Monday, October 12, 2009

Curb Your Enthusiasm, "The Hot Towel": Digits

Quick spoilers for last night's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" coming up just as soon as I get you in my wallet...

Much as I love "Curb," every now and then the series will do an episode where I don't laugh once, and "The Hot Towel" was unfortunately one of those.

I want to pin it on the idea that I prefer episodes where there's some grain of wisdom in Larry's behavior - Why shouldn't he be allowed to ask who else is coming to a dinner party? Why can't he pay another person to ride in his car and make him eligible for the carpool lane? - and that he was being both obnoxious and wrong in this one, but that's not it. Larry was mostly being an ass, but he was dead-on with Christian Slater and the caviar, and he was right that Sammy's song was unbearable, even if you're not supposed to point that out in polite society.

Or I could pin it on the recycled "Seinfeld" jokes - George Costanza also had trouble going left, and the caviar bit was close, if not identical, to George's double-dipping incident - but because both "Seinfeld" and "Curb" are drawn from Larry's own life, this wasn't the first time the new show has featured storylines similar to the old one, nor will it be the last. So that's not quite it.

I just didn't, for whatever reason, find any of "The Hot Towel" funny (except maybe Ted Danson's usual contempt for Larry), and had to watch several scenes (Sammy's song in particular) through the horror movie finger filter, which I haven't had to employ on a "Curb" episode in quite some time. After a while, to get through the episode, I started pondering where the fame threshhold is where people have to play themselves (Christian Slater) or get to play a character (Sherry Stringfield, Philip Baker Hall). Any theories on that?

And what did everyone else think?

42 comments:

Joe said...

Wow, glad I'm not the only one. I'm relatively new to this show, so I thought for some reason I just wasn't getting it.

While I did get one huge laugh out of this episode (Larry yelling profanities at Jeff's daughter), for the most part I felt this episode was all awkward and no funny.

chrissie said...

Totally agree. This ep reminded me of someone trying to win an argument simply by being the loudest. The actors here seemed to recognize the dialogue wasn't very strong, so they overcompensated by having every scene turn into a shouting match.

I had the same thought about how they cast when I first saw Sherry Stringfield. I was waiting for Larry to either greet her as Sherry or a character name. My guess is if it's somebody the general American public can name right away, they play themselves. I doubt most people could name Sherry Stringfield or Philip Baker Hall, but instead probably identify them as "that girl from ER" and "that guy from that movie with Tom Cruise and the frogs."

dave from roslyn said...

One other moment had some Seinfeld in it...

When Slater pointed out that Larry was in the alley, it reminded me of when Elaine pointed in the British freeloader's direction when Kenny Banya wanted to know where the Armani suit was...

Dan said...

How many eps are we even going to get of the Seinfeld clan? I'm getting a strong sense of over-promising and under-delivering on this...

ej said...

Totally agree that this was a weak, strained episode. I think the problem was that the plot required Larry to tick off so many people in a half hour that he had to go from from zero to screaming in seconds flat. That eliminated Larry's typical, gradual build-up from strained, superficial courtesy to outright rudeness. Such a buildup is not just necessary for plausibility, but is also the territory where the show gets most of its laughs.

Beyond that, Larry's second bad reaction to Sammy's singing -- in the morning when he's sleeping in the Greenes' guest room -- seemed not just unbelievable, but also completely gratuitous.

Devin McCullen said...

Philip Baker Hall will always be Bookman the Library Cop to me.

Alan Sepinwall said...

How many eps are we even going to get of the Seinfeld clan?

Jerry's going to be in five (out of, I believe, 10 for the season). The others will be in either four or five. But they won't all be in the same episodes.

Toby O'B said...

Like Joe, the huge laugh for me was the morning after and Larry's cursing of Sammi. And that includes ending the scene with Susie cursing out Larry and once again throwing him out of the house.

I think what really helped boost my enjoyment of that scene was having scene a profile of Suzie Essman on 'CBS Sunday Morning' earlier in the day.

And it's always great to see Phillip Baker Hall. I miss his character from 'The Loop'...

Anonymous said...

Larry screaming at Sammy to shut the fuck up was hilarious. I'm still laughing just thinking about it.

Was he being a jerk? Sure. But just the visual was enough...

Jerry said...

I agree 100% Alan. The first thing my wife and I both said after the episode was "Wow, I didn't laugh once." Then, that was the first thing you wrote. It was just not funny. I also think the idea of multimillionaries like Danson and David even giving restaurant gift certificates as gifts was silly---trying to relate to regular people is one thing, but I think everyone at home was just rolling their eyes.

Anonymous said...

Completely isolated, Larry yelling STFU at Sammy was hilarious, but it didn't make sense in the context of the show, and after I stopped laughing about Larry cursing at a child, and Suzie's reaction, it made me realize how lame this episode was. Why was he doing that? Was he too asleep to know what he was doing?

Andrew said...

The only actor I recall ever thinking was too famous to play a character was Michael McKean.

Anonymous said...

While I love Larry's "rules" for how to behave in society (and mostly agree with them - like you tip-toe when people are sleeping!) him wanting the Doctor's home phone number is not something "Larry" would do. He would think that behavior is rude. As a famous person Larry would never want to be bothered at home... I would forgive the lapse but there was no payoff later (comedy-wise) and therefore no need to have the doc's home number. Dull episode (and I'm a huge Curb fan!).

olucy said...

ITA that this was a weak ep, but hey, some just are.

Another Seinfeld flashback for me was Larry hiding and seeing the looming shadow of the hulky boyfriend approaching. The same kind of shadow that Kramer cast when he was stuck in his tight jeans and staggering through the streets, looking for the neighbor kid that he was babysitting.

Ryan said...

I laughed (in horror) at Sammy's performance for Ted and Mary. I'll admit it.

Dan said...

I know it has been mentioned many times already, but I still am laughing thinking about Larry yelling STFU at Sammi - hahahaha. I think it is the way he delivers the line that makes me laugh - or maybe the look on his face. Either way, priceless. And yes, it made up for a relatively cringe-worthy episode.

LA said...

I'm with you, Alan. Not a funny episode. I, too, employed the horror movie finger filter through much of it. Ah well, win some, lose some.

Jennifer Joy said...

I wonder if Curb will have other memorable Seinfield guest stars like Bookman the Library Cop as part of the Seinfield tribute this season?

Owen said...

I agree with Anonymous that Larry asking for his doctor's home phone rang false. That would be a classic Curb storyline if the roles were reversed -- someone asking Larry for his home phone.

I had to mute the scene with the daughter singing. I have a low cringe tolerance.

I love seeing Sherry Stringfield in anything. That alone made the episode for me.

This seems like my own personal flaw, but I found it a little dissonant to watch Ted Danson playing himself on Curb and immediately afterwards playing a different but sort of similar character on Bored to Death.

R said...

While I think the episode wasn't strong I wouldn't say it was weak. It was one of those that comes along once a season where Larry doesn't really do anything admirable. He's displaying the worst of himself.

I have to disagree with those saying "Larry" would never ask for the doctor's home number. This is exactly what he would do. He's such a selfish person that he has to be the one guy who gets the doctor's home number. He knows he'll never use it. He just has to have it.

chalmers said...

He did also have to be the one guest at Tim Kazurinsky's party to use the real bathroom instead of the one in the guest house (leading to the canning of the psycho-nanny played by Cheri Oteri).

I wasn't crazy about this one either, but I liked the reference to the "Freak Book."

My favorite "Seinfeld" guest who showed up on "Curb" was Rudy the vintage clothier, who played the Aamco guy.

Chris said...

No one has mentioned it, but I thought the scene with Larry getting pissed about Ted/Mary taking Jeff/Susie out with HIS gift certificate was the funniest joke of the episode. Classic Larry. Everything else about this episode was pretty forced and lame.

Jamie said...

Looks like i'm the only one who thought that this was a very funny episode then?

The first two episodes of this season were excellent, and episode 3 was very average, but was clearly used to set up the whole Seinfeld stroyline.

It was brilliant for Larry shouting STFU at Sammy alone, but it was funny throughout for me. Much, much better than last weeks.

That awkwardness/not being able to watch, is present in all the best comedy. Just look at the only other show which can match Curb; The Office (UK).

If the quality so far is manitained it's shaping up to be one of the best season's of Curb.

Travis said...

Two episodes in a row without Leon is two too many... This episode seems to have forgotten that he even exists. Seems that Larry's first move would have been at least to shout for Leon's help when he saw the red car pull up in front of the driveway, or mutter something about how Leon is never around when he needs him or something. I get that they must have signed JB Smoove to a short-season contract to save money, but they should at least explain his absence in a situation like that.

Anonymous said...

whats the horror movie finger filter

Mike F said...

Have to agree...not a good episode...forced and awkward mostly...oh well...nobody hits one thousand

Steve said...

A lot of people have pointed out Seinfeld parallels, and I also noticed the juxtaposition of opera singing with someone being threatened, like with Crazy Joe Davola.
I'm sure this isn't just a coincidence, or lazy. We know that in real life, Larry's experiences have inspired Seinfeld plotlines, and that was alluded to last episode when Larry pitched more of his experiences to the 4 actors. I think this is Larry's coy way of flipping it around without being to overt - having Seinfeld plotlines influence Curb.

Adam said...

It's certainly the weakest episode of the season so far, but I wouldn't call it bad by any means. I enjoyed (even if I didn't necessarily laugh out loud at) every single scene with Philip Baker Hall solely because of his performance. He plays off Larry well I think, and his character's personality is just funny in my opinion.

I did miss Leon and the Seinfeld cast, though... and I'm hoping that this episode was just a one-off thing and that the rest of the season will be consistently great.

Jeremy said...

Since everyone else has said what I wanted to say, my only comment is: How amazing does Sherri Stringfield look?!

lungfish said...

Wanda Sykes is right on the cutoff. Not famous enough to play herself but famous enough to be able to use her real first name.

dez said...

Why was he doing that? Was he too asleep to know what he was doing?


That's what I thought. He looked genuinely confused when Susie was cursing him as he put on his glasses. I think he forgot he wasn't in his own house for a moment, which made me laugh at that joke even harder.

Lots of cringiness in this one, but I still liked it.

Anonymous said...

I can't take your review seriously.

"[I] had to watch several scenes... through the horror movie finger filter, which I haven't had to employ on a "Curb" episode in quite some time"

You should be employing this filter VERY frequently if you regularly watch the show, and those have always been the GREATEST moments of curb. You're clearly missing the point. Are you even a fan?

Granted, it wasn't the best episode. But it was at least as good as any average episode. So he reused a few old ideas from Seinfield, who cares?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Are you even a fan?

No. This show sux! It is the opposite of teh awesome!

Anonymous said...

Well clearly.

Tom said...

I don't know if fame is the determining factor for actors playing themselves on 'Curb.' Some pretty well known actors (Michael Mckean, Tim Meadows, Laraine Newman) have played characters. Maybe it has to do with comic talent. Do you really want Christian Slater playing anyone but Christian Slater? Of course, LD's nemeses (Danson, Sykes) are about the funniest part of the show.

This episode was a C+. Worth it for Philip Baker Hall and Sammi's song, and Danson. Otherwise, LD's treading water.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was a lame one, too. In addition to what other people have mentioned, I had a problem with the idea of Larry having dated Sherry Stringfield's character because she's about 45 years old. Now, if Larry and Cheryl have been married/separated/divorce for about 15 years total, that would mean that Larry had to have dated her more than 15 years ago, which Larry alludes to in the episode.

All this would mean that she would have been a ravishing blonde her twenties when he was an angry, balding, neurotic transplanted New Yorker who was JUST beginning to make it in the early nineties. Somehow I don't see that happening. I'm sure Larry wanted to treat himself to a good-looking co-star for the makeout scene, but nothing about Larry's personality suggests that he was ever routinely sleeping with beautiful women.

This may seem like small potatoes, but it's another incidence of Curb becoming, to me, more typically show-bizzy and less believable. Larry seems to be doing "Curb by Numbers" this season: he knows he has to do something stupid and get in trouble several times over, but now you can see it coming a mile away, and the things he's getting worked up over don't seem justified. Larry used to be a strangely likeable misanthrope who sometimes got himself into trouble, but often was a victim of circumstance ("Beloved Aunt", the "stolen" plane tickets, etc). Now, he's an out-and-out jerk who deserves what he gets. It's not funny.

dez said...

One thing I always wonder when I watch this show is: How in the hell does CurbLarry keep *any* of his friends? I mean, besides the fame factor, which doesn't seem to matter when his friends (like Danson) are equally or more famous than he. He's such a PITA that it almost doesn't seem worth it sometimes, heh :-)

Brian J said...

This episode made me cringe, but not because it was bad. I thought it was funny, but not in the same way that, say, "The Car Pool Lane" was. It was just...different.

A few random thoughts:

1. I don't know what the cut off point of being famous is, but so far, the show has used its guest stars well. Christian Slater is more of a name to people, I think, than Sherry Stringfield, so it makes sense to have him be himself and her be a character.

2. I don't think it's unreasonable for Larry to be with someone the same age as Stringfield, because it looks like we are expected to believe he's a lot younger on the show than he is in real life. His co-stars are all younger than him in real life, yet he's treated as a peer on the show. Plus, in real life, his ex-wife is about ten years younger than him.

3. I think this episode did a good job of highlighting why there's so much animosity towards him. He's definitely friends with people like Ted Danson, Richard Lewis, and Jeff Greene, but he also gets into stupid fights with them. They go back and forth, and while this might have ended a real life friendship a long time ago, it works for me in the world of "Curb."

4. The show is becoming a little more like a traditional sitcom, but I don't think that's bad. I certainly don't think it's a problem that the show focuses on the entertainment business as much as it does, since that's where much of the comedy comes from. Plus, nobody who lived a normal life would be able to focus on so much nonsense. It's only his many millions and his lack of a regular job, brought on by his success in Hollywood, that allows him to live his life the way he does.

5. I think this episode did a good job of highlighting why he needs Cheryl. She keeps him grounded and makes him more appealing, as a couple and as a person, to others. I'd like it if this point is brought up in future episodes.

6. No matter what else, him yelling "Shut the f--k up!" to Jeff and Susie's daughter was a priceless moment.

Jerry Colvin said...

1. Are we sure Wanda isn't playing herself? Guess we'll know for sure if she and Julia end up in a scene together (since in real life they co-star on a semi-hit series together).

2. The 3rd new episode/Seinfeld setup seemed to be the least-improv'ed (scriptless) episode yet... but that's not necessarily a bad thing, is it? We want those Seinfeld episodes to be good. Imagine all the new Curb viewers watching solely to see the Seinfeld reunion.

Jerry Colvin said...

3. Oops, I forgot Wanda came out in recent years, which makes earlier storylines highly unlikely. So, I guess she isn't playing herself..

Tom said...

The part I laughed at the most was when Larry called the doctor by accident and the doctor going off on him. Larry, realizing that he has really pissed the doctor off, just stays on the phone, purposefully antagonizing the doctor even more.

"Oh, should I hang up now?"

Anonymous said...

WHile not a good as vehicular fellatio this was much better than last weeks seinfield snooze fest. All the scenes with the doctor felt forced but the ted danson storyline was classic Curb

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