(Photo Manipulation by Nathan Rubin)
Note: Larry David is both the name of the actor and character. For clarity, “David” is used to reference the actor, and “Larry” is used to reference the character.
Larry David is back on our televisions doing what he does best: complain, critique and argue with practically all aspects of society. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (2000), which David writes and stars as himself in, began its 12th and final season on Feb. 4.
Over the past two decades, the world of film and TV has changed quite a bit. Streaming services and shows driven by intellectual property franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe have taken over, yet one thing remains constant: our friend, and sometimes foe, Larry. His dry, conversational sense of humor is both broad and specific, unconventional and traditional. Instead of drawing humor from extreme circumstances, most “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episodes are very relatable. Whether Larry is finding a creative way to drive in the HOV lane or figuring out who ate his Chinese takeout, he makes the mundane hilarious.
The premiere episode of season 12, titled “Atlanta,” is in some ways an example of classic “Curb Your Enthusiasm” while in other ways a failure to meet audience’s expectations for the acclaimed comedy. The episode follows Larry as he travels to Atlanta to make a paid appearance at a wealthy fan’s house party. To receive his paycheck, he must be friendly and civil, something Larry rarely manages to do.
High jinks quickly ensue as Larry’s glasses break, forcing him to wear women’s glasses throughout the rest of the episode. He also keeps butt-dialing people and angering his hotel’s housekeeping staff by leaving his room dirty. These plots all come together when he accidentally drops a $10 bill in his toilet, and the housekeeper throws his clothes out the window, interpreting this as a backhanded-tip. In the chaos, Larry butt-dials the host of the party while actively complaining about the party, losing his appearance fee that was predicated on his friendliness.
Most great “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episodes start with a few separate threads that, through coincidence or accident, all end up coming together and usually culminating with people yelling at Larry for one reason or another. This is true in the season 12 premiere, but it is a little clunkier than most successful installments of the show. While an episode’s resolution normally involves some sort of miscommunication or random happenstance, some logic usually ties them together. Here, the audience is more aware than usual of David trying to bring every strand of the plot to a head.
The episode is also a little less biting than what viewers have come to expect. David, throughout the show, has been an equal-opportunity offender, having jokes center around practically every group of people. Whether he labels his wheelchair-ridden girlfriend in his phone as “Denise Handicapped” or accidentally teaches a child what a swastika is, David pulls no punches when writing “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episodes.
Larry’s social faux-pas does not come from a place of malice but from a place of genuine cluelessness and misunderstanding. He often ends up doing these offensive things completely by accident, such as breaking up an adult’s baptism in season two thinking it was actually someone being drowned. The only plot point of this sort in season 12’s premiere is when he complains that he has to give his waiter a big tip since the server is grieving the death of a family member. While it is a little funny, the joke would be just one of many more memorable moments in previous “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episodes.
David also creates much of the show’s humor by pointing out the absurdities of our social norms. In previous seasons, he refuses to wish others a “Happy New Year” past Jan. 3 and tries to buy tickets to synagogue from resellers. However, the new episode only seriously pokes at society when Larry gets arrested for giving water to voters in line at a Fulton County election. In previous seasons, most of the show’s hilarious moments of social observation feel like David’s opinions. While pointing out the flaws in Georgia’s election laws might be important, it is less of a singular opinion than most of David’s other takes.
Nevertheless, a mediocre episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is still great TV. David’s writing and sense of humor have paved the way for many successful comedies that have premiered in the last two decades. The series inspired more mainstream shows like “The Office” (2005) and “Parks and Recreation” (2009) to utilize cringe-comedy while also setting up HBO to be a hub for other acclaimed comedians with shows like “Veep” (2012) and “Barry” (2018).
Hopefully, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” can deliver more of its quintessential biting social commentary and give the viewers a few more unforgettable comedic moments before the final season ends. Either way, though, the show has certainly made its mark as one of the most revolutionary comedies in TV history.
Alex Gerson (he/him) (27C) is from Bethesda, Maryland. Outside of the Wheel, he's a member of eTV and hosts "Discography Discoveries" on WMRE. In his free time, Alex is probably watching TV and movies, listening to music or following the Washington Nationals.