After five long years, Larry David returns in Curb Your Enthusiasm’s ninth season and gets right back to pissing off everyone he encounters. For this week’s episode “Foisted!”, that list includes the Ayatollah of Iran, lesbians, and of course his arch-nemesis Susie Greene.
The show made sure to ground us quickly. Its first scene was Larry being an idiot in his shower while singing “A Spoonful of Sugar” of all things, immediately followed by a classic social faux pas of his. In this case, he didn’t hold a door for a butch lesbian because she didn’t “seem like someone who’d want that” and there was also “a bit of a distance thing.” From there, we were treated to many familiar faces: Jeff and Susie Greene, Leon Black, Richard Lewis, Ted Danson, and even Cheryl made an appearance despite still being divorced from Larry.
This isn’t to say the episode was stale, of course. Merely that it was completely believable to the viewer that yes…this is Larry’s life still. We just haven’t been around for five years to observe him. Even that was lampshaded for us: he spent the time writing a musical called “Fatwa!”, a comedy about how that death sentence handed out by ayatollahs ruined Salman Rushdie’s life.
There was plenty of the new to enjoy, and nothing that felt predictable or formulaic. Rather than the musical itself serving as the ongoing plot of the season, we’ll instead be driven by the fatwa Larry himself receives after accidentally mocking the Ayatollah on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Which is good; that musical sounded incredibly stupid. Jimmy Kimmel also found himself tangled up in another subplot of this episode, since he had foisted a useless assistant onto Larry (played by the wonderful Carrie Brownstein), who felt too bad for her to fire herself. Even if she was certifiably terrible at the job. (Who doesn’t show up to work because of constipation?)
The “main” plot of the episode revolves around Larry’s insulting of the butch lesbian Betty (played by Julie Goldman) for not holding the door. As it turns out, she’s Jeff’s barber, so Larry employs her services. During this haircut, they discuss her upcoming wedding to her rather feminine fiancé Numa (Nasim Pedrad), but Betty tells Larry that she is planning on walking up the aisle to “Here Comes the Bride” while Numa stands and waits as the groom. Larry (with the help of Leon) insist that Betty is much more groom material. Later, Larry goes to Betty’s home to confront her about overcharging for his haircut to witness an argument between the two women, because apparently on some level Betty agreed with Larry’s point. Numa screams at Larry, “What kind of psychopath interferes with the nuances of a lesbian wedding?”
She later tries to chase him down at a restaurant where he’s having lunch with an unsympathetic Richard Lewis, who was angry at his friend over a text.
Oh, and of course he pisses of Susie by foisting is assistant onto her and has a death penalty put on his head by the (fictional) Ayatollah, Abdullah Kazemain. A lot of damage in a little time.
Now, upsetting both a prominent religious figure and two lesbians is you know…kind of an issue. Especially given Larry going about the former in what is obviously an offensive interview:
Larry David: Well, now there’s only one ayatollah, and they all seem to have the same name and they all seem to spell it the same way. And you never know– if you look at the history of ayatollahs, they– it all seems like one person.
Jimmy Kimmel: Yeah, yeah.
Larry David: They all look exactly the same, and their names are Khamenei, Khameeni, Khomani…
We find out after the fact Jeff had tried to warn Larry not to disparage or imitate the Ayatollah (he ultimately does both), but this is certainly one of those moments in a show where you cringe and think, “wow, they really had to go there?” Or at least, I did. It’s similar to the South Park formula of making a point with a stunning display of insensitivity. However in Curb Your Enthusiasm, it’s at least based on the premise that Larry is despicable and never gets positive feedback, unlike say…Randy Marsh with his wife passively nodding along.
It’s the reason Seinfeld is still relevant today, despite them famously having made jokes about previously untouchable issues. More so, Curb Your Enthusiasm doesn’t exactly try to offer much in the way of societal commentary, other than showing how the world’s evolved without someone like Larry. South Park, meanwhile, has a decided message, but its delivery and implications can and does often undercut the point .
That said, Curb Your Enthusiasm does still require an understanding that the depiction of a character being an asshole is not the endorsement of his behavior. However, I’d imagine you’d be hard-pressed to find an audience member who’s missed that, especially since characters of all intersections react just as negatively to Larry while he usually stumbles around trying to do what is “right” in his own clearly warped perception. It’s not so much that I trust the show, as I trust Larry will always be the butt of the jokes. A season-long arc about the Ayatollah issuing a death sentence? Yeah, I see a lot of ways that can go horribly, and maybe I’ll be proven wrong here. But it is unquestionably a very Larry thing to have happen.
I have slightly more mixed feelings about Larry’s commentary on Numa and Betty’s performances of gender and how that relates to their (soon to be) marital roles. It’s obvious that Larry has no business wading into this in the first place, and of course both women end up being furious with him. However, Betty did seem to be, in actuality, a bit uncomfortable as “the bride” instead of “the groom,” making Larry’s comment, “I saw wrong and tried to right it” go sort of unchallenged.
At the same time, Numa made it very clear that she didn’t want doors to be held open for her like Betty does, so…I guess it’s still showing that there’s no heterosexual gendered dynamics that can be projected? As a queer woman, I wasn’t wildly uncomfortable watching it or anything, but it was one of those things where I was rolling my eyes at Larry and a bit concerned it was depicted in a way where others might be rolling their eyes at Numa. Still landed far better for me than his previous adventure into pissing off lesbians (“The Bi-Sexual”).
And really, what more can we ask? Season 9 showed us the exact same show we already loved for eight years. This was always “problematic fave” territory, and I think it’s okay as long as we can recognize that. Let’s just hope Larry sticks to what he knows for the remaining nine episodes. Based on the preview, we’ve got nothing to worry about.