The issues Curb Your Enthusiasm seems to be dealing with in its return for a ninth season are great creative problems to have. It has an audience that loves the very DNA of the show. Every random detour, every minor slight blown out of proportion, every absurd coincidence is lapped up. We know the beats. We’ve all been learning how the show functions for nearly two decades and so have other creators. Pieces of Curb are sprinkled in every corner of a genre that’s thriving in peak TV — the idiosyncratic, auteur-driven comedy.
Curb Your Enthusiasm has returned in a post-Curb Your Enthusiasm world, and it’s showing.
The second episode of the show’s ninth season is structurally everything we’ve come to expect from a half hour — a series of interactions between Larry and the supporting cast that will eventually collide in some disastrous way, possibly tying into the year’s overarching story.
As set up in the premiere last week, Larry — or Buck Dancer, if you’re nasty — is living under the constant threat of death, thanks to a fatwa placed on him by the Ayatollah. In an attempt to hide himself, Larry has moved into a hotel, but Jeff and Leon come by to tell him that there’s no need for this. The FBI has said that there’s no immediate threat against his life.
It’s here that the plotline neuters itself a bit. While the fatwa is one the most daring aspects of the new season, it lacks any the threat or immediacy of past season arcs, where something like the restaurant offers a constant source of people to deal with and problems to solve. Here, all we get is a security detail with a particular grocery list and a hotel manager who doesn’t like Larry. These elements aren’t sewn so much into the fabric of Larry’s life and therefore lack much weight. Does it really matter if the hotel manager kicks him out? Not if the only payoff is the undercooked prostitute consultation story line.
This gets at a bigger flaw of the show in its last few incarnations. Without Cheryl, Larry is missing stakes. His ex-wife didn’t just fill a slot that the television show needed. She was a dependable source of conflict that Larry couldn’t walk away from — until he did. He’s not boxed in by the social norms that fueled the fire for his rage anymore, and the vague threat of death isn’t immediate enough to provide that. Without Cheryl, a plotline like Funkhouser’s nephew is just kind of floating anchorless. Even a more involved role from Jeff or Susie would add some heft to that.
Anyway, this is all been a long-winded way of saying that the pickle gambit 100 percent worked. And so did Mary Steenburgen walking arm in arm with a Larry lookalike. In a way, these almost felt like elements from a better episode entirely, and it’s no coincidence that the best moment brought them together, with Larry being torn between the jar and the Ted-Cheryl connection.
These were the two strands that really felt like Curb had not only returned, but evolved into something a little bit more absurdist but still very much itself.