“It’s as if coffee is dictating to us when it must be consumed. I’m not okay with that.”
The padded runtimes are really starting to wear thin on Curb Your Enthusiasm—maybe they had already reached that point among you readers, and my tolerance has just been unusually high this season? But despite an ongoing rivalry with Mocha Joe’s, extensive café innovations, and the titular secret soirée, “The Surprise Party” drags for much of its 40 minutes. The guest spots are mostly thankless exercises for Rebecca Romijn, Chris Martin (who, to be honest, was probably not going to bring much to tonight’s episode anyway), and even Fred Armisen, regardless of the amount of screentime afforded to the latter.
The plot lines manage to outnumber the celebrities for a change, as Larry’s spite store gets one step-up urinal and a squatting toilet closer to becoming reality, Susie dreams of surprising Jeff, and Larry pisses off a receptionist (Rebecca Romijn as Penelope) but befriends a Wally (Fred Armisen). Larry, Susie, and Jeff must also deal with Dr. Andrew “Rusty” Holzer (Greg Germann), a physician and a bit of a hanger-on. Along the way, Larry also encounters a dog who has the most unfortunate reactions to the German language and a matzo-scented car freshener. And Mocha Joe reveals another ally in his feud against Larry: His mother, Mocha Jane (Peggy Miley), who is put off by Larry on sight. It’s not just the spite store that ticks her off; she’s also taken aback by Larry using one of very few accessible parking spaces for people with disabilities.
It’s a busy episode, and that overstuffedness frequently grinds things to a halt. Directed by Erin O’ Malley, “The Surprise Party” opens with the unveiling of Larry’s restroom upgrades, including a motion-activated (or, given the footprints, maybe it’s weight activated?) urinal that can be raised to meet an individual’s penis. The toilets in the women’s room look like a combination of a chamber pot and a Barre class, because, as Larry admits, he didn’t actually consult any women for the redesign. Glad we got that out of the way, even if Larry isn’t done trying to disrupt the café patron’s experience. Having seemingly revolutionized peeing in public restrooms, he now sets his sights toward keeping coffee hot while it’s in the cup—because what everyone wants is to feel like they’re using the mug warmer they got for the holidays at a cool coffeeshop instead of at their cubicle, right?
I haven’t minded the attention to detail thrown into Latte Larry’s, but tonight, that cup runneth over. Larry works with Freddy’s (Vince Vaughn) inventor friend Boris (Alan Tudyk) on a mug with a built-in warmer that comes with its own “power saucer” (which looks an awful lot like a mug warmer). While hanging out with Boris, who rejects the tyranny of coffee, Larry meets with his German Shepherd, Adolf. The dog is named after Boris’ grandfather, but the deference he shows to a barked “Heil, Hitler” makes Larry think Boris has a very different tribute in mind.
But Larry’s real issue isn’t the dog or his possibly anti-Semitic (Larry seems to think so, anyway) owner, nor is it the run-in with Wally that was teased in promos. He arrives rather unaccountably at the conclusion that Susie is trying to kill Jeff with a surprise party; realizing that to stop the party means running afoul of Susie, he tries to limit the “shock” to Jeff’s system. Larry tries to arrange it so that Dr. Holzer is at the party, like some kind of sycophantic emergency personnel. Failing that, he tasks his new acquaintance, Wally, with stopping Jeff outside of Scopa to warn him of the surprise party within.
Larry’s suspicion of Susie comes out of nowhere, while the hints at her possibly depraved plan come right out of “Bart Of Darkness”: Susie’s holding a knife!… to cut lettuce. Susie kinda brandishes the knife at Larry!… because he’s once again getting in the way of her fun. Susie wants to take a trip to the Bahamas on short notice, even though Jeff hates the Caribbean… which is really just another case of Susie steamrolling her husband. These are hardly indicators of a desire to kill, nor does Curb seem to want to set up a murder mystery. But Larry’s preoccupation with Susie still feels like a distraction in an episode full of them—and, as time goes on, what appears to be a season of them.
I wasn’t expecting Benoit Blanc to show up and walk us through Susie’s motive and opportunity, but the payoff to an episode of Curb is usually more satisfying than what we get in “The Surprise Party.” Ahead of the premiere, Jeff Schaffer hinted at the return of a more episodic format this season; while I don’t need another fatwa-level threat, ditching Alice and the harassment storyline has left the show more than a little adrift. An earnest exploration of accountability was never in the cards, but a lack of focus means we still have yet to see Curb’s take on it either.
- The less said about Fred Armisen’s turn as a man with a physical disability, the better; the ostensible jokes are primarily about how slow he walks, or about the shenanigans Larry and Leon get into with the help of his accessibility placard. Larry (and Leon) has done shitty things for a little extra convenience before, but the side plot to this side plot adds nothing to tonight’s fiasco.
- Hanging out in Dr. Holzer’s waiting room was a bit much, but I also wish there were more places you could just quietly inside of to kill some time. We used to have them, and they were called Borders bookstores.
- I think you can adopt a nickname if you put some thought into it. “Rusty” shows little imagination, so my apologies to the likely deceased Dr. Holzer (that’s got to whose funeral everyone attends next week, right?)
- “This motherfucker [Columbo] had me convinced I did this shit”—count on Leon to offer one of the best lines of the night.