Ricky Gervais! Chris Parnell! Larry David continues to pull out all the stops when it comes to booking guests this season, with these two comedic powerhouses popping up in significant roles in this week’s episode, which also features former Daily Show correspondent (and an underrated one at that) Dan Bakkedahl playing a nosy waiter.
Last night’s show, “The Hero,” picks up right where the previous episode left off — a rare thing for Curb — with Larry eating Pinkberry on a plane trip to New York with Jeff and Susie. Susie seems to have calmed down significantly since the end of last week’s episode, though. She no longer seems angry with Larry for eating the frozen yogurt that would have been her dog’s last meal (a very silly thing to get mad about, even by Curb's standards). Susie seems to be accepting Larry’s role in her life lately, telling him at one point that he’s “like an appendage” to she and Jeff.
Larry spends the flight hitting on Donna (played by Samantha Mathis), an attractive woman in an adjacent seat. Watching Larry David hit on women has been an entertaining discovery late in the show’s run, and it’s an area Single Larry David can tackle and Married Larry David could not. After failing to impress Donna, Larry trips over his long shoelaces and accidentally tackles a disruptive passenger on the flight, making himself a hero and turning Donna into putty in his hands.
At said dinner party, Larry David faces off with Ricky Gervais, with them insulting each other’s work. While David merely refutes Susie’s claim that Extras was “the funniest show in the history of television,” Gervais cuts a little deeper by condescending to Seinfeld by saying that he “loves broad comedy” and appreciates the laugh track because it reminds him when to laugh. These are only the opinions of the fictional David and Gervais, of course, as both men seem to have a deep respect for each other’s work. David’s writing has been a major influence on both of Gervais’s television shows. Gervais has acknowledged that George Costanza is a spiritual predecessor to David Brent, and much of the humor in Extras comes from borrowing Curb's use of big-name celebrities as skewed versions of themselves (which Curb, in turn borrowed from Larry Sanders).
Even though it was very funny, I was a little disheartened to see the fictional Ricky Gervais so easily stomp all over Larry David’s creative achievements in last night’s episode. David can’t make as strong a counterpoint in the show as he could in real life because his other crowning comedic achievement beyond Seinfeld is Curb Your Enthusiasm, which doesn’t exist in the Curb universe. Gervais gloats about how Extras lacked a laughtrack, but Curb operated without one first. In Curb's fictional universe, in which Larry David hasn’t successfully followed up Seinfeld with another series (despite his efforts), Ricky Gervais has a leg-up over him.
Ricky Gervais’s ribbing of Larry David doesn’t end with his passive aggressive abuse of Seinfeld. At the dinner table, he criticizes the hardness of the baguette Larry brought, and he later tricks Larry into paying for a ticket to his overlong World War I play Mister Simmington, even though Larry had already purchased him an expensive bottle of wine. Gervais even proceeds to steal Larry’s new girlfriend Donna, from the flight, after she finds out that Larry’s airline bravery was a complete accident. Larry seems like he’s going to have the last laugh when he later spots Ricky Gervais and Donna being mugged on the subway. He beats the thug with his brittle baguette in an intentional act of heroism this time around, before coolly excusing himself. He leaves the subway car, only to find that his long shoelaces are caught in the door.
Overall, it was nice to see this season’s New York storyline start to take shape, and the Larry David/Ricky Gervais standoff was everything you could hope for (and much more satisfying than Gervais as David Brent running into Steve Carell’s Michael Scott on The Office earlier this year). Chris Parnell really brought it, as he always does. His non-sequiturs at the dinner party were pretty amazing (“When I first saw you, I guessed you for a Spaniard,” “I don’t really know how to write cursive anymore”). I hope we get to see more of his character this season, as he and Larry David are both bumbling around the same big city now.
For those looking for more Gervais/David action, check out the Larry David installment of the interview series Ricky Gervais Meets, in which the two sit down and chat for about an hour.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.