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Monday, September 12th, 2011

Curb Your Enthusiasm Recap: "Larry vs. Michael J. Fox"

A typical Curb Your Enthusiasm season finale is generally an encapsulation of the entire year’s plotlines and character threads that ties the whole run of episodes together.  This year, things felt a little different. The overall storytelling in Season 8 was a looser and more lackadaisical, leaving “Larry vs. Michael J. Fox” to not feel like the pretty bow on a tight package that Season’s 3’s “Opening Night” or Season 7’s “Seinfeld” did.  It was still an excellent season with some stand-out installments (“Palestinian Chicken,” “Vow of Silence”), but the episodes didn’t feel as cohesive with each other as they have in past seasons.

“Larry vs. Michael J. Fox” begins with Larry meeting Greg, the flamboyant, Project Runway-obsessed son of his new girlfriend Jennifer (played by Ana Gasteyer). Greg catches Larry doodling swastikas and Hitler moustaches onto the photos in Jennifer’s magazines, and Larry chooses to explain Nazism and Hitler to the seven-year-old, who is particularly impressed with the swastika — aesthetically, of course.

While out with Jennifer, Larry gets into a disagreement with special guest star Michael J. Fox, his upstairs neighbor, over whether or not Jennifer’s piano playing is considered background music.  Fox shakes his head at Larry on the way out, leaving him wondering whether it’s a Parkinson’s shake or a rude gesture. Later on, Larry stops by Michael J. Fox’s place to clear the air, but Larry’s Hitler moustache-drawing habits land him in trouble when he scribbles one on a magazine photo of Fox’s father-in-law. Possibly in retaliation, Michael J. Fox gives Larry a soda that explodes all over him when opened, claiming that his Parkinson’s made him shake the beverage up.

When tasked with buying a birthday gift for Jennifer’s son Greg, Larry presumes that Greg’s lack of masculinity means he wouldn’t be interested in a sports-related gift, so he buys him a sewing machine. This move outrages Jennifer, as well as Susie, who call Larry out when he expresses suspicion that Greg is gay. To make things right, Larry buys a new present for Greg: a violin. This placates Jennifer, but Greg has grown attached to his sewing machine. He gives Susie a pillow sham that he sewed a swastika onto, and Larry is forced to explain to an upset Susie and Jennifer why he taught a seven-year-old the controversial Nazi symbol.

After another bad run-in with Michael J. Fox, Larry promises the housing board he’ll attend one of Fox’s charity events. During Fox’s speech, Jeff asks Larry what gift he bought for Greg. Larry, not wanting to talk during the speech, pantomimes a violin, but this is misinterpreted by the crowd who think Larry is making a “sad violin” gesture while Michael J. Fox talks about Parkinson’s. The crowd turns on Larry, and Mayor Bloomberg steps forth to publicly chastise him and to tell him to leave New York.

Michael J. Fox forgives Larry once more but asks him to volunteer at an event with sick children to get back in his good graces, echoing the charity event from earlier in the season that Larry is in New York to escape. Once again, Larry selfishly chooses to tell an elaborate lie instead of helping the needy, and we cut to him arguing in French with a double-parker against the beautiful backdrop of Paris.

This was, in many ways, a season of change for Curb. Cast-wise, this was the first year without Cheryl Hines (although she did appear in the premiere), as well as the first year that Susie Essman was billed as a series regular and not a guest star (although she’s been appearing in most of the show’s episodes for the past few seasons). For the first seven seasons of Curb, Larry David has written the elaborate story outlines singlehandedly without another writer ever receiving credit for a single episode. This year, though, he began using three alums of the Seinfeld writing staff, Alec Berg, David Mandel, and Jeff Schaffer, as his co-writers, sharing writing credit with these three for each of this season’s episodes. It’s a completely new approach for Larry David, and it may a partial explanation for this season being constructed a little sloppier than usual. It’s also been a season with an outstanding number of recognizable guest stars with big names like Ricky Gervais, Rosie O’Donnell, and Michael J. Fox dropping by, as well as comedy nerd heroes like Paul F. Tompkins, Chris Parnell, and Jon Glaser.

On the whole, though, Season 8 felt a little off because of the lack of a strong goal on Larry David’s part. In other seasons, Larry was working towards a specific objective that coincided with the finale (opening a restaurant, appearing in The Producers on Broadway, filming the Seinfeld reunion, etc.) that gave the finale a little more weight, but this year didn’t really have that. The gag the episode ended on, with Larry and Leon in Paris, was a strong one that tied in with the charity-avoidance plotline from “Vow of Silence” nicely, but, on the whole, these ten episodes felt a little disconnected from each other.

Even if the episodes didn’t hang together as they do in Curb’s best seasons, this was still a year that featured some stellar individual episodes and showcased the talented regular and guest casts. It’s nice to see Larry David still doing what he’s doing as his show continues to evolve. We’ll see what the future holds for Curb when it returns from what I’m assuming is going to be another excruciating two-year hiatus. See ya in 2013, guys!

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.