“You want to impress people with lies?”
“How else do you impress them?”
Though season 10 of Curb Your Enthusiasm is still trying to find its groove, “Artificial Fruit” has more bite than its predecessors. Larry makes some progress in his plot against Mocha Joe, but is otherwise stuck in the past—both his own and that of society at large. Curb has regularly used its main character to explore backwards notions, and tonight’s episode finds Larry answering for them for what is almost certainly not the last time.
Things kick off with Larry getting one step closer to exacting his revenge on Mocha Joe; he tracks down a former pastry chef and convinces the man, Chulu Porter (William Stanford Davis), to join him in getting his spite store off the ground. How? By recreating the same scones that once got cranky Larry out of bed for breakfast at the Waldorf Astoria. Larry is still their biggest fan, as everyone else either writes off his favorite pastries on the basis of their scone-ness (Susie prefers a cupcake) or their dryness, which leaves more than one person gagging. While it’s totally like Larry to get hung up on something he once enjoyed and would like to partake of again, something makes me think there’s some sort of sentimental value there, too. I can hear you scoffing, but given Larry’s outbursts over anything related to Cheryl—demanding that Susie take down an old group photo because the memory “offends” him; practically ripping a sweater of Richard Lewis in a restaurant—I think there’s some connection between the scones, the Waldorf, and the Davids. Or maybe Larry’s a secret Anglophile.
Cheryl Hines makes an appearance behind the camera tonight, spurring Larry on from the kitchen to his lawyer’s office, where he’s in the hot seat after side-sitting with Alice (Megan Ferguson). Roger now reports that Alice wants Larry to make a sizable donation to Survivors United, an advocacy group for survivors of sexual assault. Larry must also give a speech at a Survivors United event, which he is more annoyed by than his “blithe” apple eating would suggest. His jeopardized legacy (not to mention a Hulu deal, according to Roger) in the background, Larry and Roger engage in one of the best bits of the night, debating what kind of moods are suggested by apple eating. Curb scenes are outlined but never written, which makes Ben Shenkman’s line, “My dad ate angry apples all the time,” all the funnier. Also up for debate is the proper use of an unlined receptacle versus a garbage bin, the latter of which can go unlined (that is, once they hit a certain size, like a Dumpster).
Like Larry, “Artificial Fruit” runs the gauntlet, making it the most spirited entry of the season so far. Terms and customs of varying significance are placed under the microscope tonight—everything from garbage cans that are only meant to evoke the idea of proper waste disposal to turning up your nose at other people’s food (though, to be fair, Mountain Dew and milk sounds disgusting) to just what constitutes a doodle. The story, from Larry David, Jeff Schaffer, and Carol Leifer, finds humor and truth in all this (engaging, to be sure) frivolity. After all the dental trauma this episode, one of those takeaways is bound to be “artificial fruit is a bad idea.”
A more significant, though no less relevant (seriously, why the obsession with realistic fake fruit?) takeaway is that Curb Your Enthusiasm can still turn one of Larry’s gaffes into a huge laugh and a lesson—or, at least, something in the way of one. Laverne Cox makes a guest appearance as herself only to find herself subjected to increasingly invasive and ridiculous questions from Larry. She graciously endures his obtuseness, because though she gives him credit for standing with survivors (she doesn’t know it’s under duress), she’s under no obligation to educate him. Cox is great in her limited screentime; her slightly incredulous delivery of “You want to impress people with lies?” combined with the narrowing of her eyes at Larry’s reductive thinking is the perfect way to respond to someone like Larry.
Whatever good will Larry’s donation generated quickly dissipates after he declines to hug Laverne on stage at the Survivors United event (though only because she admitted she had a cold earlier). He’s pelted with fruit (or maybe rolls?), but not before he pisses off Christine Lahti, who appears as herself, which is, judging by her doodle, an artist among other things. Larry fares no better at lunch with Richard Lewis, who goes to such extreme measures to pay for their meals that he gets to the designated restaurant (here, a Spanish restaurant called Zaragoza). Their fight over niceties becomes a scuffle over a sweater, which spills out into a funeral then a wake for Concepción Zarzal—and if you’re reading that in Larry’s chipped-tooth lisp, thank you for that.
Despite some hints that it would be more episodic, season 10 already has multiple arcs going in need of resolution, though there’s little of that to be found in “Artificial Fruit.” Larry must still contend with Alice, who, thanks to his scone, ends the episode unconscious, but is bound to return to their legal dealings with a vengeance. She’s got additional ammo, too; Larry, for fear of touching her inappropriately, doesn’t do the Heimlich maneuver in time, and so she passes out on the elevator. Larry is also still dealing with his feelings for Cheryl and lingering resentment towards Ted Danson for having asked her out despite Larry telling him he opposed. He’s unable to control his anger when he sees Ted, who has apparently been cast as Confederate general Robert E. Lee in some fictional biopic. That unspooling thread is headed toward some fraught territory—that is, if Larry’s nostalgia for bygone times with Cheryl is indeed meant to symbolize the misguided romanticization of the antebellum South (see also: Susie’s “heritage” talk). But given how wide ranging the season’s been so far, a discussion of the legitimacy of Confederate monuments seems almost inevitable.
- For the record, scones are an acceptable pastry, but not really a go-to for me. They’re significantly better with jam or clotted cream, if you can get it.
- My rankings of the pastries mentioned this episode go 1. cupcake 2. muffin and 3. scone. Yes, it depends on the ingredients—a warm blueberry muffin is better than a vanilla cupcake, but a red velvet cupcake trumps everything else—but generally speaking, that’s the way the cookie crumbles (cookies weren’t mentioned tonight, which is why they’re absent from these rankings).
- I’m of two minds about this whole doodle thing—on the one hand, Cassie (Lisa Arch), Cousin Andy’s wife, shouldn’t have downplayed the effort she expected Larry to put into it. On the other, Larry should never have believed her when she said it wasn’t a big deal; a minimum doesn’t really exist for most social interactions. Everyone knows “moderate effort” is the minimum, and everything else is gravy.
- Esai Morales shows up as Francisco, one of the waiters from Zaragoza who may or may not have committed credit card fraud. I only mention this because it’s Esai Morales, not because he was given much to do tonight.
- Celebrities with exceptional doodling skills include Christine Lahti, Rosie O’Donnell, Jason Alexander, and Bobby Kennedy, Jr.
- Bob Einstein passed away in 2019, but Marty Funkhouser gets a shout-out tonight (he’s in China).
- Next week on Curb: “Mr. Frodo, look—it’s an Olyphant.”
- Curb touching on the Civil War puts Larry’s Abraham Lincoln jokes in the premiere in a new light.
- ETA: “Stop lecturing the world on your point of view”—sorry for the stray quote up above. It ended up misattributed, but it was actually Richard Lewis who made the most salient point of the night.