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Television Recaps: Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Venture Bros.

November 16, 2009

thetablereadCurb Your Enthusiasm: “The Table Read”

I notice the run time on this episode is a slightly longer 30-some minutes instead of the usual 25-plus. Delightfully, I can’t think of any one of those 60 seconds that’s squandered in the season’s best episode so far.

I got a little annoyed last week with the episode’s a bit-too-heavy emphasis on Larry and too little inclusion of Curb’s other characters. Well, this week we not only get some wonderful moments from Marty Funkhauser, not only the Seinfeld reunion so many have all been waiting for, but, even better than that, a series-defining exchange between Leon and Michael Richards…but I’ll get to that in a moment.

This week the Seinfeld reunion show’s underway while a few of the cast express some surprise at Cheryl’s securing the role of George’s ex-wife. Add to that Larry striking up an unwanted texting friendship with the nine-year-old daughter of one of the producers; Jason Alexander’s abuse of a borrowed pen; and Michael Richards’ recently diagnosed Groat’s disease. And a disturbingly vulgar joke from Funkhauser.

First, the reunion.  If that’s what America wanted, the titular Table Read delivers—10 years out (has it really been that long?), the Seinfeld gang still has it: Jerry, Julia, Jason, Michael, and surprise guests Wayne Knight and Estelle Harris don’t miss a beat playing off each other, and Larry proves that he can still write a lot about nothing (though I guess fans of Curb probably already knew that).

But this episode goes a lot deeper than just reliving the glory days. To be sure, it has a lot of fun with some Seinfeld nostalgia—the table read scenes linger on a little longer than they need to—but ultimately it’s on Curb’s terms. This season’s major story arc, and likely the reason Larry David wanted to write it, is to let us see what it’s been like for the past 10 years to him. He makes light of it, but does anyone outside of those directly involved realize how much work goes into putting a one-off reunion show together? Not just writing the thing, but the negotiations, getting the actors together, trying to keep everyone from getting at Larry’s throat…and what’s in it for Larry?

And yet Larry still hasn’t busted out the soapbox. He got in a few jabs at the Seinfeld fanboys earlier in the season, but I think Larry David deserves a lot of credit for being reserved enough to not attack his fanbase and instead taking the opportunity to have a lot more fun and get a lot more laughs playing Seinfeld off Curb. Like I said, he gives you your Seinfeld, but Seinfeld in the context of Curb. When Funkhauser delivers his very, very un-NBC joke, you get a hint that Larry’s reminding you they’re two different shows—and the point is really driven home by Jerry’s reaction to Larry casually asking his producer about her nine-year-old’s p*ssy.

In a way, it’s surprising an episode like this wasn’t made sooner because it uses Seinfeld to draw out the differences between it and Curb. Yeah, both of them have converging storylines and focus on morally dubious human beings, but Curb takes it one step further: The four central characters in Seinfeld are pretty despicable, but the rest of the world is not too bad, albeit a little (sometimes a lot) eccentric. In Curb, Larry’s character is even worse, but so, too, is everyone else—Larry just gets more screen time.

He also gets the freedom of being on HBO, which, as the episode never fails to remind us, allows him to curse a lot more but also be edgier. Which brings us back to Michael Richards. I’m actually less surprised with how they pulled it off than I am that they did it at all. Not to spoil not only the best scene of the season but also the finest Curb moment since the Season 3 finale’s swear-extravaganza, but you know what I’m talking about. And Michael Richards and JB Smoove come off as not only tear-inducingly funny, but also, really, really good sports.

I’m pretty sure this is the first episode written for Season 7, or at least it’s the one that inspired Larry to do another season. Once you watch it, you’ll understand why.


therevengesocietyThe Venture Bros.: “The Revenge Society”

Damn you Publick and Hammer! Damn you for continually playing with my expectations! You did it last season by taking a minor character and turning his backstory into the best episode of the season (“The Invisible Hand of Fate” if you’ve been watching), and now you herald the return of Phantom Limb, expose two members of the Guild of Calamitous Intent’s Council of 13, toss David Bowie back into the mix (and with him Brian Eno, too), and deliver a squarely mediocre episode. And The Intangible Fancy makes a cameo, too.

But tonight’s installment has Phantom Limb, last seen in Season 3’s opener “Shadowman 9 and the Cradle of Destiny,” reinventing himself as the supervillain “Revenge” and looking to take down the equally supervillainous Guild of Calamitous Intent. To do so, he kidnaps two of the Guild’s leaders and hydrocephalic Master Billy Quizboy to seek out the orb, a glass ball of assumedly limitless power. Billy lets it slip that the orb is safely confined within the Venture compound, and soon after all forces converge on the Venture lawn for the action-lacked climax.

The more I think about, the more what I liked about Season 2 and disliked about Seasons 1 and 3 is that 2 stuck with and developed its characters whereas 1 and 3 just added more and more to the mix. I don’t have an especially burning desire to know the entire history behind whatever secret society was offhandedly mentioned two episodes ago than I do to see the show’s creators play with the toys they already have.

I may be in the minority, but I wasn’t a big fan of last season’s Guild-history-laden scenes in “ORB.” The better parts had Billy and Dr. Venture reliving childhood memories of The Rusty Venture Show (brought to you by…smoking!), Brock playing amateur detective, and a very touching “Go Team Venture!” While “Revenge” calls back to both “The Invisible Hand of Fate” and “ORB,” it has too much of the fanboyish backstory of the latter and none of the heart of either.

Likewise, I loved the debonair and pompous character of Phantom Limb in Season 2, but was saddened to see him reduced to a mere nutjob in this episode. He still shows some flashes of competence, but he worked stronger as a counterpoint to every other character’s gross incompetence. That, along with Brock’s departure this season, has left a void that the show desperately needs filled.

There’s a few laughs, and the animation’s as good as it’s ever been, but while I’m still on the fence about last week’s “Return to Malice,” I just don’t think I can give this one the benefit of the doubt.



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