The premiere episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” (2000–) decadal season is a reaffirmation of the unmatched brilliance that is Larry David’s writing. Some of “Curb’s” elements introduced following the post-season-eight hiatus — namely, high definition photography and an insistence on spicing up the camera angles — detract from the classic “Curb” feel. Having said that, the weaving of comedic plotlines, in and out and back in again, stuck all their landings. Seeing as that has always been “Curb’s” most identifiable trait, this episode was immensely satisfying.
Reviewing an episode of “Curb” is difficult. There are many separate storylines that cannot be efficiently explained in the order they are shown due to how rapidly the show hops back and forth between them. On top of that, some actors play fictionalized caricatures of themselves while others play completely fictional characters. But this will be an attempt.
The episode starts with fictional Larry David walking the streets of Los Angeles with Leon Black (J.B. Smoove), discussing the dissatisfaction Larry has in having white skin. Leon, who is black, comments that Larry’s skin is reminiscent of porridge and Larry agrees. This conversation kicks off a whimsical barrage of quips that don’t necessarily push the story forward, but they are incredibly bizarre and function as the irreverent center of the show’s humor.
As Larry and Leon continue their walk, the former almost impulsively snatches a selfie stick out of a teen’s hands and snaps it over his knee. The moment is one of the only parts that don’t work, as it feels a bit forced and out of touch. There’s no doubt that the selfie stick realm would be a stronghold for angry baby boomers — of which fictional Larry David is a passionate member — but selfie-stick hating passed its peak far too long ago for the joke to land. Also, fictional Larry is known for being kind of a “bald asshole” but mainly for his horrible choice of words and offensive remarks. However, it seemed out of character for the usually non-violent Larry to unapologetically destroy someone’s personal property.
From here, the main plotlines of the episode begin. They are: (1) Larry running into an eight-months-pregnant mutual friend at the gym (Lennon Parham) and being abhorred by her decision to run on a treadmill. His comment that she is “jostling the fetus” is classic “Curb Your Enthusiasm” dialogue — astoundingly funny but completely socially unacceptable. Throughout the episode, Larry sees her doing things that he believes endanger the baby. The payoff is that he is the cause of something that will actually hurt her fetus — his sprinting through a hospital causes him to crash into her and knock her down. This is a comedy show, however, so a pregnant woman falling doesn’t elicit much of a dramatic response. Rather, it only serves the comedic purpose of showing how Larry is often the cause of the issues he tends to point out.
(2) Larry and Leon discover that a character from season seven — “Mocha Joe” — has opened a café in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, their elated reactions quickly dissipate when Larry proclaims the scones at the café to be too soft. This observation leads to a muted-yet-strong disagreement between Larry and Mocha Joe over the range of hardness in which a scone can be considered a scone and where it turns more into a “scone-slash-muffin,” as Larry calls it. One issue leads to another and Larry storms off. He relays his disgust to his friends Jeff Greene (Jeff Garlin) and Richard Lewis — the former being Larry’s agent and the latter a comedian. Richard claims that he’ll boycott the café which pleases Larry. Later in the episode, Larry catches Richard at the café causing Larry to blow up at his friend and Mocha Joe. Mocha Joe bans Larry from the café and Larry vows to exact revenge on him. The plans for this revenge are put into motion in the premiere as Larry rents out a vacated space directly adjacent to Mocha Joe, in order to set up a “spite shop” — a café started purely so Larry can drive Mocha Joe out of business.
(3) The #MeToo movement is broached in the episode as Larry, without asking, uses a dangling piece of his receptionist’s top to wipe his glasses and later tries to reach for food on a platter but accidentally grabs the server’s breast. Both instances start off innocent enough — the former with Larry being enthralled and curious about his receptionist’s arm tattoo and the latter with Larry’s craving a pig in a blanket. This plotline is the weakest, however, not because of the topic’s controversiality. Rather, the plotline is built on an action by Larry that just didn’t look at all realistic. How Larry went from reaching for platter to accidentally-grabbing-breast was incredibly cartoonish and done solely for the needed plot point. Having said this, the payoff to this plotline is excellent. Larry’s receptionist walks in on Larry, ready to lay into him. The scene she arrives at consists of Larry wearing a Make America Great Again hat while his agent Jeff Greene — who throughout the episode has been mistaken for Harvey Weinstein — admonishes Larry (who is not truly a Trump supporter) for using the hat merely to repel people from starting unwanted interactions with him. The picture could not be worse, even though, for the most part, it is entirely explainable.
(4) Finally, Larry and his ex-wife Cheryl (Cheryl David) hookup. Having left Larry in season six but in many instances almost reuniting with him, Cheryl’s return to Larry’s romantic life has been a long time coming. This is a complicated situation, however, as Cheryl is currently dating fictionalized Ted Danson — Larry’s friend (though the accuracy of that label is something that Larry often internally debates). But the chemistry and longing is there; a party-pleasing ventriloquist act and a mostly-mature conversation about the strengths of their past relationship prove this to be true. Also, this conversation features a back-and-forth where Cheryl reminisces about the moral superiority she felt over Larry when married to him, and Larry responds in affirmation, saying he’s morally inferior to all other humans but he takes solace in knowing he’s morally superior to all other animals and especially insects because he can crush them. So strange, yet so funny. Oh, also Larry uses talcum powder — a recurring substance in the episode — on his nether regions in preparation for oral sex but he forgets that Cheryl is allergic. This mishap winds them up in the hospital, where Cheryl reveals Ted Danson will soon be arriving, prompting Larry to sprint out of there, but causing him to run into the pregnant friend. Full circle.
Plotline one was meant only for this episode, as evidenced by its incorporation of the title and overarching motif of the premiere — the phrase “Happy New Year.” The pregnant friend is the first to annoy Larry with a “Happy New Year!” that he deems to have passed the expiration date weeks ago. Many people throughout the episode mistakenly greet Larry this way but the plotline concludes when Larry yells it at the pregnant friend who he just caused to fall. Plotlines two through four seem to be more long-term, likely to last the entire season.
Therein lies the brilliance of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Real-life Larry David, along with an army of other talented writers, manages to work in the most hysterical, bizarre utterances at a relentless speed, all while crafting a story so delicate and satisfying to watch unfold that each episode plays like an intricate novel. These episodic novels then make up equally intricate seasons, though season nine was the first that doubted this “Curb” trademark.
But those doubts were fully erased with this premiere. Season 10 is just as fresh as season one was, 20 years ago. Pretty… pretty… pretty… pretty good.