Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Therapists

Once a season, Curb Your Enthusiasm seems to bring together all its brilliant constituent parts into one excellent episode. Thus, this episode achieved the perfect balance of farce, gross offence, whimsical dialogue and obnoxious characters. Everything fitted together and had room to breathe. The show's contrivances are often distractingly implausible, but here they told a story.

Larry without Cheryl has broken the formulaic mould somewhat, and seems to have liberated the show. Where robbing House of his familiar patterns reinforced the established order (so far, at least), Larry tried to grow. The episode could easily have spun this premise out for a full 30 minutes. The interplay between Larry boasting about wearing proper shoes, accidentally confessing to hating his sister-in-law, and the temptations served up before him (all suitably minor, but by now we know how Larry can make a scene out of tipping a bartender or sponsoring a walkathon) would have taken us through the episode at a gently wry stroll.

However, better was to come with the introduction of Steve Coogan. Not from him, though. His presence was oddly and perhaps intentionally grating; a more anonymous face would perhaps have worked better, as the part was more a device than a character. He was needed as a device to make Larry wreck the newly budding relationship with Cheryl, not because Larry wouldn't have done so himself in time, but because Larry is best when he's half wrong/half wronged. Larry measured the delivery of the recommended ultimatum perfectly, coming as close to suspense as a literate comedy will allow itself.

From this moment of idiocy blossomed a hundred payoffs. Curb Your Enthusiasm has always executed sublime scene cuts, right from the first season's 'Of course I won't tell anyone/And then her uncle fucked her'. In this tradition, Larry announced he had a great idea. Cut to him persuading a black man to mug a woman. Even without the wonderful subsequent discussion of the plan's intricacies, it was great bathos (it wouldn't have been out of place as an opening to an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia).

The secondary Funkhouser/Alzheimer's story also fed neatly into the main plot. The described symptoms were funny and Larry claiming Marty raised funds for charity under false pretences was funny. They could have stood apart, but they expertly paid off when they prompted Larry to feign the disease. Normally Larry would go too far and be found out there and then, but in this episode we were teased with the possibility of a successful scheme. His delight at pretending to have forgotten they ordered and at bemoaning chicken salad was tangible, and resolved the Coogan strand as well.

The antics throughout were enlivened by a bounty of nonsense chat: Larry complaining that his therapists didn't tell him to get a love-me gift, squabbling over percentage responsibility for the new Larry, challanging the image he projects of Cheryl, wincing at getting fucked up by Leon, observing that sometimes it's dinner then a movie or vice versa, counting in 24s, advocating cards, and of course revelling in the 'time's up' punchline.

Read the AV Club's notes
Buy online: Curb Your Enthusiasm - Series 1-6 - Complete

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