Even though the latest episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm aired in September of 2011, there has still been no confirmation on a ninth season. The quality of the show and the amount of preparation time requires Larry David to take his sweet time in between seasons, but this will be the longest break since it premiered in 2000. HBO has not cancelled the show and they are still hopeful (as are the rest of the cast members) that Larry will want to do another season, but lately he’s had a lot on his plate. He has been working on a film for HBO called Clear History, which is currently in post-production and scheduled for an August premiere. In addition to writing the script, he is also listed in a cast that includes Eva Mendes, Kate Hudson, Michael Keaton, Jon Hamm, Liev Schreiber, Philip Baker Hall, Amy Ryan, and J.B. Smoove.
The re-watch quality of Curb Your Enthusiasm is outstanding and with 80 episodes available (as well as the one-hour pilot), there is plenty of material to either tide you over as you wait for more of everybody’s favorite misanthropic social assassin or simply remind you that this is easily one of the funniest, most creative television shows of all time. I have watched each season enough times to feel comfortable making a top ten greatest episodes list; newcomers really should watch all 80 but if you can only fit ten into your busy schedule, here are my recommendations.
10. The Freak Book
The sixth season was particularly strong and I could have easily included “The Rat Dog” or “The Lefty Call” in this spot, but in the end I had to go with “The Freak Book” because where else are you going to see Larry David pretending to be a limo driver named Charlie drive around a perpetually irritable John McEnroe and a group of grieving Hispanic mourners who don’t understand that they’ve gotten into the wrong limo? It’s hard to imagine how such a preposterous scenario can make sense, but Larry takes us on a fascinating series of events that gives it all validity.
Best scene: Of course it has to be the car ride with Mr. McEnroe and as Richard Lewis would say, the limo driver from hell.
Other heated topics: bringing a book about freaks to parties, a limo driver not bringing anything to read, Ted Danson making a special request that his server wear a bowtie, having a fight with your future cemetery neighbor, whether ping pong is harder to play than tennis
9. Denise Handicapped
Larry asks a woman out before learning that she is in a wheelchair but later learns that there are significant advantages to dating the disabled, such as getting good parking spots and free drinks. This episode marks the second appearance for Rosie O’Donnell and she proves to be a very worthy adversary for Larry David; after meeting for lunch, they get into a physical altercation over who gets to pay the check (“I asked you to lunch, this is my pleasure! No, it’s not, it’s my pleasure, Larry!). It’s difficult to think of a more satisfying Curb ending then when she gets to avenge Larry’s mistreatment of Denise Handicapped and Wendy Wheelchair.
Best scene: Ted Danson just wants to do a good deed by buying Larry and his date a couple pieces of pie, but Larry is full and refuses to take a single bite.
Other heated topics: how hard it is to save a girl from drowning without damaging your Blackberry, bald people misrepresenting themselves by wearing hats, if Asian children have a natural proclivity for chopsticks
8. Larry vs. Michael J. Fox
If in fact there are no future seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm, then at least the series got to end on an incredibly strong note with this 8th season finale that stars Michael J. Fox in a tremendous performance that will make you love him even more. He makes life difficult for Larry (getting retribution for Larry shooshing him for talking while his girlfriend was playing background music and for drawing a Hitler moustache on his father-in-law) and then blames it all on Parkinson’s Disease. Larry tries to complain but everybody in New York City—including Mayor Bloomberg—absolutely adores Michael J. Fox and won’t tolerate anyone criticizing him. Meanwhile, Larry also struggles with buying an appropriate birthday present for a boy that is clearly pre-gay.
Best scene: Every single moment with Michael J. Fox and the flamboyant child is side splittingly funny, but my favorite scene takes place in an elevator, where Larry gets into an argument with The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi—anyone who liked playing with elevator buttons as a child will certainly appreciate it.
Other heated topics: pig parking in Paris, whether or not Jeff would take a bullet for Susie, teaching a kid all about swastikas, a terrible time to use the ‘playing the violin’ gesture
7. The Doll
Arguably the most popular Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, “The Doll” opens with Larry and Julia Louis-Dreyfus pitching their show idea to the executives of ABC, who immediately green-light it and then extend an invitation to a party. At the party, Larry abides a little girl’s request to give her doll a haircut, but then she throws a fit when she realizes that the hair will never grow back. Jeff thinks that his daughter might have the same doll, so they plan to do a switch-a-roo but of course things go terribly wrong, leading to Sammie finding her precious doll decapitated, Larry struggling with a rash because he stuffed a doll’s head down his pants, and Susie unleashing one of her most epic tongue lashings.
Best scene: While entering a theater, a woman asks Larry to dispose of his water bottle because no outside drinks are allowed, but soon later he discovers that she doesn’t even work there–she just strongly believes in following the rules.
Other heated topics: bathroom doors with no locks, the song “Sweet Judy Brown Eyes,” when the Golden Rule does not apply
6. The Surrogate
This episode doesn’t get a whole lot of recognition but it’s often the episode I choose to introduce new-comers to this show because there isn’t a single slow moment or a scene that doesn’t deliver huge laughs. Because of an extremely attractive nurse, Larry’s heart rate escalates during a physical and he’s forced to wear a device called a Heart Halter. He’s not happy with the situation but at least it gets him out of potentially dangerous situations by easily faking a heart attack. There is also some really clever race-relations material in this episode when the scene-stealing Wanda Sykes repeatedly catches Larry in unfortunate misunderstandings with African-Americans. It ends on a wonderful note as well, with Larry and Cheryl watching a classic Seinfeld episode and then receiving an irate phone message from David Schwimmer’s father.
Best scene: Whenever Larry is talking on the phone while in his car, it’s a guarantee that something funny is about to happen. While apologizing to Mr. Schwimmer, his car gets hit and then he goes ballistic without hanging up the phone.
Other heated topics: a dismal magazine selection in a doctor’s waiting room, the use of the term “molato,” the myth of black men being more well-endowed, the similarities between a surrogate’s baby and a script.
5. The Black Swan
It’s very fitting that this surprisingly dark episode would commence in a cemetery, as Larry is flabbergasted that his dad would intentionally misspell “past away” on his mother’s tombstone just to save some money. Larry never shies away from a confrontation but this is the first time his actions actually lead to a man’s death: soon after berating him for taking too long on the golf course, Norm dies from a heart attack. The following day brings even more trouble when he slaughters a black swan on a golf course, but because he’s the ultimate victim of circumstance, he had damn good reasons for doing so. After hiding the incriminating evidence, he convinces Funkhouser, Jeff, and Cousin Andy (played by Richard Kind, making his fourth appearance in the series) to take a vow of silence or else they might get kicked out of their beloved country club. His friends’ inability to keep their big mouths shut unleashes the most psychotic Larry David we’ve ever seen—at one point, he frightens Funkhouser by telling him to shut up while slamming a knife down on the table.
Best scene: The country club owner, Mr. Takahashi, interrogates Larry and his cohorts about the death of his beautiful black swan, Kyoko. This incredibly intense scene climaxes with the classic Larry David lie detector stare-down, but this time, the roles are reversed and Larry is on the defensive.
Other heated topics: the worthiness of Derek Jeter, the annoying social function of having to introduce people, eating fruit twice in the same day, slow golfers
4. Palestinian Chicken
Larry’s unflinching honesty is finally appreciated in this episode and he becomes somewhat of a social assassin within his group of friends, who are preparing for the big annual golf tournament. Their chances of victory are diminished when Funkhouser re-dedicates his life to Judaism and his Rabbi forbids him to play on the Sabbath. The Yarmulke-wearing Funk-Man is none too pleased with Larry and Jeff’s adoration for a new Palestinian chicken restaurant, who they agree would be the perfect place for Jews cheating on their spouses to meet. Also on the golf team is a character played by the always-welcome Larry Miller, who has some of the best lines in the episode, and who Seinfeld fans will remember as the strange and demented doorman.
Best scene: You wouldn’t think a sex scene with Larry David would be anything special, but when he’s lucky enough to get with the attractive Palestinian woman from the restaurant, you’ll hear some of the oddest and funniest dirty talking of all time. According to Larry, when a woman hates your race and doesn’t even acknowledge your right to exist, it’s a major turn on, and she’s certainly a good sport.
Other heated topics: saying “LOL” instead of actually laughing, changing your mind in a “no matter what” scenario, Jewish and Palestinian protests over restaurant proximity, men who are terrified of their short-tempered wives, cold potatoes at a dinner party
3. The Anonymous Donor
Larry David donates enough money to an art museum to have a special wing named after him, but his generosity is overshadowed by another donor who wishes to remain anonymous (because he doesn’t need the fanfare or the credit) but who everybody knows is Ted Danson. Meanwhile, Jeff gets banned from the David house when it’s discovered that he masturbated during Passover and didn’t clean up afterwards. Not only do you get hilarious scenes with Susie, a returning Gina Gershon, The Blacks, and the great Senator Barbara Boxer, but also with Leon, who makes his very first appearance.
Best scene: It didn’t take long for Leon to become a fan favorite. Once he and Larry discussed the mysterious stain on his blanket, it was obvious that the two had amazing chemistry.
Other heated topics: the “win some, lost some” policy at dry cleaners, having to take care of an erection before playing Four Questions, revenge masturbatory payback on a teddy bear
2. The Survivor
Larry David can find comedic excellence on any subject, even those as touchy and sensitive as the Holocaust and 9/11. Upon learning that his rabbi plans to invite a survivor to a special dinner, Larry extends an invitation to a family friend who was also in a concentration camp. To Larry’s shock, the rabbi–who makes a habit of telling people that his brother-in-law died on September 11th but fails to mention that it had absolutely nothing to do with the tragedy–ends up bringing a contestant on the show Survivor, which leads to an uncomfortable but hysterical confrontation over which survivor had it worse.
Best scene: As much as I love the part where Larry lists all the available options when his mother-in-law asks for a mint, the aforementioned confrontation scene is king, especially when it culminates with Larry getting doused with wine.
Other heated topics: giving dirty clothes to a dry cleaner owner outside of the store, Hasidic women using a sheet during sex, Cheryl thinking that their marriage continues in the afterlife while Larry assumed he’d get to be single again.
1. The Car Pool Lane
This episode unfolds much like a film such as Adventures in Babysitting or After Hours, when a night just gets crazier and crazier. Larry is trying to get to Dodgers Stadium but the terrible traffic prompts him to pick up a prostitute named Monena—not for sex, but just to use the car pool lane. In yet another example of Curb’s impeccable casting decisions, Monena is played by Kym Whitley (who’s got a red snapper that talks to you!) in one of the funniest performances in the show’s history. This episode deserves to be at the top of the list because not only is it one of the smartest, strangest, and funniest episodes, but it is actually responsible for helping save a man’s life. While incarcerated and facing a possible death sentence, the wrongly-accused Juan Catalan was shown on tape during the filming of the baseball scene, which confirmed his alibi for the night of the crime.
Best scenes: How does one possibly choose between Larry buying pot from Hurley to help with his father’s glaucoma, Larry finding a very unusual way to get out of jury duty, Marty Funkhouser saving his deceased father’s seat, and Larry smoking weed with his father and Monena and not having a good high?
Other heated topics: schwag vs. chronic, whether stealing an Almond Joy could be considered a serious crime, the proper way to ask a favor to someone in mourning
As you can imagine, given the quality of this consistently hilarious series, it was extremely difficult to narrow the list down to ten. I feel bad for not including any episodes for Season 3 because many fans would declare that to be the best one of them all, and there really isn’t a weak episode in the bunch. Here are the other episodes that I am particularly fond of, in chronological order.
The Pants Tent, Beloved Aunt
The Car Salesman, Thor, Shaq
Mary, Joseph, and Larry, The Special Section, Krazee-Eyez Killa, The Grand Opening
Ben’s Birthday Party
The Korean Bookie, The Ski Lift
Meet the Blacks, The Lefty Call, The Rat Dog, The Ida Funkhouser Roadside Memorial
The Hot Towel
Vow of Silence