This Curb Your Enthusiasm review contains spoilers
Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 9 Episode 4
“Running With the Bulls” is not the first time we’ve seen Larry with a therapist on Curb Your Enthusiasm though it very well could be the last.
Larry previously spent some time with Cheryl’s therapist (played by Steve Coogan) to develop an elaborate mugging scenario to win her back. And then he made the acquaintance of Dr. Arthur Thurgood (Fred Malamed) who charged him for their time spent in line to get their baseball cards signed. Dr. Thurgood correctly identified that Larry has “one of the more dramatic forms of narcissism.”
Now “Running With the Bulls” opens with Larry seeing therapist #3 (at least), Dr. Lionel Templeton (played by Bryan Cranston, himself no stranger to the Seinfeld/Davidian universe). This time around something feels a little different. Larry complains about the disparity between the two chairs in Templeton’s office and complains about the lack of a clock behind the patient so that Templeton doesn’t have to glance at his watch. He complains about the dream he’s having in which he gets to heaven and can count only 71 virgins.
We find out later that Cheryl recommended Dr. Templeton to Larry to help deal with this whole fatwa thing and perhaps Templeton has been forewarned of Larry’s….Larryness. Templeton listens with outsized patience as Larry goes through his non-problems and seems to have pretty strict rules for his interactions with him. There is to be strict patient-doctor confidentiality, meaning that Larry can’t reveal anything from their sessions – including Dr. Templeton’s taste for truffles and sales at Barney’s warehouse. In short. Templeton seems to know just how to handle Larry.
Maybe it’s because Templeton is played by Cranston who just generally seems in control of everything all the time – or maybe it’s because that’s all you can do with Larry David: handle him. There is no fixing that can be done here. In fact, there may not even be fixing that needs done. Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm is perfectly happy in his narcissism. Hell, he may be the most purely happy being in the whole universe. He is pure id. He experiences a thought or desire and then acts upon it. It just so happens that all of those thoughts and desires are just things that make him marginally more comfortable than everyone else.
Larry has to get the good seat at the restaurant (Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica, which seems relatively reasonable price-wise all things considered), he has to get the good seat at Kenny Funkhouser’s funeral, and when someone cries at said funeral and makes Larry uncomfortable well they have to stop that shit immediately.
This are all ways in which Larry David is a truly selfish, awful person. It also makes him the most interesting character on this show by a long shot. We have such a long, extensive history with Larry and his strange, anti-social behaviors yet psychoanalyzing those behaviors has not become stale.
There’s always more to mine with Larry David. The fictional version of him is endless fascinating in his Russian nesting-doll levels of narcissism. The problem with season 9 so far, however, is that no one else onscreen comes close to being nearly as interesting.
It’s not completely accurate to say that there are “problems” with season 9. As far as half-hour comedies go, this is a perfectly pleasant way to pass the time, even when it’s being so relentlessly callous as it is tonight at poor little Kenny’s funeral.* Curb Your Enthusiasm season 9 is by no means a disaster and in fact remains a worthwhile enough endeavor. Still one can’t shake the feeling though that Larry as a character is improving and becoming more refined while all the rest of the cast stays the same or regresses.
*R.I.P. Kenny. You died as you lived – running with the bulls in Pamplona to impress the hooker Uncle Larry set you up with.
Perhaps that’s why season 9 has brought on so many guest actors so far. Last week saw Salman Rushdie and Elizabeth Banks and now this week we spend some time with Cranston’s Dr. Templeton. The scenes between Larry and Templeton tend to work better than anything else in the episode. It’s not anything secretly great that Cranston is doing (though he is pretty great just by being Bryan Cranston). It’s more the fact that Larry has someone new to bounce off of – someone who is not as intimately familiar with the details of Larry’s neuroses as we, the audience are.
It’s when Larry is interacting with the old standbys that things start to drag a bit. Poor Jeff Green has had so little to do in season 9 and the first big project the show sets up for him is some garden variety philandering. The added angle of Jeff sleeping with a realtor adds little humor or intrigue to the proceedings. The “weirdness” of Curb Your Enthusiasm is often at its best when it’s relatable. And surely who among us has not had sex with a beautiful realtor in dozens of houses across southern California?
Susie by extension has little to do in “Running With the Bulls” as well. At her best, Susie is like BoJack Horseman to Larry and Jeff’s Vincent Adultman. Larry and Jeff are so clearly and transparently full of shit that it’s funny that Susie seems to the only one who is able to sniff it out from a mile away. The bullshit this time around just involves Jeff and there is nothing truly exciting or hilarious for Susie to latch onto.
Richard Lewis is also underutilized as he exists in this episode just to take seats away from Larry and wear the Little Drummer’s funeral outfit. Though even that is admittedly pretty funny.
Having a character as strong, unique, and downright bizarre as Larry David is a mixed blessing. He’s fun to psyhcoanalyze and he’s fun to gawk at – like when he destroys Kenny’s funeral by mistaking a Muslim man with his arm in a cast for a fatwa agent come to take him out. It’s just an issue now that pretty much the rest of the characters on the show have long since processed and dealt with this brand of weirdness.
It’s a good sign that Curb Your Enthusiasm season 9 is bringing in some guest stars to liven things up. Should Larry go for a season 10, he’s going to want to commit to Larry and Leon on a road trip across America, finding new unwitting souls to be fascinated and vexed by him.