Curb Your Enthusiasm S09E02 Recap: 'The Pickle Gambit'

I saw an interesting criticism about last week's episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, following the long-awaited return of the show. I can't quite recall if it was an article, an internet comment or someone I knew personally, but the commentary itself struck me quite vividly, and made me think about what Curb in 2017 means and more largely about the current state of nostalgia culture. The criticism revolves around how "Foisted!" seemed to present to the viewer, at least at the top of the episode, a greatest hits of what made Larry David Larry David, what made Curb, Curb. Larry is first seen struggling with a bottle of shampoo, then immediately getting into a confrontation with a lesbian, then with Suzie, etc, etc. It was as if Larry himself stared right into the camera and yelled "I'm back, baby!"

And maybe that criticism is valid, to a certain extent. I do believe that "Foisted!" had a larger and more cohesive narrative drive, setting the table for the overarching Fatwa plot of the season that continued into tonight's episode. But if you've been away from Curb for a while, I can see how you might pick up with "Foisted!" and come out with an almost Flanderized or caricatured vision of Larry David.

But here's the thing; that's who the fictional Larry David actually is. He's needlessly confrontational, he's as narcissistic as they come, and he'll never shy away from playing the role of the moral arbiter. Larry David just can't help himself. The man who fumbles with a bottle of shampoo and immediately parlays it into a confrontation about keeping the door open is an accurate representation, and it sets the tone for what this revival will be. The show's lengthy absence created a vacuum of moral arbitration that only Larry himself can return to fill. There's nearly a decade of social situations that he needs to weigh in on, and there's no time to waste. If anything, the fact that "Foisted!" is able to present this alongside a narratively cohesive set of stories about a useless assistant and a religious hit being placed on Larry's head is even more impressive.

These ideas, in my opinion, come together extremely well in this week's episode "The Pickle Gambit", especially in one particular moment of the one particular scene which the episode owes its title to. Larry needs to track down a hooker whom he had a conversation with earlier in the episode in order to set her up with Marty Funkhauser's nephew, who has too much pent up frustration from not being able to masturbate, thanks to an incident with Larry where he broke his pitching arm fighting over who would be the one to attempt to open a jar of pickles. The problem is that he's banned from said hotel after getting into one too many confrontations with its staff (by now we should be used to these kinds of elaborately ridiculous scenarios, but still, take a moment to marvel at it). So Larry's solution is have Leon cause a diversion using said jar of pickles, knowing no man in the building would be able to resist an opportunity to be, quote, a "pickle jar hero". He's of course right, and the distraction goes off without a hitch, allowing Larry to converse with the hooker, whom, by the way, he's convinced to start dressing elegantly instead of in a "hooker smock".

The matter complicates itself when Larry sees Ted Danson and his ex-wife Cheryl strolling through the lobby on their way to a room, very clearly ignoring his presence. Earlier, Larry begrudgingly gave Ted his blessing in pursuing Cheryl in a relationship the show has been teasing for literal decades, but only after he was embarrassingly rejected by Ted's ex Mary Steenburgen. Anyway, Larry once again can't help but intervene, so he goes after them. Unfortunately, he winds up caught in his own web when he gets distracted by the Pickle Gambit, proving that no man can resist the temptation of being the pickle jar hero. Larry gets to open the jar, as is every man's desire, but allows Ted to get away with Cheryl.

This is a brilliance sequence in television that should be studied in universities. Everything about it is perfect, from Leon's loudly announcing his presence as Chappy Johnson (and how he needed a black persona, and how Larry knew enough about obscure baseball players to provide it to him), even after all these years of pulling off schemes with Larry, to the revelation that the prostitute is dressing nicely, to the subtle way Ted and Cheryl ignore Larry, to the Pickle Gambit getting in Larry's way, to the very fact that the whole situation was needlessly elaborate when you consider that Larry could have just gone in there without his ridiculous disguise.

So, you see, maybe this season of Curb is moving a mile a minute with the greatest hits of the things that make Larry tick. Even so, moments like the Pickle Gambit prove exactly why the show was sorely missed, and why it's more than just Larry David's commentary on the minutia of social interaction. Those awkward confrontations are great, but what makes Curb special are these big, elaborate, ridiculous setups that almost always pay off. That's why whoever criticized the premiere is wrong, and why I'm right.

And there's so much more about "The Pickle Gambit" that's great, from the return of Larry's ridiculous disguise, to Leon's friend seemingly being a staple in Larry's house now as his bodyguard, to the dissection of the proper use of tongs, to the return of the Palestinian Chicken lady, and of course the continued plight of Larry trying to get out of this Fatwa business, culminating in a video call with the Iranian consul which ends abruptly when Funkhauser's nephew, Paula the classy prostitute, Leon and the bodyguard all run past screaming about how the bodyguard should only go after Muslims.

In case you needed any more reminding, "The Pickle Gambit" proves that Curb is back and as good as it ever was, and gets 9 hooker Mitzvahs out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • Some good guests in this episode, notably the return of The Funkman himself Bob Einstein, and it was nice to see Jim Rash as the hotel employee. He seems like a perfect fit in the world of service industry employees who have to deal with Larry David's incessant shit.
  • I'm very curious to see how this love diamond between Ted, Cheryl, Larry and Mary progresses. The Larry lookalike that Mary is going out with was one of my biggest laughs this episode.
  • Larry Tackling The Issues Of Today:
    • Hooker attire.
    • Tong usage on cookies.
    • The coarseness of towels.
    • The thickness of a flannel pajama vis-a-vis the exposure of a penis.
    • Pickle jar heroes.
    • Masturbating with your left hand.
    • Black people preferring things that are brown vs. things that are white.
    • Asking friends for permission to date your exes vs. doing it behind their backs.
  • Larry on hooker attire: "Why double down on the seediness?"
  • Larry: "I eschew the tongs deliberately because tongs are not made for picking up cookies."
  • Leon on Forrest Gump: "You ever seen that movie? That motherfucker lived a life. You ever see a titty?"
  • Larry trying to dissuade Ted from dating Cheryl: "You should know that she doesn't give blowjobs."
  • Shara on Larry's disguise: "I like that. Hides the Jew."
  • Shara: "Sentence me to orgasm like you've been sentenced to death!"
  • Leon: "I'm not even going to bring up the fact that you fuck in your goddamn glasses."
  • Chappy Johnson: "My name is Chappy Johnson and I can't open this damn pickle jar!"
  • Larry: "Unhand me you fruit! I have dementia!"