This season, Larry David seems to be partially filling the Cheryl void by bringing in big name celebrities to base his episodes around. David disciple Ricky Gervais gave a funny performance last week, Michael J. Fox is booked for the season finale, and this latest episode was Rosie O’Donnell-centric. O’Donnell is a real-life pal of Larry David’s from their days in the New York City stand-up scene in the late 70’s/early 80’s, and she was even considered for the role of Elaine during Seinfeld's casting process. She makes her third Curb appearance here, bringing her A-game to the show as she usually does. Larry David and Rosie O’Donnell have always been funny together when she pops up on Curb, their decades-long rapport is evident onscreen, much like Larry’s natural chemistry with Jerry Seinfeld last season.
With Rosie O’Donnell’s presence comes a plotline revolving around O’Donnell and Larry competing over the same woman. The outdated spelling on the episode’s title, “The Bi-Sexual,” had me worried that Larry David’s attitudes would be as insensitive as his 2006 gay panic-laced screed in the New York Times explaining his refusal to see Brokeback Mountain, but last night’s episode strayed away from anything too controversial. Besides that op-ed, though, the David oeuvre has been pretty LGBT-friendly and even ahead of its time in a few instances. “The Outing,” the Seinfeld episode that birthed the phrase “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” while not written by David, fell under his reign as showrunner. While it seems antiquated almost 20 years later, the episode was a timely skewering of political correctness and homophobia when it aired and even won a GLAAD award. The season 5 Curb episode, “The Bowtie,” which marked Rosie O’Donnell’s first appearance and involved Larry realizing he’s beloved by the lesbian community, was also pretty amusing and tactful.
“The Bi-Sexual” begins with Larry hitting on a woman named Jane at an art gallery, only to find that Rosie O’Donnell also has her eye on Jane, who is bisexual. Larry and Rosie decide to compete for Jane’s affections, kicking off a baseball metaphor that impressively lasts throughout the entire episode. Larry welcomes Leon to New York, who instantly demonstrates how much he can bring to the show with a particularly funny scene in which he and Larry discuss how unattractive they would find each other if they were bisexual.
When Larry finds out that Rosie plans to take Jane to the Tonys, Leon convinces him to begin using performance-enhancing drugs. The drugs make Larry so good in bed that Jane cancels her Tony Awards plans to be with him. Larry denies the using “juice” when confronted by Rosie, but slips up by accidentally dropping a pill out while bowing in front of Jane (a move he picked up from a Japanese maitre d’). Jane feels manipulated and calls things off with him.
Last night’s B and C plots, about an L.A. acquaintance desperately cajoling Larry into lunch and a Japanese man giving him a half-assed bow, weren’t intricately weaved into the overall storyline as the subplots in the best Curb episodes always are. Alan Zweibel, who plays Larry’s obnoxious wannabe lunch companion Duckstein in the episode, though, gives a funny performance and does the best with the slight screentime he gets. Zweibel’s a living comedy legend, having been a member of SNL's original writing staff as one of three poorly-paid apprentice writers* (along with Tom Davis and Sen. Al Franken), a Thurber Prize-winning novelist, the co-creator of Showtime’s groundbreaking It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, and a producer on Curb's exceptional second and third seasons.
*Zweibel’s account of how he got hired at SNL can be found in Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s oral history of the show, Live from New York, and it’s one of my favorite stories in the entire book. After Zweibel receives a tip that Lorne Michaels hates mimes, he tells him in the interview, “If there’s one fucking mime on the show, I’m outta there,” and wins the job.
Also giving a strong performance in the episode is Amy Landecker, who played Louie’s mother and his love interest in two separate Season 1 episodes of Louie that stirred up some controversy amongst fussy Internet commentators for the bizarre repeat casting. Landecker most recently played Paul Reiser’s wife on the Curb-inspired two-episode flop The Paul Reiser Show, but she was put to much better use here as a romantic foil to Larry and an affable target for his always-entertaining flirtation techniques. Another week of Curb and another impressive batch of guest stars from all over the comedy world.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.