption that Larry is so old that he must have had polio, and his invocation of one of life’s profound mysteries: “Hey, do anchovies only go on pizza, or do you eat ’em loose?” Leon also holds his own in the closest Curb has come to a staredown this season.

Deepest Larry Self-Loathing

When Larry finds his old baseball glove in storage, he doesn’t flash back to Little League triumphs. Instead, he relives old mistakes. “You know how many errors I made with this glove?” he asks Leon. “Never should’ve played the infield. I don’t know why I did. Shortstop, I can’t play short. I’d go home crying, making errors every time I played.” That tendency carried over into adulthood.

Weirdest Larry Look

It’s a tie between his unprofessional fake crying and his highly suggestive method of deflating (and deflowering) the doll. This clip includes both.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.