Curb Your Enthusiasm S09E05 Recap: 'Thank You For Your Service'

"I can apologize for offending you, but I can’t take back the remark."

The real life Larry David doesn't seem to have any intent to have his show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, or the fictional version of himself that he portrays say anything that's actually germane to society at the time in which it exists. Outside of maybe a passing remark about the Bush presidency or maybe some sort of environmental issue, every episode, every season exhibits a stringent adherence to being immutable, almost to the detriment of the show's potential. This is very clearly a design choice on David's part, because neither he, nor his fictional counterpart have ever shied away from wearing their politics on their sleeve. However, he's deemed that to be irrelevant to what Curb is supposed to be, therefore the issues that the show tackles only ever intend to be of a shallow societal nature. And quite frankly, it might be foremost reason this new season of the show has received a bit of a tepid response from critics, seeing as the world has changed drastically since the show was last on the air. In these trying times, some likely felt as if they needed Larry to weigh in on the things that were bothering them, whereas Larry only ever intended on discussing the issues that bothered him, as an affluent, ultra-liberal one-percenter who's life has most likely been isolated from hardship of any kind for decades, outside of the trivial shit that he uses the show to gripe about.

Of course, that's the point of the show; it always has been, and the impression I've gotten from the more negative reviews of season nine has been that these people haven't at all been exposed to the show recently. Curb has always been about the chatty security guard or the spiteful mail-womancarrier or the questionably inappropriate comment. Larry David the character is a hero of a different nature. He's not Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, or a comic book superhero using a fluke advantage to defend the masses and requite the destitution that they've previously endured. No, Larry is the societal avenger who brings attention to issues so trivial no one else thinks to even point them out. That's what's always made Curb so incredible.

That being said, even David's intransigent nature can occasionally stumble into a salient statement, and that's exactly what the quote that opened this review is all about. Larry utters those words to an offended father of a newborn after he inexplicably tells him that his baby looks "a little Asian." It's a totally inappropriate thing to say to someone after they show you a picture of their child, but of course, Larry doesn't give a shit. He said it, he probably understands that he shouldn't of, but he can't exactly take the comment back, and he doesn't want to pretend as if it isn't true. So he tells the man that he can apologize for offending him, even though he sees no reason why any progressive, rational person would take offense to their child looking even a little bit like a minority. He cannot bend time and erase any perceived transgression, because that's would be ridiculous.

Of course, in the context of the show, this line's significance is twofold. Firstly and most obviously, it's important to the apotheosis of the episode, at which point Larry catches his golf club's manager, Mr. Takahashi, engaging in adulterous activity in his car with the aforementioned man's wife. When he said the baby looked a little Asian, it turned out that it actually was a little Asian, thanks to the wife's extramarital affair. It's simply that Larry is the only person in the world with a shallow enough filter to ever actually say something. But on a more subtle note, the comment is meant to exemplify Larry's own hypocrisy. He refuses to take back something he said, but in almost the same breath, he wants to "hit the reset button" on no less than two relationships that he's recently mangled; first with a mail-carrier, Jean (played by The League's Katie Aselton), with whom he has a terrible first date, then with the club's security guard, Sal (Murphy Brown's Joe Regalbuto, who, damn, has aged significantly), with whom he's had to endure months-worth of excruciating chitchat.

The frivolity of these interactions and the resulting extremity of the offended parties' reactions ensure that Curb stays exactly what it's always been. Larry is an asshole, but he exists in a world where his minor transgressions are met with insane acts of revenge. Jean is indignant about Larry being a shitty first date, so she stops delivering his mail even though the show specifically points out that she's a stickler for mail law. Larry is a dick to Sal when he tells him he doesn't want to talk to him when he comes to the club anymore, so Sal literally tries to kill him with a damn canon at a Revolutionary War reenactment. Larry offends the new dad with his Asian comment and gets kicked out of the club he's been at for a decade, but it turns out that Takahashi is the bigger prick for sleeping with that guy's wife. It's the Curb cycle. Larry is the initial transgressor, but in this fictional universe, he's like this because everyone is an asshole. He's just shameless enough to live with it, while everyone else is in denial.

All of that kind of undercuts what I'm trying to get at here, but it explains why Curb may not be for the world of 2017. It's incredibly unlikely that Larry actually meant anything by that opening quote, but it somehow winds up being incredibly prescient, because we live in a world where merely saying you're sorry is not enough. The act of apologizing has actually transformed since Curb was last on the air, as society has realized that people aren't usually sorry about what they said, they're sorry that what they said may have offended anyone. Larry's apologies aren't going to change who he is or what he thinks, rendering the act itself meaningless. And that's probably the most relevant comment he's made in this new season, even if it's probably accidental. Accidental or not, it perfectly encapsulates why Curb may be a time capsule of a show. Somehow, this ninth season has attracted its fair share of ire, because no matter how infallible the character of someone like Larry David may be, someone will always find something to be offended by, and Larry will always have to apologize. The question is, what kind of apology can one truly expect when they know the person won't change.

And that all ties in to everything Larry has to say this week about pushing the reset button. Larry knows he's fucked up, and he wants to turn back the clock and try again, but that isn't enough for most people. Ironically, Larry spends more time analyzing the degree of a chef's reaction to his custom order request than anything I've said above. And that's why I admire and love Curb as much as I do. "Thank You For Your Service" is an episode that makes you think, even if that wasn't its intent, it's an episode that may have a different meaning ten years from now, but one that will always remain hilarious and cringeworthy. Moreover, one that winds up employing that classic Curb & Seinfeldian formula of having all the dominos tumble upon themselves by the end of the episode, something which has been mostly absent from this season thus far. That's why it gets 9 disgusting housedresses out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • That tangent I just went on didn't leave much room to talk about Richard Lewis' great appearances in this episode, in which Larry continues to call him out on his bullshit about reading a book and dating a garbagewoman, as well as his interactions with Sami's veteran fiance, who is upset at Larry for not thanking him for his service, as the title of the episode suggests. Larry takes him to a Revolutionary War reenactment, and Sal chucking canon shots at them awakens his dormant PTSD, after which he goes after some valets thinking they're redcoats.
  • Somehow, though, my favourite thing about this episode is the revelation that Leon still subscribes to Time Life and gets DVDs and CDs in the mail.
  • Another impressive line-up of underrated guest stars this week, between the aforementioned Katie Aselton (the second League alumnus to cameo so far this season) and Joe Regalbuto, to the return of Mr. Takahashi, to others like Jordan Black, Neil Casey, and Tom Hanks' other son Chet as the veteran.
  • Larry Tackles The Issues Of The Day:
    • Thanking veterans for their service.
    • Chatty security guards.
    • Mail law and asking your mail carrier to deliver something un-stamped.
    • Hitting the reset button on a relationship.
    • Commenting on a newborn's appearance.
    • The degrees of a facial reaction.
    • Save the dates.
    • Beckoning in a theater.
    • Defining soon.
  • Jeff: "Once the window goes down, it cannot go back up."
  • Larry/Richard: "I’m gonna posit this, I don’t think you read it in the first place." "What is this dragnet."
  • Larry: "You think that’s a good quality? Stickling? Don’t stickle."
  • Larry: "You make up this story to me about fucking a garbage woman?"
  • Susie: "Larry everybody saves dates."
  • Larry: "Thank you for coming over in this brisk weather."
  • Larry/Jean: "What are you mixing sweet and salty for? They’re in conflict." "No, they’re in cahoots."
  • Larry: "How come you didn’t beckon?"
  • Larry: "You did a semi horse whinny?"
  • Larry: "There’s a clash of faces."