TV Show ReviewsJosh Reviews Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 12!

Josh Reviews Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 12!

I was starting to believe that, like The Simpsons, Larry David’s brilliant Curb Your Enthusiasm might continue forever.  The show began an unbelievable TWENTY-FOUR years ago, back in 2000.  (Actually, we should be counting this as TWENTY-FIVE years, because the show really began with the 1999 one-hour Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm special.)  I’m sad to see Curb coming to its end with this twelfth season, but I’m delighted to report that it went out with a top-notch season.

I’d previously felt the show had peaked with its seventh and eight seasons.  Season seven gave us the fantastic Seinfeld reunion, while season eight gave us a number of all-time classics, such as the outrageous “Palestinian Chicken”.  The show then went away for six years.  When it returned with season nine (albeit missing two key creative players in Alec Berg and David Mandel), I felt the show was still great, but it wasn’t the same.  There were still many amazing and hilarious bits, but the episodes were shaggier; the stories in the individual episodes, and the seasons as a whole, didn’t come together with the precision-like clockwork of the best Curb (and Seinfeld before it).  (This actually reminded me very much of the final two seasons of Seinfeld, created without Larry David’s involvement.  The show was still very funny, and I loved watching it, but it didn’t quite have the same magic.)

But here in season twelve, I felt the magic was back.

Right away, I could tell this season’s main story-line would be much better than what we’d gotten in season eleven (which I felt was one of the weakest storylines Curb had ever done; an outlandish scenario in which Larry winds up getting blackmailed into casting a terrible non-actor into a leading role in his new sitcom, Young Larry).  Larry visits Atlanta for a paid gig attending the birthday party of a rich fan, but of course Larry can’t manage to be cordial, even when being paid to do so, and so he bungles it.  While in Atlanta, Larry and Leon visit Auntie Rae (returning from season six), and a series of mix-ups leads to Larry’s getting arrested for giving Auntie Rae a cup of water while she’s waiting in line to vote, a violation of Georgia’s 2021 “Election Integrity Act.”  I loved the idea of the show’s spotlighting this law, which was part of Republican initiatives in many states to change election laws, following Joe Biden’s defeat of Donald Trump in the 2020 Presidential election.  I also immediately got excited that, with a storyline involving Larry getting arrested, it looked like the show might be building to a story that would parallel the controversial Seinfeld series finale (which Larry David returned to write).  What a brilliant idea!!  I loved the way this season wound up being structured to be in conversation with that Seinfeld finale, and the way everything came together in the finale made me so happy.  (More on that below!)

I thought the first two episodes were good, but the third one really got me excited for the season.  I laughed so hard in that crazy episode, which built to a bit in which Larry — after being disgusted by the way Leon sits in shorts, exposing his testicles — realizes that he (Larry) can use that same trick to get out of conversations he doesn’t want to have (such as a meeting with Mr. Takahashi, the head of his golf club).  Incredible!  I also loved the whole business in which Larry sits on a bench near a golf lesson and is then accused of stealing the content of the lesson that he overheard (“vertical drop, horizontal tug” — also the name of the episode!); this somehow builds to a scenario in which Larry gets into a feud with CODA star Troy Kotsur, who Larry beans with a golf ball because of Larry’s now newly-improved swing…!

This season was packed with some all-time great comedic bits.  I’m not often in full agreement with Larry, but I certainly supported his righteous indignation over restaurants refusing to serve breakfast after a certain time.  I also loved: Larry’s calling Siri the c-word; Larry’s arguing with a gift-shop employee over whether he has toilet privileges; the Spartacus moment over the identity of the author of the “Disgruntled” letter; Larry’s bringing his own eggs to the club and arguing over “egg misplacement” when he questions whether the chef actually cooked his eggs; Larry’s causing marital strife between his lawyer (Sean Hayes, brilliant this season — I wish we’d seen more of him!) and his husband (Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy) over whose last name they’d chosen for their child (Larry, of course, can’t help butting in to tell them he disagrees with their choice); women buying bricks at a local synagogue and engraving them with hateful messages about Larry; Larry’s getting into a ridiculous argument with the waiter at a Chinese restaurant over or not whether a fish was “stuck” (or just “sick”) in the filter tube of the tank; Larry’s memorizing the Gettysburg Address while urinating; Larry’s hatred of text chains (again, I’m with Larry on this one!!); Larry’s negotiating a “smell discount” on a used car for Richard Lewis; Larry’s difficulties zipping up his sweatshirt and all the trouble that gets him into… and so much more!

It was a pleasure to see so many of the show’s main ensemble given so much great stuff to do.  I loved how central Jeff and Susie (Jeff Garlin & Susie Essman) were this year, traveling with Larry down to Atlanta and being involved in so many great stories this season, including Jeff & Larry’s attempts to replace an offensive lawn jockey statue they accidentally destroyed; Jeff’s Fiddler on the Roof-like attempt to get out of a trip with Susie he doesn’t want to go on by pretending to have a nightmare about it; Jeff’s dying his hair, which starts to run like he’s Rudy Giuliani; Jeff and Susie’s argument over Jeff’s lack of concern when he suspects Susie’s new dog has been eaten by a coyote; Susie’s caftan business and the trouble she gets into when people keep graffiti-ing penises onto her billboards; Jeff’s attempt to trick Auntie Rae out of her secret salad dressing recipe by claiming he needs the ingredients to help someone having a life-threatening allergy attack (which is a pretty good scheme, actually); and most especially Jeff and Larry’s failed scheme to get Larry power of attorney over Jeff, in place of Susie.

I still miss the late, great Bob Einstein (who played Marty Funkhouser), but Vince Vaughn has been wonderful as Freddy Funkhouser, and he had lots of great stuff to do this season.  The only thing funnier than Freddy’s dating a young woman who he thought worked at Disney, but who actually was a greeter at a Disney store, was his copping Larry’s scheme of faking a debilitating illness as a way of breaking up with her.  I also loved the story of Freddy and Larry competing with one another to get out of raising their sort-of-friend Stu Grossbard’s daughter after he has a stroke.  (Freddy’s fake dream monologue about locking the kid in the basement had me on the floor.)

The late, great Richard Lewis was a key part of Curb back in the day, though he’s had less to do in recent seasons because of his health issues.  I was so, so happy that he was such a major presence in this final season.  Mr. Lewis passed away this past February; getting to see him on this show was a beautiful posthumous gift.  It was somewhat bittersweet — a reminder of the loss of his giant talent — and it’s crazy that this season contained a scene in which Richard and L.D. argued about who was going to die first (and what they would/wouldn’t leave to the other in their wills) — but mostly it was just amazing and wonderful to get to watch a whole bunch of funny new Richard Lewis scenes.  The whole business over his being unable to smell what his used car smells like was amazing, and I also loved his discussion with Larry over their respective “let’s go” head nods.  (Richard’s look of dismay in the finale, when Larry screws things up with yet another potential girlfriend for Richard, was classic.)

It’s hard to believe that J.B. Smoove wasn’t a part of this show for the first half of its run; he’s become such a central member of the ensemble!  I absolutely adore the easy chemistry Mr. Smoove has with Larry David.  The two of them together are an absolute delight.  I laughed and laughed this season at Leon’s pontifications on the perils of dick-dialing, his lust for Tinkerbell, his dream of a pee-powered car (which Leon names “the Pee-us”), why Black people would taste better to cannibals (“the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice”), whether Larry’s silly walk can get him added onto the “Evolution of Man” chart, and so much more.

I’m glad we got some fun stuff with Ted Danson and Cheryl Hines — long-time Curb supporting players — as well.  They really have fun making Ted look like a jerk this season.  His smiling as he gets publicly arrested in the finale (presumably because his performative protest will mean good press) was amazing.

I didn’t love the last season, as I’ve commented; so when Maria Sofia popped up in the season premiere, I was worried.  But Mr. David & co. handled this perfectly: they gave her a nice fun bit in that first episode and then moved on.  So she got a nice button on her role in season 11, without being a major presence this season.  Perfect.  They also brought back Irma, the unappealing woman who Larry wound up dating at the end of last season.  I love Tracey Ullman, but wow did she succeed in making Irma disgusting!!  (“Larry, where are my bunion splints?”)  It was funny watching Larry squirm in her presence, but I didn’t really believe Larry would continue dating her for any reason.  I was thankful they phased her out in the back half of the season.

As usual, we got some incredible guest stars this season, including Sharlto Copley (District 13, Powers) as rich guy Michael Fouchay; Lionel Boyce (Marcus from The Bear!) as an African-American garden-shop owner who Larry & Leon offend on their quest for a replacement lawn jockey; Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids; Confess, Fletch) as a therapist with pour boundaries and Rob Riggle as her husband; Ike Barinholtz (The Afterparty, History of the World Part II) as an all-you-can-eat restaurant owner who bans Leon; Sienna Miller, playing a hilariously fruit-obsessed version of herself (the montage of her chowing down while acting was a highlight of the season for me); Matt Berry (What We Do in the Shadows) as a pompous TV director; Dean Norris (Breaking Bad) as the judge, Sanaa Lathan as the defense lawyer, and Greg Kinnear as the prosecutor in the finale.  I loved seeing Conan O’Brien as himself (involved in several terrific scenes, including a discussion over whether Larry has “clearance” to come up to him on the street and start a conversation, as well as debating whether it’s possible to be racist towards a dog) AND also Steve Buscemi as a guy selling a used car to Richard Lewis in the same episode!  AND this season we got Bruce Springsteen, playing himself, who winds up accusing Larry of purposefully giving him Covid.  But the biggest props of the season, in my opinion, go to Lori Laughlin, for the brilliant and I-can’t-believe-they-went-there spoof of herself as someone who cannot resist lying and cheating in every interaction she has at the golf club after Larry gets her in (in a Lincoln-like inspirational speech to the club board that was also a brilliant moment).  I’m not a big Lori Laughlin fan, but I was bowled over by the guts of this hilarious and horrible lampoon of herself.  Just amazing.  And so funny!!!

I enjoyed Essence Atkins as Renee Holcomb, the artist dating Larry who liked painting elderly Jewish comedians — for her exhibition called “Wisenheimers”.  One: I would go to that exhibition in real life!  Two: Ms. Atkins was great.  I wish she’d been in more episodes!

I was surprised to see the “fish: stuck” argument called back late in the season; I thought that aggrieved waiter would then play a role in the finale, but that didn’t happen.

The whole thing came to a wonderful head in the finale, (which was perfectly titled: “No Lessons Learned”).

SPOILERS AHEAD gang, so steer clear if you haven’t seen this yet!

There was lots of great stuff in the finale, especially Larry’s declaration (to a kid, of course), that: “I’m 76 years old, and I have never learned a lesson in my entire life!”  That was basically the mantra of this show (and Seinfeld too)!

There was lots of great business throughout the episode, and I’m glad that Jeff, Susie, Leon, and Richard Lewis all had fun stuff to play.  It was fun seeing Allison Janney (The West Wing) as Richard’s new flame, Cynthia.  (Though weirdly the whole story of her cutting off Larry & Leon on the highway and giving them the finger, and then completely denying the whole exchange, went nowhere.)  I absolutely loved the bit in which Larry, Leon, and Jeff all bust one another for refusing to put their phones on “airplane mode” during a flight.

I’d been excited all season long to see to what degree the finale — with Larry on trial — would reference the (in)famous Seinfeld finale.  I was thrilled when the episode’s main story turned into a remake of that finale, with a parade of the many people Larry had wronged over the course of the series brought back as character witnesses against him in court.  This was a great idea, and somehow all these scenes played with the exact blend of nostalgia and comedic zing that I felt was missing from the Seinfeld finale, where this all felt sort of flat and obvious to me.  (Why did it work better here?  Well, first off, I’ve always felt the impact of those Seinfeld cameos was undercut by the finale being preceded by a clip show, so we’d already just been reminded of all the great moments with those characters.  Things were shot just a hair more realistically here, so this felt a bit more like real life even though of course it’s a completely fake, outlandish TV situation.  That kept me engaged.  In general I just think the writing and editing were a little sharper here, and that makes a difference in making these comedic scenes sing.)  I was so happy to see Mocha Joe (Saverio Guerra), Mr. Takahashi (Dana Lee), Bruce Springsteen, and real-life Trump whistleblower Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman all brought back… though my favorite was the return of the frum Jewish woman Rachel Heineman (Iris Bahr), who jumped out of a ski lift in a classic early Curb episode.

Everything unfolded just the way I wanted.  I loved seeing Larry convicted, and I laughed and laughed at the scene in which he was sitting alone in his cell, discussing an inadvertent pants tent — which was, of course, a call-back to a joke in the first regular episode of Curb, and also of course a parallel to how the Seinfeld gang, in the cell in their finale of their show, called back to a joke from their first episode when discussing the button that makes the shirt.

If the episode had ended there, I’d have been thrilled.  But they did the Seinfeld finale even better, acknowledging that the audience doesn’t want to see the beloved characters punished.  And so, Jerry helps Larry get off on a technicality, and Larry is free to continue his usual misanthropic ways, and the whole thing ends perfectly with the gang bickering on the airplane when Susie opens her seat’s window shade.  Just brilliant and perfect!!!  I was so happy.

This was a terrific final season of a show I have deeply loved for so long.  I’ve thought Curb was finished several times before in the last quarter-century, but now it truly looks like this is for real.  Bravo to Larry David and Jeff Schaffer for this terrific final season, and for crafting such a wonderful series finale.  And bravo to those two, along with Alec Berg and David Mandel, who helped guide this series for so long, for. creating such a unique and wonderful television show.  I can’t wait to find the time to someday watch this all again, from the beginning…

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