'Curb Your Enthusiasm' asked Salman Rushdie to bring some laughs

·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
“Curb Your Enthusiasm”: Salman Rushdie and Larry David. (Photo: HBO)
“Curb Your Enthusiasm”: Salman Rushdie and Larry David. (Photo: HBO)

The third episode of the new season of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm offered further suggestions that the sitcom has become rather creaky and aimless. Sunday night’s entry was titled, “Disturbance in the Kitchen,” a reference to the episode’s weakest plot. In the first scene, Larry David and Jeff Garlin are waiting for their food and the restaurant manager comes by to apologize and says there’s been a disturbance in the kitchen. Larry asks him to explain what he means, but the man responds with bland vagueness. This infuriates Larry, of course, who’s a stickler for clear thoughts clearly expressed.

There was a continuation of the ongoing plot about the fatwa issued against Larry. He goes to see the man whose fatwa is most well known to us: novelist Salman Rushdie. Rushdie tells Larry — who’s still wearing his droopy wig and droopier mustache — that he should get rid of his disguise and embrace his notoriety, that a fatwa is like “sexy pixie dust” and that “fatwa sex will follow, and it’s the best sex there is.” (By the way, if you want to read a review that’s funnier than anything in this episode, check out Dwight Garner’s New York Times pan of Rushdie’s new novel, The Golden House.) Larry takes Rushdie’s advice, and sure enough, Elizabeth Banks starts flirting with Larry in a restaurant. Other than the slightly amusing sight of her being attracted to a nebbish like Larry, there was little that Banks was given to do here — her lines weren’t funny, and there was none of the spark she has provided in other sitcoms such as Modern Family and 30 Rock.

The episode relied heavily on a much-repeated strategy Larry David has employed on Curb, and before that on Seinfeld. In this episode, he beeped his car horn at a cop, who hadn’t moved his police car after a traffic light turned green. The cop (played by Damon Wayans Jr., not that it matters — the role was small and underwritten) wrote him a ticket, which Larry then fought in traffic court, where he expounded on his “right to the beep.” Phrases like “aggressiveness of the beep” and “Are you above the beep?” flew through the air. It’s a joke-writing strategy: turning a verb into a noun, or vice versa, to create a jarringly comic effect through repetition. (“Sponge-worthy” is another example.) If you and I notice this as a pattern, it means David is using it too frequently.

In the Curb manner, the episode circled back to the titular disturbance in the kitchen. Once again this season, the episode exceeded a half-hour, but didn’t warrant the expanded length — if anything, the writing should have been tightened, with the subplot about a missing girl sought by Susie Essman sharpened and snipped a bit. Add this episode to last week’s entry, with its peculiarly tone-deaf hotel-prostitute subplot, and Curb seems more and more like a show whose time may have passed.

Curb Your Enthusiasm airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.

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