'Curb Your Enthusiasm': Never leaving the past (behind)
While this week's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" offered some window dressing (borrowed pens, rash-afflicted 9-year-old girls, maitre d' bribery, Groat's disease), the main events were clearly the table read for the "Seinfeld" reunion and Michael Richards being haunted by his past.
I have to give Larry David credit for cannily structuring this season of "Curb" around the fictional reunion and using this week's episode, the season's penultimate installment, as a way of allowing the audience a behind-the-scenes look at one of television's most acclaimed comedies.
While next week's season finale will depict the reunion itself, we were treated this week to the table read for the "Seinfeld" reunion as well as the event's rehearsal, conducted on the updated set for Jerry's apartment.
Offering an insightful as well as hilarious look into the typical sitcom process, Larry David has essentially reconstructed what it must have been like for the cast and crew during the "Seinfeld" days. We're privy to seeing the cast crack each other up, rivalries develop (such as the one between Cheryl and, well, just about everyone else) and little vendettas creep in. As Julia Louis-Dreyfus admits to Larry upon seeing the "Seinfeld" set, "It's like going back in time or never leaving the past or something."
We've seen that Larry and Jason Alexander have a contentious working relationship and the "Seinfeld" reunion has brought out some old animosities, which here manifest themselves over a battle over a pen. Does a replacement pen have to be just as good as the original? Or is it enough that the ink is the same color? Larry and Jason seem to nearly come to blows over this little intellectual debate, though I have to say that I wouldn't have been too keen to have my pen back either after seeing just what Jason did to it during the table read.
But the episode also doesn't shy away from bringing up some painful topics either. After learning that he suffers from the fictional Groat's disease (last mentioned in Season 2 of "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), Michael Richards once again finds himself in the line of fire for a racially fueled attack on an African American ... who just happens to be Larry's house guest Leon (the always hysterical J.B. Smoove), who posed as Groat's disease sufferer Danny Duberstein but who looked more like Louis Farrakhan from the Nation of Islam than a Jewish CPA.
Skewering Richards' brush with notoriety, Larry David has Richards angrily confront Leon in full view of several dozen camera phones, leading to him proclaiming that he wished he could call Leon a word that would make him as angry as he was right then. It's a savage parody of Richards' race-fueled rant to an African American heckler during a 2006 stand-up performance ... which happened to be captured on a cellphone.
While much of the episode dealt with the sort of common annoyances that manage to get under Larry's skin, such as being harassed via text-message by 9-year-old Emma or inadvertently tipping a maitre d' (he took a 20 right out of Larry's hand at a newsstand), the Michael Richards tangent seemed deeply personal, as though mining the troubling incident for humor was truly the only way for both Richards and Larry David to put it behind them.
David has often said that there are no sacred cows on "Curb," that everything is up for grabs for the sake of comedy, so it's only fitting that Richards' own life — and perhaps the most shameful moment of it — be used as comedy fodder as well. In a way, it seems only fitting in a season that's about looking backward as much as it is looking forward.
What did you think of this week's episode? Was it great to see the "Seinfeld" gang back together again? Just what will Larry do to derail the reunion in his own inimitable style? Head to the comments section to discuss.
— Jace Lacob (follow my musings on television, food and more television on Twitter at @televisionary)
Photo: Michael Richards, Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Larry David prove themselves masters of their domain on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Credit: Doug Hyun / HBO.