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‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Paints a Familiar Portrait (With Some Doodling)

The third episode of the new season, “Artificial Fruit,” features complaints Larry David has made for decades, but the repetition isn’t a bad thing—the longevity adds to the humor

HBO/Ringer illustration

Larry David may be a bad influence on me. When Curb Your Enthusiasm comes back, I start finding fault with behavior I might not notice or dwell on when the series isn’t on my mind. This weekend, I went to brunch with a friend, and we split the check. (My friend is not Richard Lewis.) I planned to pay with a card, and my friend dug into his pocket to give me cash. To my horror, he slid over a stack of shiny new Sacagawea dollars. I don’t carry a wallet, and I don’t carry coins, so the Sacagaweas sabotaged my minimalist pocket aesthetic. Naturally, when I went up to pay and pulled out my card, three of the coins came with it and scattered across the floor. I pictured Larry recounting the incident to Jeff: “He Sacagaweaed me!” Jeff would sympathize. “You can’t Sacagawea!”

Another example: I had tentative plans to play tennis on Saturday with a different friend. On Friday, she texted me to suggest we reschedule, explaining that the weather was supposed to be bad the next day. I looked at a few forecasts online; none said it was supposed to rain. Could she be fabricating a forecast to get out of our plans?

Don’t get me wrong: Like Larry, I’m thrilled when people cancel plans. As he said on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2013, “If somebody cancels on me, that is a celebration. I adore cancellations.” As he also said, though, “You don’t even have to make an excuse. It doesn’t matter. Just say you’re canceling.” I tactfully texted back that the forecasts I’d seen seemed fine. My friend stuck with her story and said my reports were more optimistic than hers. What did she mean—did we have different reports? Was she getting a top-secret feed from the National Weather Service, the one with reports too pessimistic for the public at large? This time, I pictured Larry regaling Leon with his interpretation of the texts. Leon would, of course, confirm and commiserate. “She gave you a fake fuckin’ forecast, Larry!”

It didn’t rain Saturday, so under the influence of Larry, I periodically pointed out the window and made sarcastic comments like, “It’s really coming down.” My wife, fed up, accurately accused me of sounding like a low-budget Larry. She reminded me of Elaine objecting to Jerry’s nitpicky complaints in “The Bizarro Jerry”: “I can’t spend the rest of my life coming into this stinking apartment every 10 minutes to pore over the excruciating minutiae of every single daily event.” As Jerry responded, “The whole system is breaking down!” Like George exclaiming, “I was in the pool!” I wanted to explain to my wife that I was stewing about Sacawagea dollars and a cloudy but dry day because I was watching Curb. I’m not sure that when I meet my friend for tennis next weekend, my Curb-conditioned brain will be able to resist doing a David staredown.

The problem with looking at life like Larry is that David has been doing this for 30 years. Any situation we encounter or observation we make, David has run into it or brought it up before. My Sacagawea scenario? Not so different from Kramer using coins to pay for a calzone on Larry’s last Seinfeld season.

Larry has mined weather forecasts for material, too. On the second season of Seinfeld, he had Alton Benes say, “I don’t need anybody to tell me it’s gonna rain. All I have to do is stick my head out the window.” Just last month, he told Al Roker that he has an easy job. David has even covered fake forecasts: On Curb Season 4, he confronts a weatherman—excuse me, meteorologist—whom he suspects of making fake forecasts so that golfers will cancel their tee times and let him have the course to himself. Maybe my friend’s forecasts for rain came from a meteorologist who wanted to clear the local courts.

Because David draws on real life when concocting his comedies, real life regularly reminds us of Larry. Even more inevitably, Larry reminds us of Larry. As my colleague Katie Baker pointed out last week, it’s impossible to watch a new episode of Curb without recalling Curb and Seinfeld episodes from the past few decades. So it was with “Artificial Fruit,” the third episode of Curb’s 10th season, which was cowritten by three Seinfeld veterans: David, Jeff Schaffer, and Carol Leifer. Schaffer cowrote “The Calzone.” Leifer, who partly inspired the character of Elaine, wrote “The Rye.” It was fitting, then, that baked goods played a prominent role in her first story credit on Curb.

“Artificial Fruit” riffed on a few of this season’s recurring plotlines, including Larry’s increasingly inescapable sexual assault case, the spite store he’s opening to take down Mocha Joe, and his grudge against Ted Danson and desire to get back together with Cheryl. (Hines didn’t appear in the episode, but she did direct it, another first for Curb.) The episode also invoked a couple of Curb staples. For the first time this season but the umpteenth time in the series, Larry (along with Leon and Jeff) gets ganged up on by an angry mob. This time, the confrontation culminates in the three of them upside down in garbage cans—which play a central role in the episode—as the Three Stooges theme plays.

We also see Larry and Richard compete to pay for a meal they haven’t had yet, which is reminiscent of their Season 9 battle for the best seat at a restaurant—and, for that matter, their non-fictional fights over dining etiquette. The ground rules of picking up checks, a frequent source of social friction, is fruitful territory for David, spawning his Season 7 restaurant altercation with Rosie O’Donnell, his Season 3 squabble over whether to thank both members of a couple that paid for dinner, and his Season 3 and Season 9 disputes over people leaving the table before the bill arrives.

Larry’s boast about his donation to Survivors United—which he made out of self-preservation, not altruism—smacked of his philanthropic pride in the Season 6 episode, “Anonymous Donor.” His refusal to hug Laverne Cox, who had a cold—and who set him up for embarrassment as apparent payback for his insensitive questions about transitioning—echoed “The Kiss Hello,” a viral Jerry Seinfeld hug denial, and a Curb Season 1 incident in which Larry reacts with disgust after accidentally sipping water from Mary Steenburgen’s mother’s glass. (As we learned in the Season 10 premiere, Larry has no qualms about swapping spittle with Cheryl when she has a cold, but as he said in Season 6, “On the day I want sex, I’m a lot nicer.”) The chipped teeth Larry and Leon sustain mirror other dental emergencies. And Larry’s inappropriate behavior at the funeral and reception for Francisco’s aunt echoes any number of previous disruptions in somber settings. There are only so many mores to flout.

It’s not as though we’ve seen each of these events play out in identical fashion. But we have seen TV Larry (or George, his Seinfeld avatar) in enough analogous situations that the new awkward moments summon memories of the old. Maybe that’s a bug: There’s a certain sameness to Curb in weeks when it doesn’t stray far from the series’ standard template. But it’s also a feature, in that while we’re chuckling at Larry’s latest misadventures, we’re also revisiting the ones we’ve laughed at before. Each season is like a reunion with faraway friends you love but see sporadically: Yes, you may discover things about each other that you never knew, but you’ll also resurrect and relish your existing stories and inside jokes.

HBO

Amid the unwitting and intentional callbacks, Curb always gives us something fresh to savor. This week, we got the distinction between a garbage can and a “show can.” We got Larry likening a photo of him and Cheryl together to a Confederate war monument, and Ted tackling the role of Robert E. Lee. We got a disagreement about whether one can eat an apple blithely or whether there are “a lot of emotional colors available” to apple eaters. We got Larry trying to win over Alice by confiding he was once attracted to Gloria Steinem (whom guest star Christine Lahti recently played on stage). We got Larry bragging about his bona fides as an advocate for women …

… and basking in the applause of a crowd that was about to bombard him with bread.

Best of all, we got a debate about the definition of “doodle.” Larry’s lazy, abstract doodle, which allegedly resembled a roller-coaster, a shoe, or a large intestine, paled in comparison to the “passionate doodles” contributed by a who’s who of celebrities, including Lahti, Kimmel, O’Donnell, Steenburgen, Rob Lowe, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Joe Buck, Doc Rivers, Al Gore, Miley Cyrus, Michael Keaton, Sarah Silverman, Joy Behar, Bobby Kennedy Jr., Seth Rogen, Melissa McCarthy, and Jason Alexander. “This is like the Louvre, this place,” Larry said, defending himself from an allegation of doodle-related white male privilege. “I’m the only one who followed instructions out of everybody on this wall.”

HBO

And, as always, we got the big finish, in which multiple plot points cleverly converged. A dry scone got stuck in Alice’s throat, and Larry, afraid to perform the Heimlich maneuver for fear of an even more exorbitant settlement demand, let her choke. Next week, we’ll find out whether that scone solved his problems or made them even worse.

When I watch Curb, what I want more than anything is a Pop-Up Video–style on-screen display telling me about the incidents that sparked each scene. When was the real Larry served eggs without toast? Was he actually fooled by a dangerously lifelike artificial fruit? Did he have trouble deciphering a Castilian accent? We may never know, but it’s easy to imagine. Larry can’t be with each of us in person. (Nor would he want to be.) But he’s always in our heads, even when our friends and families wish he’d go away.

Best Supporting Character: Richard Lewis

I was tempted to give this award to Roger Swindell, Esq. for the second week in a row. Swindell’s office features fruit that’s not for eating, garbage that’s not for garbage, and a bathroom that nobody can use, but how much hospitality would one expect from a man whose dad ate angry apples?

Swindell made the most of his minutes, but the top spot goes to Lewis, who more than held up his half of a fond yet dysfunctional friendship. Not only did Lewis lunge for his credit card under a casket, refuse to take off his regifted sweater, and declare “I would never touch a scone” shortly before chucking one at Larry, but he compared Larry to a 19th-century president and beseeched him to “Stop lecturing the world on your point of view.”

(Side note: As old as Larry looks, he’s significantly younger than most of this year’s leading contenders in the presidential race.)

Loudest Jeff Outburst

I enjoyed Jeff screaming “I thaid lo thiento!” three times on his trip to the trash, but the honor goes to, “My tongue’s all swollen. It SUCKS.”

Best Leon Line

Inspired by the Arnold Palmer, Leon proposes his own beverage mix. “You know how many times I fuckin’ put milk and Mountain Dew together?” he asks. “I could’ve had my own fuckin’ drink, the Leon Black.” Leon isn’t the first to recommend this disgusting-sounding drink. Multiple YouTubers have tried it, and they didn’t die (at least, not on camera). But be careful: If you don’t drink it quickly, the milk could curdle.

Deepest Larry Self-Loathing

When Larry talks to Cox about the introduction she’s going to give, he asks her to say he speaks six languages. “You want to impress people with lies?” she says. Looking quizzical, Larry responds, “Well, how else do you impress them?”

Weirdest Larry Look

The weirdest Larry look this week was his expression as he used the podium for cover from a bread barrage.

But the weirdest Larry look ever—even odder than the cape he wore on Seinfeld—is the way his lower jaw moves like a poorly animated cartoon character when he laughs really loud.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.