Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 9 – Always Different, Always The Same
Pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Legendary British DJ John Peel once said of his favourite band that they are “always different, always the same”.
Peel was referring to Manchester’s post-punk icons The Fall, but the same principle can be applied to Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David’s second great project whose ninth season concluded Sunday December 3rd.
For David, Curb and their shared universe, the normal rules don’t apply. They never have. The world inhabited by David’s on-screen avatar, a Pokemon-style evolution from George Costanza, plays fast and loose with social conventions, intrapersonal morality and an obsession with the minutiae of life.
These patterns and queer obsessions were cultivated and perfected in Seinfeld, before being let loose upon the even more entropic world of Curb.
But back to being always different, always the same. Curb’s ninth season retained the show’s classic tropes and routines. Larry’s fumbling and bumbling that lands him in hot water with all sundry, whether he likes it or not, the constant arguments, futile and passive rage directed at a world gone mad and the languidly vapid lives of Hollywood’s brightest and its bottom feeders.
There was the narrative linchpin that was the declaration of a fatwa upon his life after an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel brought about some misplaced comments about the Ayatollah of Iran and Larry’s burgeoning relationship with Bridget and her incredibly irritating son. There was the introduction of Marty Funkhauser’s nephew to a prostitute and a rapid downward spiral that results in his death and an old woman determined to steal his houseplants. Oh, and there’s also the small matter of rehearsing a Broadway production about fatwas.
In short, business as usual. Now you can breathe.
This latest season was also an opportunity for Leon (J.B. Smoove) to cement his place as the show’s standout star.
As Larry’s live-in roommate, de facto bodyguard, life coach and dispenser of invaluable romantic advice, Leon’s place as Larry’s inner angel and devil, perched concurrently on his right and left shoulder is an invaluable element of what makes the show so funny in the first place.
Leon as the motormouth lothario to Larry’s faux-Woody Allen mores is the show’s strongest relationship. For a show that details, exposes and picks at the minute fragments and rumbling fault lines present in every friendship and relationship, it’s a sweet irony that Curb’s orchestra of madness is conducted from the front by an unshakeable bond.
Big name cameos from Nick Offerman and Bryan Cranston – as a stage tech and a psychiatrist respectively – posed one interesting question: does this mean their acting and television roles never existed in the Larry David Universe? Do Parks & Rec and Breaking Bad have a place in this alternate dimension? Were Walter White and Ron Swanson played by other people? We have a right to know.
Lin-Manuel Miranda plays a hyper-realised version of himself; an overbearing, competitive, brusque and fragile Broadway nightmare who clashes with Larry like two starving dogs in a burlap sack. F. Murray Abraham stalks Larry as an ‘outfit tracker’ and oh yeah, there is even time for Salman Rushdie to show up. Those of you with the slightest grasp of events over the last 30 years can probably piece together why.
Yet for all of the positives, the usual sharpness and drive to wrap everything together with a neat little bow. While the ‘same’ was the great stuff we already expected, the ‘different’ presented a slight downturn in quality. It isn’t exactly what you’d call a decline; each season of Curb manages to remain an island of its own and avoid direct comparison with one another. Yet large strokes of David’s canvas remained incomplete throughout season nine, in need of a lighter brush and a closer look to add some shade to the bright colours.
Loose ends littered the whole season, lacking the usual tightness that allows David’s writing and arcs to come full circle and cause as much carnage as possible in the meantime.
The relationship between his erstwhile spouse Cheryl and Ted Danson flickered briefly in and around the season’s ten episode run but never once threatened to cast the shadow it could have. A writer known for knuckle-biting comedy and intense, awkward situations could have had a field day with his ex-wife and an old friend deciding to knock boots together, but it was not to be.
Similarly, Jeff’s scurrilous affair with a real estate agent (in which the humping pair make use of the empty homes in her portfolio to do their adulterous deeds) left him wide open to discovery by his tempestuous wife, Suzie. For a brief moment, it looked as if the inevitable was imminent but with the viewer on a precipice – Jeff had been strong armed by Suzie into buying one of the houses he had performed his extra marital duties in and she looked like she knew everything – the story didn’t fall apart so much as disappear.
Suzie found redemption, if you can call it that, in the arms of a malevolent oyster shucker, and there’s a sentence you thought you would never read.
Sure, Jeff and Suzie have long presented as a troubled coupling, but the implication in Suzie’s narrow eyed dagger stares and Jeff’s increasingly furrowed brow was that things were heading to big bang wallop of a finish and an expensive divorce on the cards.
“I always say every season is the last season of Curb,” the show’s executive producer Jeff Schaffer told Hollywood Reporter earlier this month. “All that work, and Larry has learned nothing,” Schafer continued. “That final scene was built to be the last scene ever of Curb, until it’s not. So we’re just going to have to wait and see.” So that’s all clear then.
Have the glaring loose ends that littered season nine simply been kept aside and prepped for part ten? Are they simply what they seem, as in creative hiccups? Or is it a wider perspective on a life wherein nothing is resolved, threads are left to dangle and whatever seems inevitable is a long time coming, if ever at all.
The ninth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm began and ended with Larry David singing the Mary Poppins staple A Spoonful Of Sugar. Even the sight of David running from a would-be assassin, unaware the fatwa has been called off, sums up the Curb ethos succinctly: even in the face of danger, absurdity permeates. And Larry takes flight to live another day. Cue the music. Like we said, business as usual.