Curb has, these long seven seasons, been at its best in the off-the-cuff, totally unscripted moments as created by Larry David, Jeff Garlin, and whatever guest star happens to be appearing in a given episode. When everything comes together in these moments – and everything has come together on so many occasions – sheer artistic beauty is crafted in the form of semi-improvisational comedy.
On the other hand, Curb’s least successful moments are the ones that are scripted to the point of being ham-fisted, too coincidental, totally implausible, and frankly, not all that funny. These moments are basically Seinfeld shot with shaky-cam.
This was one of the biggest problems with Season 7: it felt too scripted, too contrived. While there were moments of brilliance and some quality episodes, there were far too many gimmicks and just too much plot for the show’s own good. “Larry decides to do a Seinfeld Reunion for the sole purpose of getting Cheryl to love him again.” It just felt too typically “sitcom-y” for a show known as the “anti-sitcom.” Worse still, it was a downright disappointing follow-up to the perfection that was the Season Six finale. What’s more perfect than the recently-separated Larry David – who has always been socially incompetent when it comes to black people and culture – ending up with the beautiful Loretta Black (Vivica A. Fox) and her family?
But I digress.
The point being: Curb is at its best the less ridiculous it is. And that’s precisely why the first episode of Season Eight – “The Divorce” – works so well. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that it’s one of the better season openers in the show’s history. If there was ever any doubt that Larry David was still at the top of his game after working on this show for over a decade, it’s gone within minutes of watching the season 8 premiere.
After a brief recap of Season 7′s final moments – Cheryl David (as played by Cheryl Hines) leaving Larry for the last time ever – we flash-forward approximately a year into the future to find that Larry is finalizing the divorce. This is welcome news for the audience, because watching Larry continuously scheme his way back into Cheryl’s life would get really boring, really fast.
Thankfully, the regulars are all back in some capacity, including Jeff, Susie, Cheryl, Marty Funkhouser – played by Bob Einstein (A.K.A. Super Dave Osborne A.K.A. Larry Middleman from Arrested Development) – and, maybe most importantly, Leon Black (J.B. Smoove).
As is typical with episodes that even partially involve the guy, Leon basically owns every scene he’s in here. Despite the fact that his sister, Loretta, left Larry over a year ago, Leon is still living with him in one of the guest rooms. And even though it’s difficult to pinpoint why, there’s just something genuinely heart-warming about seeing Larry and Leon cohabitate together. In some ways, they’re an even better team than Larry and Jeff.
As far as plot and story go, “The Divorce” actually feels somewhat subdued – in a very, very satisfying way, mind you – especially coming on the heels of the “Seinfeld Reunion.” Even the moments that are more “scripted,” artificial, and plot-heavy, feel pretty well polished. One such moment, which involves a girl scout coming to Larry’s house and getting her first period, is just the right amount of awkward and hilarious all rolled together as Larry attempts to talk her through it outside the bathroom door.
Indeed, the season 8 premiere feels kind of like how every few years James Bond goes “back to the basics” by removing all the over-the-top humor and focusing on the grittier, more barebones aspects of the character. This season, Larry David is playing the Daniel Craig/James Bond equivalent of Larry David.
There’s even a plot thread that recalls one of the best jokes from Season Three, where Larry hired a chef based solely upon the fact that he, like Larry, was bald. When Larry found out that the chef, in public, hid his baldness under a toupee, he fired him immediately – leaving Larry and his fellow restaurant investors without a chef at the last minute.
Similarly, in “The Divorce,” Larry believes that he has the best Jewish lawyer – named Berg – in all of L.A. The guy is the best lawyer…he’s just not Jewish. Eventually, Larry finds out that Berg actually went to a Catholic school and has been implying for years that he’s Jewish just to get big clients like Larry. Long story short, Larry fires his Gentile lawyer and hires the nearest Jewish lawyer he can find – landing the worst possible divorce settlement as a result.
All in all, the episode isn’t perfect but it’s an excellent set-up for the coming season, which will take place primarily in New York. At this point, it’s unclear why exactly Larry feels compelled to return to the place of his birth, but I suppose we’ll find that out when we’re meant to.
Expect guest appearances from Ricky Gervais — one of Larry’s favorite comedians — Rosie O’Donnell, Wanda Sykes, and Michael J. Fox, as well as a story that at least partially involves Larry re-entering the dating world.
Curb Your Enthusiasm airs Sundays @9PM on HBO.
Follow me on Twitter @benandrewmoore.