This Curb Your Enthusiasm review contains spoilers
Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 9 Episode 3
Shows within the Seinfeld genus like Curb Your Enthusiasm must walk a very fine line.
Much if not all of the humor on these shows derives from how difficult or even outright unlikeable their characters are. The more unlikeable or outrageous a character is behaving, the greater the potential for comedic returns becomes…as does the risk for alienating an audience completely.
“A Disturbance in the Kitchen” is the first episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm season 9 that has a little trouble with this line.
Nothing is outright repugnant (well no more repugnant that Larry’s behavior is on this show normally) but parts of the episode just plainly aren’t funny enough to support and distract from the unpleasantness.
The first third of “A Disturbance in the Kitchen” sets up a handful uncomfortable bits that seem like they’re going nowhere. When the third act presents some payoffs, they come as more of a relief than a punchline.
It’s absolutely possible for Curb Your Enthusiasm to present a plot line in which Larry is unconcerned about a missing teenage girl and have it work. “Everything is fair game in comedy” is a bit of a tired concept at this point but Curb is one of the few entertainment entities where it seems like a fair truism. The Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm is so intense in his misanthropy and just general shittiness that callousness to this extreme degree could theoretically be funny. It just doesn’t quite get there this time around.
I can’t quite pin down exactly why. Maybe it’s because David and Jeff Garlin clearly improv in some bits about missing sunglasses and a Chicago Cubs hat. Later on in the episode Larry tells Elizabeth Banks (Oh Elizabeth Banks is in this by the way, more on her later) that the key to good lying is specificity. The same goes for comedy. And the totems that distract Larry from this missing girl aren’t specific enough.
Equally as disappointing is Larry’s encounter with a cop. It’s the lack of specificity that hurts here too. The concept of car horns having too aggressive of a sound is relatable. It’s also undeniably hilarious how quickly and wearily Officer Damon Wayans Jr. exits his car after being beeped at. But that particular bit doesn’t really go anywhere beyond that. When Larry later accepts a comparison of himself to Rosa Parks in front of a black judge and cop, the joke just doesn’t register because it’s not even really clear what the joke is.
When Curb Your Enthusiasm is as funny as it’s capable of being and the plot beats in each episode are building on one another, it’s easy to accept the show’s premise and live in Larry David’s world where every possible slight is indeed a life and death crisis. When the humor and plotting aren’t fully roaring, however, you’re just passively watching a billionaire complain about things. “A Disturbance in the Kitchen” never quite gets to that level where it’s outright unfunny, unpleasant or annoying but due to that lazily-handled opening it gets close.
Thankfully, the rest of the episode picks up the pace, strikes the right tone and turns what could have been a bad episode into a perfectly harmless and entertaining one.
Finding the exact right guest stars certainly helps.
Salman Rushdie, eh? Didn’t see that one coming. After Larry expresses some frustration to Leon (and Swat who it seems is now a permanent resident of the David household) that his friends are avoiding him because of the fatwa, he comes up with a brilliant idea. He’ll reach out to the only other prominent celebrity who has had a fatwa declared against him.
“A Disturbance in the Kitchen” gets so much mileage out of the fact that Salman Rushdie even appears in it alone. Not only that but he kind of kills given his generous screen time and general lack of comedic experience.
Salman tells Larry that being the target of a fatwa doesn’t have to be so bad.
“There are a lot of women who are attracted to you in this condition,” he says. “You are a dangerous man.”
If there were anyone who could confirm that, it’s Salman “I Was Once Married To Padma Lakshmi, No Seriously: Google It” Rushdie. Sure enough, Larry and Salman go grab a bite to eat at a restaurant with a frequently disturbed kitchen and Larry catches Elizabeth Banks eye.
Like Rushdie, Banks is another guest star in the episode who elevates the entire experience just through her presence alone. “Appearing in Curb Your Enthusiasm As Yourself” fame seems to be the exact kind of fame that Banks has always striven for and her excitement is apparent. For as unpleasant as Larry’s initial disinterest in the safety of a missing girl is, somehow it’s equally as funny when Banks dismissively compares the situation to the time she lost her cat. Comedy, man. It makes no sense.
The best part of “A Disturbance in the Kitchen,” however, is the aforementioned disturbance in the kitchen. Curb Your Enthusiasm excels at two things, both of which are abundant in this episode: comedic continuity and repeating a gag just often enough. The continuity comes into play with smaller things like Swat continuing to live with Larry and Larry’s ridiculous fatwa disguise. The overly-diplomatic and political restaurant manager is a prime example of Curb knowing exactly how often to go back to a joke.
Rushdie and Banks are obviously the big guest stars here but Rich Fulcher as the restaurant manager absolutely makes this episode. His steadfast refusal to answer anything whether it be what caused a disturbance in the kitchen to the color of his tie is hilarious. And his accidental stonewalling of the cop when he arrives to arrest Larry for dinging his cop car fits in nicely into an ending that pretty shrewdly combines a lot of disparate threads.
In fact the end of “A Disturbance in the Kitchen,” might be the most complete and logical of the new season yet. It’s only the beginning’s inability to find the right tone that sinks the rest of the episode’s chances.