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Clocking in at almost 50 minutes, the ninth-season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm was an endurance test: How long would it take to finally wrap up the season’s wobbly fatwa storyline on Sunday night? And how many Larry David insults and tantrums could you sit through to get the show across the finish line? The season-ender paid off on one subplot: We saw a few scenes from Fatwa! The Musical, the Larry-written production, in rehearsal with Lin-Manuel Miranda, abetted by co-stars who included F. Murray Abraham and Chris Sullivan (Toby from This Is Us). We were supposed to think the actual fatwa that had been placed on Larry was rescinded — over and done with as of last week’s episode. But did you think for a second it wouldn’t resume in the finale?
When Curb is good, its plots are as tightly wound as Larry’s temper. One storyline is usually introduced at the start of an episode, complications ensue, and by the end, the proceedings pretzel-twist back around to the beginning, bringing about a satisfying conclusion. This did not happen in the finale. The freedom HBO granted Larry David in gratitude for more Curb resulted in a number of indulgently long episodes, none of them as slack as this tenth one.
The organizing joke around which the finale revolved was a series of apologies. Larry didn’t think the “I’m sorry” he received from Bob Einstein’s Funkhauser for a late dinner arrival was sufficient. Numerous other characters didn’t think Larry’s apologies for any number of his insults were sincere enough. Another running joke had Larry squawking that Abraham was “an outfit-tracker” — someone who’s critical of you for wearing the same outfit repeatedly. The most lame repeated joke in the finale was one about a woman who’d been hired to sign for the deaf in the Fatwa! production. Every man in the room stared at her generous chest, to the point of dangerous distraction. Yes, in 2017, Larry David stooped to a big-boobs joke, and I’m sure he’d say it is the very moldiness of such a joke — its very political incorrectness — that makes it freshly funny. I’m not buying it.
Other subplots were precariously strained. The paintball duel meant to echo Manuel’s Hamilton? Groan. And from the moment Manuel asked Larry whether his cousins could stay at Larry’s house, the absurdly flimsy excuse to introduce two people who would annoy Larry was itself too irritating to be funny. And the payoff — that the couple would turn out to be “swingers” (has anyone used this term since the 1970s?) who throw a wild, messy party in Larry’s house — was feeble.
The long-awaited return of Curb this season resulted in a season that primarily served to suggest that Curb’s time has passed. One need only look at what is obviously HBO’s best current sitcom — Issa Rae’s Insecure — to be reminded that in comedy, freshness, and novelty are their own rewards, while familiarity can all too often breed disappointment.
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