The Pitch: Twenty-one years in, and LA’s (least) favorite curmudgeon Larry David is still up to his usual self-serving tricks, even as HBO’s long-running sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm moves from its MAGA-hat commentary in Season 10 to COVID-era shenanigans in Season 11. The season premiere — dubbed “The Five-Foot Fence,” Jehovah bless — brings the show back without skipping a beat, rolling into these so-called “unprecedented times” with all the unpredictable hilarity we’ve come to expect from L.D. and the crew.
Leave it to Larry to start off the season with an image right out of Sunset Boulevard: a dead body in Larry’s pool and the police determine that it’s clearly a burglar who fell in and drowned. No harm, no foul, thinks Larry; by the time he’s successfully pitched a show about his young life as a chauffeur (called “Young Larry”) to Netflix, he’s forgotten all about it.
You’d think that’d be the end of it, but in classic Curb form, this red herring turns into what will likely be one of the season’s overarching plotlines. You see, the burglar wouldn’t have drowned if Larry had followed an obscure Orange County code that requires a fence around his pool, which opens him up to legal troubles. And lo, the burglar’s brother, smelling extortion in the air, suggests a deal: cast his awkward, plus-sized Latina daughter (Keyla Monterroso Mejia) as the rail-thin, Jewish character of Marsha Lifshitz in his new sitcom, or he sues Larry and brings him up on criminal charges. Sensing no other choice, Larry agrees.
Of course, that’s not the only plot “Five-Foot Fence” sees fit to juggle, and the premiere gives Larry a few more issues to contend with. There’s Albert Brooks, who invites Larry to a “live funeral,” Huck Finn-style, so his friends can eulogize him while he’s still alive (“I can’t stand that all this praise is going to somebody in a box”). There’s Denniz Zweibel, a golf buddy in the early stages of dementia who still hasn’t paid Larry back for their golf trip six months prior; every attempt to get the money back is treated as a rude imposition.
And there’s his abortive dating life with Lucy Liu, who stops seeing him as a sexual being after he walks straight into a glass door (“It looks like air!”). Add to that all the social misunderstandings and screaming matches with Jeff (Jeff Garlin), Susie (Susie Essman), and Leon (JB Smoove), and it’s just another day in paradise for L.D.
It’s Netflix, Chill: Like many Curb seasons, it takes a while for the premiere to lock down the overarching plot of the season, but it really seems like it’ll largely center around Larry’s Netflix show (wonder how angry HBO execs got when they saw all those red logos?), and his painful decision to cast his blackmailer’s daughter in a pivotal role. Still, it sets up newcomer Mejia’s involvement in the season as a whole, and her work here is a portent of many belly laughs to come.
She’s a young woman with stars in her eyes and completely miscalibrated talent (complete with a headshot that’s just a full-body image of her slaving over a pot in her father’s taqueria); she reads the sides with an awkward, pseudo-flirtatious intensity and completely maladjusted Yiddish (“I want you to meet my…. boo-bay“) that somehow manages to make the wrong and most hilarious acting choice with every syllable. I can’t wait to see more of her, and just how far Larry will be willing to take the facade.
Kosher Hamm: By far the most scene-stealing moments go to Jon Hamm, though, following up from his appearance last season to join Larry on the list of Albert Brooks’ eulogists. We get a follow-up to his recent project as a Larry David-type character in a movie that never took off because the character was too unlikeable (“I believe the word was repugnant”), which is funny enough. But this show’s enthusiastic, all-in version of Hamm goes the extra mile by peppering some Yiddish into his vocabulary. You haven’t quite heard “It’s a shanda!” until it comes out of Jon Hamm’s mouth with all the adorable clumsiness of a goy meeting the Jewish in-laws for the first time.
Purell Hilarity: The shanda in question, of course, is the discovery that Brooks is a “COVID hoarder,” owing to the closet stuffed with Purell and toilet paper, which sets even his beloved funeral-attenders into a flying rage. Curb foregoes the COVID-19 pandemic for most of its runtime, existing in a kind of post-COVID landscape in which rich Californians still bristle at the social rules set up during that time — including not stocking up on essential items that could have gone to first responders. It’s a very June 2020 joke (supply chains aren’t that bad anymore, depending on where you are), but it feels like one Larry thought of and wanted to pop off before the season got rolling in earnest.
That’s probably for the best: Curb thrives on the everyday petty grievances of those for whom life comes easy, so having Larry navigate a very real pandemic with deadly consequences would have rung false. It’s fitting that the most acute way COVID would hit Larry’s life is through an opportunity to yell at an old friend for bulking up on hand sanitizer — the smaller the issue, the bigger the laugh.
The Verdict: At this point, is it really possible for Curb to put down a bad episode? Over such a long, indefatigable lifespan, Larry David and the rest of the cast and writers have constructed a formula that’s virtually foolproof, and Season 11’s shows no signs of strain in their comedy firmament. Longer Curb episodes sometimes have to struggle to justify their runtime, but even the smaller moments in “Five-Foot Fence” — Larry’s argument with Susie over the right way to sit down on a couch, or the etiquette of asking a guy with dementia for your money back — buzz with that electric controlled chaos that permeates every minute of the show.
But as Albert and Larry sit down to listen to a live orchestra play the show’s theme (Luciano Michelini’s “Frolic”) over the closing credits, it’s clear as a perfectly-shined glass door that Curb is back and better than ever.
Where’s It Playing? Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 11 plops into your living room (It’s a plopper!) Sundays on HBO.