Curb Your Enthusiasm Recap: ‘Larry VS. Michael J. Fox’
Over the weekend, I rewatched the 1967 Bedazzled, which, if you’re unfamiliar, features Dudley Moore and Peter Cook retelling the story of Faust, or at least using it as a springboard for a series of satirical skits. The movie itself isn’t really laugh-out-loud funny, but, as satire, it’s one of the best takes on the 1960s that aims and strikes at so any targets, it’s at once counter-cultural and conservative.
Cook’s generally regarded as the finest British satirist of the latter half of the 20th Century, and after the film, I hopped onto YouTube to look up an old episode of the British Whose Line Is It Anyway? where Cook guest starred. Cook isn’t bad in it, but improv and satire are two distinct types of comedy, and Cook, being out of his element, plays it a bit too broad, trying to get laughs from funny voices and silly expressions. It’s a trend you see when an older comic is asked to partake in something new that they’re not used to and is something I see now and then in Curb. It’s also the first thought that occurred to me when, tonight, Larry was paired with the overly effeminate son of his girlfriend. But then another angle is brought in when Larry explains to the child who Hitler is, what he did (“He’d had enough of the Jews”) and the child immediately seizes upon the swastika (“It’s beautiful”). Curb always seems to be aware of when it’s covering ground that’s been well tread before and is perfect at introducing another direction that takes it to the realm of bizarre but in a eerily logical way. Anti-Semitic and gay.
But it works. It works when Larry gives the kid a sewing machine for his birthday, upsetting both the kid’s mother and Susie, who refuse to believe the kid’s gay. And it works when the kid sews Susie a pillow sham (what the hell is a pillow sham?) with a swastika on it. These are broad touches, but Curb also never comes off as outdated, even when its topics are, because, while it will mock the kid, it finds much more humor in everyone else’s reactions. (And one of the reasons I think Larry is ultimately the hero is that he’s comfortable with affectations and sympathizes with other social outcasts.)
On the flip side, he takes great personal offense to anyone who’s celebrated for their differences and abuses that power. In this episode’s case, it’s Michael J. Fox, Larry’s upstairs neighbor. And it begins when Larry shushes Fox at a restaurant so he can hear his girlfriend provide the background music. Fox appears incensed and gives Larry a potentially disparaging headshake as he leaves. Larry’s not sure if Michael’s mad at him or if it’s Parkinson’s (even Fox admits he’s “a head-shaking fool”), so he goes to Michael’s apartment to make amends.
After a little back-and-forth in the elevator when Larry first pushes the button for his own floor and then decides to push the button for Michael’s (never had that actually happen to me, but I live in an apartment complex and have had several Larry David moments of my own when I see someone come in from running along the Lakeshore and then pressing the button for floor 3), Larry begins to apologize but gets caught up in drawing a Hitler mustache on a magazine picture of Stephen Pollan, Michael’s father-in-law. Michael seemingly retaliates by shaking up Larry’s Diet Coke and then blaming it on the Parkinson’s again.
From there, it becomes an all-out war. Michael’s stomping around upstairs in what he claims are prescribed army boots, bumping into Larry in the lobby, and other general nonsense that isn’t funny in itself, but is funny to watch everyone else’s reactions—particularly Leon’s, who’s so fed up with Fox’s stomping that he threatens to turn him into “Michael J. Fucked-up.” I love Leon.
And, of course, this is Michael J. Fox, who, yeah, like Michael Richards and Bill Buckner last week, is being a good sport poking fun at himself (“I’ll be back to in two shakes”) and fits well as a foil to Larry, hiding behind his condition because, well, he can. It’s likewise another spot of meta-comedy that simultaneously mocks the guest star’s personal lives while celebrating the people themselves. It’s not as jaw-droppingly ballsy and hilarious as the Michael Richards bit from last season, but it’s very well crafted in never devolving into outright nastiness (most of the Parkinson’s jokes come from Fox himself).
Rounding out the episode is a subplot about whether Jeff would take a bullet for Susie that fits nicely but whose real payoff is another extended riff between Larry and Jeff over a sexually-neutral present (“A Slinky’s gay, it’s like balls”), and the season finishes up with Larry in Paris, arguing with a French pig-parker (And I guess I got my wish).
Even though the Jeff-Susie part and the dust-up in the elevator feel forced (the episode devotes a lot of time to the Fox story), they’re resolved well enough, but I didn’t feel like everything came together as well as in something like “The Car Periscope.” The David-Fox feud is given too much time at the expense of everything else. But at least we got to see Leon with a beret and scarfing down a chalupa in Paris (“If I could wrap this shit in French toast, I would”).
In all, this season got off to a rocky start, delivered some heavy-hitting episodes (among them one of the best Curb’s ever done “The Palestinian Chicken,” as well as “Mr. Softee”), and ended a bit anti-climactically. There’s still a lot of steam left, but I think the lack of an over-arching story was a hindrance. But if that’s the reason we got to see more of Larry riffing with Jeff and Leon, it can’t be all bad. And it goes without saying that I look forward to the next season.