This Curb Your Enthusiasm review contains spoilers
Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 9 Episode 7
Last week’s “The Accidental Text on Purpose” was the first Curb Your Enthusiasm that seemed like an episode of Modern Seinfeld. Now one week later, “Namaste” blows right past Modern Seinfeld and becomes the first Curb Your Enthusiasm to feel like an episode of Black Mirror.
Larry steps right into “Nosedive” in “Namaste” as he discovers that he has become what he was always destined to be: a 1-star Uber passenger. His interactions with his drivers, and the subsequent level of chaos and stress it causes him to reign down like hellfire suggests two things. One, Larry clearly has no idea how averages work. Because one 1-star review is clearly not enough to bring a respectable Uber rating down to 1. Two, season 10 of Curb Your Enthusiasm needs to be set in a dystopian Black Mirror future in which Larry leads a rebellion of social outcasts.
“Namaste” is a perfectly fine episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm season 9 and bears pretty much all the same strengths and drawbacks of its compatriots. It features a rough beginning, strong ending and a middle whose success relies upon how identifiable Larry’s everyday struggles are vs. how funny this all this.
Thankfully, “Namaste is perfectly funny at times. A real winner for any joke in Curb Your Enthusiasm-land is when a professional takes their work home with them. In this case, when they take their work to Larry’s home. In an opening scene that’s too transparently improv-y and cute, Larry runs afoul of his hot yoga instructor. Yogi Tina (played by Alison Becker a.k.a. Shaun Malwae-Tweep) for not doing the group chorus of “namaste” at the end of the session.
“It means ‘the light within me greets the light within you,’” Yogi Tina tells him.
“There is no light within me,” Larry says, not inaccurately. “That’s the only problem there.”
But Tina and Leon hit it off and Leon invites Tina back to Larry’s place for many, I repeat: many sexual encounters. Larry comes home to find a house blisteringly hot and asks Leon what he’s doing.
“I’m in here fucking at 92 degrees,” he says.
Hot yoga Tina’s penchant for rooms always being 92 degrees is funny enough in its own weirdness. It also allows for Shauna Malwae-Tweep to say “it’s the optimal temperature for climaxing” which all Parks and Recreation fans are certainly going to have feelings about. Most importantly, however, it sets up another 20 minutes or so of plot, plot twists, and humor beautifully.
The opening scene with Larry refusing to say “namaste” is tired to the point of Curb Your Enthusiasm self-parody. But it does lead to a satisfying series of events in which Larry’s house is stuck at 92 degrees for the remainder of the episode, introduces us to HVAC handyman Bill, and cockblocks Larry no fewer than two times. That’s a pretty good run for Yogi Tina.
Larry’s encounter with car mechanic Greg sees similar levels of Curb Your Enthusiasm-style comedic success. The first words Larry says upon meeting Jeff’s mechanic friend Greg (Doc Farrow)* are “oh you’re black!” and it’s undeniably hilarious in bluntness. Not only does it hammer home Larry’s narcissism and lack of filter but he also quite fairly adds “it’s just that most white people when they have black friends like to show off about it.”
*”Namaste” has a poor track record for understanding how technology works. Uber ratings don’t become 1-star after one 1-star rating and back-up cameras in cars don’t turn off when music is played like in the way that causes Larry to collide with another car.
This encounter is an excellent two or so minutes but it also again sets up another 20 minutes of plot and jokes along with Yogi Tina and her temperature addiction. Greg is offended and won’t get Larry’s car fixed for another 3 weeks, setting up Larry’s Uber misadventures for the rest of the episode. Larry and Jeff have a conversation about how they couldn’t pick up on Greg’s race through the phone and it in turn sets up two of the episode’s best jokes.
Leon is immediately being able to tell Greg is black when he calls, which is amazing. And when the guy whose car Larry hit, Justin (Marc Evan Jackson) arrives to bring Larry an invoice, he has similar “recognizing people’s races over the phone” issues and discovers that “Larry” is a black guy when Leon answers the door. Justin’s bravado from earlier (“Look, Larry. You look like a complete garbage person. How are you going to pay for this, asshole?”) immediately dissipates and he just resolves to pay for the damage to the car, himself.
The work that just those two jokes put in is remarkable and the way they allow the plot to flower is awesome. When Curb Your Enthusiasm is really working, it reminds me of the “Ojibwe saying” poem from The Sopranos where Larry goes about in pity for himself. Only it’s not a great wind that carries him across the sky, it’s just two or three excellent cascading jokes that build on one another for 30 minutes.
Funnily enough, the one thing holding “Namaste” back from being a truly great episode of Curb is a performance that is just too good. Susie has a friend who is dying to be set up on a date with Larry. Larry finally agrees after some predictably awful theorizing about her appearance. So Larry and Bridget (Lauren Graham) go out for dinner and things go really well. REALLY well! And not even in a comedic sense, though Bridget is pretty funny. The two just have wonderful chemistry and we get to see a flirtatious side of Larry David we’ve never gotten to see.
The problem is that Curb Your Enthusiasm, itself, doesn’t quite seem to recognize how fun the two’s interactions are and instead uses it as a set up to have Larry interact with her shitty kid and put the seed in his head that if he says he has Asperger’s, a lot of his antisocial behavior will be forgiven.
In a way, Larry is right. It’s surprising the show took this long to examine the possibility that Larry is on the spectrum. It just doesn’t go to the same interesting places that Greg and Yogi Tina’s plot lines do. Even worse it casts aside the Bridget angle far too quickly.
Maybe Bridget will come back in future episodes but it seems unlikely. (UPDATE: Nope! Looks like Bridget will be back in episode 8 at least). That’s not really the pace or style of this show. And that’s a shame. I can almost see in the barebones “Namaste” script, David writing down “Larry and Bridget’s date goes really well” so that they have something to improvise around before they get to the next scene of “Larry meets her kids with Asperger’s. He just didn’t anticipate how well that date would really go onscreen and by then it was too late to mess around with the tightly-constructed plot.
That structure has led the Curb team to some improvisational gold before in service of the larger plot. This time around, they seemed to sacrifice some of that gold to keep the plot moving and that’s a bummer. How could you do Lorelai Gilmore like that, Larry?
Thankfully, by episode’s end Larry is thrown out of a bus for…oh, for so many infractions. Last week’s episode of Curb was great because it allowed Larry to be the people’s hero for once. “Namaste” brings Larry firmly back to the side of “unrepentant asshole” and if it weren’t for the mishandling of Bridget would have found equal levels of success.