In New 'Curb Your Enthusiasm,' Larry David's 'Obnoxious' Humor Feels 'Worn Out'

Oct 2, 2017
Originally published on October 2, 2017 11:58 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

On this dark day of news, we're going to take a moment to talk about something lighter. The HBO comedy "Curb Your Enthusiasm" began its new season last night after a six-year break. Creator and star Larry David is his usual obnoxious and, as you'll hear, inappropriate self. That's the show's appeal. But NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it feels a bit worn out.

(SOUNDBITE OF LUCIANI MICHELINI'S "FROLIC")

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: There was a vague sense during Sunday's return of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" that time hadn't served Larry David well. And I'm not talking about the two times we watch the 70-year-old comic taking a shower.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM")

LARRY DAVID: (As himself, singing, unintelligible).

DEGGANS: Instead, it was the sense that one of the formulas for the show - where a socially oblivious David commits some horrible social faux pas that sparks a hilarious argument - felt pretty, pretty stale. Take this moment where David gets into an argument with a woman who has a masculine look - vest, tie, close-cropped hair - because he doesn't hold the door open for her as they both enter an office building.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM")

JULIE GOLDMAN: (As Betty) Why didn't you keep the door open?

DAVID: (As himself) Oh.

GOLDMAN: (As Betty) No, no after you?

DAVID: (As himself) I don't really get an after you vibe.

GOLDMAN: (As Betty) Well, why not? I'm a woman, aren't I?

DAVID: (As himself) Yeah.

GOLDMAN: (As Betty) Really?

DAVID: (As himself) Well, I just didn't think you were the type who would want a guy to hold the door open.

GOLDMAN: (As Betty) What type am I?

DEGGANS: It gets worse. She's a barber named Betty who charges $150 to clip what looks like five hairs off his head. So of course the multi-millionaire comedian goes to Betty's home to complain and gets into an argument with her girlfriend about the couple's upcoming wedding. David says Betty should be the groom. Betty's partner is a more traditionally feminine-looking woman, and she wants to be the groom.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM")

NASIM PEDRAD: (As Numa) You have no business weighing in on this wedding.

DAVID: (As himself) No, I just think - look; you - you're a beautiful bride. You should be a bride.

PEDRAD: (As Numa) I'm the groom. I don't want to be the bride.

DAVID: (As himself) You're not groom-y (ph). She's not bride-y (ph).

PEDRAD: (As Numa) What kind of psychopath interferes with the nuances of a lesbian wedding?

DEGGANS: I know. David's character is supposed to get into politically incorrect arguments. But usually the funny comes from seeing other people take an inappropriate moment from him and assume he's doing something far worse. In this case, he's a wealthy, heterosexual white guy telling two lesbians how they should conduct their wedding. So Betty's fiancee is kind of right.

My favorite "Curb Your Enthusiasm" moments manage to poke fun at David's cluelessness and the absurdity of many social cues, like in a later scene where his pal Richard Lewis gets upset when David texts him condolences over a dead parakeet. Now, texting over a dead pet is insensitive, but Lewis' overreaction is also absurd. The main storyline here involves the explanation for what David's been doing for the last five years, as described by his manager, Jeff, played by Jeff Garlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM")

JEFF GARLIN: (As Jeff Greene) "Fatwa - The Musical," written by Larry David about Salman Rushdie having his life ruined because he got a Fatwa death threat from the Ayatollah Khomeini.

DAVID: (As himself) I'm telling you. There's a lot of funny stuff in there.

DEGGANS: Now, if David actually wrote a musical called Fatwa, I would be first in line for tickets. But as a joke, it kind of feels odd to hang a punchline on something that happened years ago. And don't get me started about Leon Black, played by J.B. Smoove. Bad enough the only black character on this show is an obnoxious, foul-mouth freeloader living in David's guest house. He also references stereotypes about black hypersexuality while criticizing David's assistant who missed work because she was constipated.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM")

J B SMOOVE: (As Leon Black) Come on. I saw a porno constipated. I ran a 5k marathon constipated. I was in a hot dog eating contest constipated.

DAVID: (As himself) Oh, oh, hold it. Hold it. Hold it. Shut up - porno, seriously?

SMOOVE: (As Leon Black) Seriously.

DEGGANS: Seriously? This is what we waited 6 years for? It's just the first episode, so I'm still hopeful David will get his groove back as the season progresses and give us a little more funny to go with the button pushing. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.