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Curb Your Enthusiasm Recap: ‘Car Periscope’

August 29, 2011
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I don’t know if Judge Horn was actually a real show, but I really wish it were. According to Larry, he’s a real judge, so it may not be the Perry-Mason-style show I was hoping it to be (and more likely to be a Judge-Judy kind of show), but damn, how great would that be? Especially if it were in black and white and really did feature Judge Horn yelling at the defense for not having their stuff together. Likewise, I don’t know if Larry David was the one who dreamed up the brilliant fictional movies that peppered the Seinfeld universe (Chunnel and Firestorm being my personal favorites), but if he ever gets tired of Curb and wants a new project, in a perfect world, he could bring those gems to the screen (how many people would cheer at the line, “Everybody out of the Chunnel!”?).

But on to this week’s episode. Larry’s still in New York and looking for some new investment opportunities, among them a car periscope that lets you peek over the traffic and, apparently it works quite well—even Susie’s impressed. Larry’s a bit suspicious of the inventor (who refers to himself as an inventor?) but once he meets the inventor’s wife, his fears are allayed. She’s unattractive, which signals to Larry that the inventor has integrity (and he fires his current business manager for having a beautiful wife). That’s an interesting concept (and leads one to ask what Larry thinks of Jeff—though I personally find Susie quite the peach), and one that’s used to great effect plot-wise, but it’s a little too broad and not particularly funny.

The same can be said of the Judge Horn subplot, involving Larry, his friend Henry, and Henry’s dad, who played Judge Horn on the aforementioned Judge Horn TV show. Larry plays Scrabble with the elder Horn and discovers he’s a racist. And while it’s nice to know that such archaic slurs as “Jiggerboo” and “Coon” are rattling around in Larry’s lexicon, it’s another idea that’s too broad to work.

Granted the episode pulls some double duty by having yet another subplot involving Henry getting mad at Larry for not letting Judge Horn win at Scrabble and Larry insisting that it was the one-armed man who started the game and was beating Judge Horn…and blah blah blah. The payoff is that Larry and Jeff take the inventor and his wife out for lunch, Jeff and the inventor leave and Larry’s left with the wife. Henry walks in and Larry pretends like the wife is his girlfriend, which in turn signals to Henry that Larry has integrity because he’s dating an unattractive women.

Oi. Frankly, I don’t like writing recaps, and when it comes to a show as intertwining as Curb, it can get to the point of downright madness trying to give justice to all the converging plotlines. Suffice it to say, “Car Periscope” is a brilliantly written installment, but I think there was more care given to the plots than in making it funny.

That’s not to say it’s a bad episode, but the best moments exist outside the plot. I loved the Leone-Morricone-inspired chase sequence; I loved seeing Larry scheming (and, after 11 years of Curb, the fact that Larry can still surprise me is a testament to the show’s quality); I loved, loved, loved the back and forth with Larry and Jeff over The Sting (which has inspired me to rewatch the fantastic British TV series Hu$tle, which fans of Curb and The Sting should equally adore); and I liked the subplot with the one-armed man (at first I thought that Henry was Renny Harlin, and the second the one-armed man made his appearance, I went to Wikipedia to see if Harlin directed The Fugitive. Sadly, he didn’t [the director was Andrew Davis {Above the Law}], and it wasn’t). Plus, we get to see the return of Wanda Sykes, whom I don’t think is particularly funny, but, dang, is she is a knockout.

In all, this is a good episode in a great series. There’s only two episodes left, and I’ll put my thoughts on the season as a whole up later, but I’ll say for now that I think Curb works best when it has an overarching arc. This one has some true moments of genius (“The Palestinian Chicken,” “The Hero”), but not as consistent as when there’s something to drive at. Last season had not only the Seinfeld reunion but also the subplot of Larry trying to get back with Cheryl, and to compare it to this one reinforces my point. If “Car Periscope” indicates anything, it’s that Larry David works best in riffs, and when there’s a peg of a story to string the season on, it gives him more room to play around, where, humor-wise, his strengths come out. He’s also great at plotting, yes, but here the two are different beasts.

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