This Curb Your Enthusiasm review contains spoilers
Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 9 Episode 2
When it’s all said and done, we may look back on Curb Your Enthusiasm as a love story. It’s not a love story between Cheryl and David, of course – they’re long divorced. And it’s not a love story between Cheryl and the newly-single, devious Ted Danson, or Mary Steenburgen with that one stranger who looks identical to Larry. It’s not even a love story between Larry David and himself – though it’s close to that.
No, Curb Your Enthusiasm is a love story between Larry David and Leon Black.
The Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm (and maybe even real life) is a difficult person. He’s a self-pronounced fixer. He sees things that are broken and he must fix them no matter how trivial they may be or how little other people want them “fixed.” Sometimes this is a welcome trait. Bianca, the hotel hooker in “The Pickle Gambit” is floored by Larry’s suggestion to wear more conservative “non-hooker” attire. “I think business is gonna boom! I really do,” he says. “I’m so thrilled about this whole thing!”
And boom it does! Still, pretty much every other one of Larry’s pitched fixes to strangers are not well-received. The hotel clerk* has barely finished telling Larry (in disguise as “Buck Dancer” to avoid the Ayatollah and his fatwah) about the website where he can register his comments regarding his stay before Larry shouts “don’t tuck in!” referring to how snugly house-keeping tucks the sheets in. This sets Larry and the hotel clerk down a dark path of tongs-on-cookie debates and will eventually culminate in Larry being forcibly removed from said hotel.
*Played by Oscar-winning screenwriter and Community’s Dean Pelton: Jim Rash!
For every Bianca the hooker, astonished by Larry and his “visionary” ideas, there are at least ten understandably annoyed Jim Rash/hotel clerks.
There is only one Leon Black, however. And Leon Black is at the end of the day truly the only person who understands Larry.
Imagine having a relationship with another human being in which you ask whatever stupid thought pops into your head and then they respond with a serious, well-reasoned answer.
“You think black people prefer black sugar to white?” Larry asks Leon because he just heard black sugar is an ingredient in beefsticks and being Larry David means verbalizing every thought.
Leon, however, answers immediately.
“Absolutely. Anything brown over white.”
“Pants?” Larry asks.
Ten years ago (season 6 of Curb Your Enthusiasm was ten years ago!) when Larry took in a New Orleans family displaced by hurricane Katrina, who could have imagined that he was meeting the true love of his life? And who could have imagined it would not be the character played by Vivica A. Fox.
“The Pickle Gambit” is a superb episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm and may even one day be listed among the classics.*
*Spoiler alert: I gave this a four and a half stars out of five but maybe one day in the distant future, I’ll rewatch this slightly drunk at two in the morning and come back and bump this back up to a five. Curb is the kind of sublime sitcom that rewards both repeat and casual viewings.
One of the reasons why is that it represents the perfect combination of “Larry Against the World and “Some People Actually Appreciate Larry as a Genius.” Larry David (the performer and the character but moreso the performer) is far more versatile than he gets credit for. His most frequently recognized talent is being the put-upon curmudgeon – the guy who can’t quite build up a rapport with other human beings or really any aspect of life.
He’s excellent at that, of course but there’s also the side of David that works remarkably well just gleefully bouncing off other actors with a giant smile on his face. “The Pickle Gambit” features plenty of both.
Larry’s struggles with Jim Rash/hotel clerk are certain to end up on the shortlist of his more explosively passive aggressive battles. Buck Dancer is not here to mess around. Elsewhere in “The Pickle Gambit,” however, are so many excellent moments of Larry just perfectly in sync with those surrounding him.
Even in adversarial moments, David has such a chemistry with those around him, particularly Leon. Leon takes initiative in becoming Larry’s head of security. This just means bringing in his buddy “Swat” to listen for when Larry is in stress and attack whoever is atop of him. This, of course, leads to Swat performing his own brand of coitus interruptus twice. Before that though, Larry’s introduction to Swat is just spectacular.
Swat and Leon demand that Larry go out and buy fluffier towels for Swat while Larry is trying to arrange a meeting with the Iranian consul via phone. It’s just marvelous to hear Larry repeatedly refer to his friends as “nincompoops” while trying to discuss an actual fatwah with a representative of the Iranian government.
It’s not just Leon that Larry is able to bounce off beautifully, however. Two other characters make their return to Curb Your Enthusiasm in “The Pickle Gambit” – one expected and one rather surprising.
After taking week one off, Funkhouser is back! And this time he’s brought his super high-achieving young nephew, Kenny. Of course Larry breaks Kenny’s pitching arm and ticket to Stanford almost immediately as they fight over who gets to open a jar of pickles. Larry, the visionary, obviously knows that people can’t help but play the hero when an unopened jar of pickles come out. He will exploit that later in his hotel “pickle gambit.” Larry’s chemistry with the admittedly bizarre Funkhouser is so wonderful and effortless. In an episode full of huge comedic setpieces, my favorite moment might be simply when Larry and Funkhouser reluctantly listen to Bianca assist Kyle with his ejaculatory issues.* Larry and Marty are so weirdly comfortable with each other that of course this would be happening. It’s just a day ending in “y” in the David household.
*He’s got a cast on his right ardm you see, and no one uses their left.
We all expected Funkhouser to come back, but Shara the anti-Semite Palestinian woman who works at the chicken restaurant? That was a welcome surprise. She helps Larry set up a meeting with the Iranian consulate but in return they have wild, disturbing sex in which she demands some Middle Eastern conflict dirty talk. Naturally Larry just yells names of people in the Trump administration. I expected a lot of things from this season of Curb. I did not expect to hear Larry David climax while yelling “RUDY GULLIAANNNNIII!” It’s also pretty funny that this season was clearly filmed during a point in which people thought Guliani would get a position in the Trump administration. Lol.
Everything comes to together quite nicely by the end of “The Pickle Gambit” as well. The gambit, itself is ingenious in its relatability and leads to a wild conclusion in which every weird thread in the episode comes together in a hilarious tapestry of nonsense.
“Foisted!” was great but it’s “The Pickle Gambit” that really feels like the first episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in six years.