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Curb Your Enthusiasm: "Denise Handicapped"

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“Denise Handicapped” may be the most horrifying thing I’ve seen this Halloween season. I get that Curb Your Enthusiasm specializes in cringe humor, but this may have been the cringiest episode yet this season. And yet I laughed. A lot. There’s something about the train wreck-y goodness of the episode that gains its own momentum, even if every scene doesn’t add up to the full Curb experience like the best episodes of the show do. Enough of them did that this was an improvement on last week’s episode, and the final moments of the episode – with Larry running in terror from an irate Rosie O’Donnell – were just perfect.

The central hook of the episode involved Larry meeting a woman in a wheelchair named Denise who was a fellow appreciator of a violinist whose name I could not figure out and cannot find on Google. Despite all of Larry’s usual dating awkwardness (he actually catapulted Denise from her wheelchair onto her bed at one point in their date), the two seem to hit it off well enough, despite Larry’s flailing attempts to perform oral sex on her. The whole sequence where Larry tried to figure out how to make out with Denise was pretty hilarious in its own right, but it was matched by most of the rest of the date, from Larry struggling to carry Denise up the steps at the ramp-less restaurant to his shock at realizing his efforts had done nothing for her.

Outside of the Denise and Larry courtship, though, the rest of the episode felt almost too scattered, though most of the bits and pieces came together in the end. Larry and Susie’s mutual antipathy came to its head as he delayed rescuing Sammy from the surf where she was in trouble to put down his Blackberry, then cover it in a towel, then make sure it was out of the way of Sammy so she couldn’t drip on it. This was a scene that mostly felt too horrifying for words, but it managed to pull together another bit of the plot, as Susie’s anger sent her to toss his Blackberry into the water, which had Denise’s number on it, so he couldn’t find her again and so on and so on.

On the other hand, some of the other scenes didn’t add up to much. Larry and Ted Danson’s angry confrontation in the restaurant after Larry and Denise were too stuffed to eat the pie was a bunch of over-the-top screaming that didn’t add up to a whole lot. The stuff where Larry got himself uninvited from the violinist’s recital by implying that the adopted Chinese baby of the couple hosting would have an affinity for chopsticks just felt like it wasn’t quite believable. I’m willing to go with the show a long way in regards to the fact that Larry’s a complete social incompetent who’s only saved by the fact that he’s got enough money to not care and, occasionally, Cheryl, who has acted as someone to set him back on the right path in the past. But occasionally, the show feels like it’s having Larry act like an incredible jerk just to advance the plot, and this was one of those times. I just don’t buy that Larry would be that insensitive to how the parents might feel about what he was saying. Another thing that seemed a bit unbelievable to me was Larry and Rosie’s fight over the check early in the episode, though that could just be me getting tired of stories on this show that involve or don’t involve who’s going to pick up the check after a nice meal. (Dining in Los Angeles is expensive, dammit.)

That said, I suppose I should feel the same way about almost everything involving Denise and the other woman Larry met in a wheelchair, Wendy, but for some reason, I bought all of this, perhaps because it was making me laugh much more heartily than the other scenes did. The idea that Larry would somehow get it in his head to just swap one wheelchair woman for another was brilliantly conceived, and the whole sequence from when Larry met Wendy to when Rosie chased him up the stairs to pummel him was genius and one of the best sequences the show has done this season. I loved Jeff’s amused reaction to realizing that Larry had somehow gotten himself into a situation where he effectively had two dates to the same event, and I also loved the beat from Larry putting Wendy in the closet to his new Blackberry ringing (incriminating him, even though he was innocent) to Denise finding out he called the other woman Wendy Wheelchair. Everything here was terrifically timed and paced, and it elevated the rest of the episode by several degrees.

Another nice thing going on here was that the show got Leon involved in the action again. Since Larry managed to scare off all of the other Blacks, Leon’s presence has been limited, but he’s one of the funniest things on the show, and his interaction with Larry is always great. When he was trying to determine just why Larry’s oral sex technique might not have thrilled Denise or commiserating with Larry about how he used descriptors to identify certain women in his Blackberry, Leon proved the best possible foil for Larry’s delusions and inability to figure out what’s going on. The David home always seems fairly empty with just Larry rambling around in it, so having Leon around until the show inevitably gets Cheryl back together with Larry seems like a good way to alleviate that.

There was nothing in “Denise Handicapped” that made the episode so tightly constructed that it was elevated to the best Curbs of all time or even the stellar first three episodes of this season, but it was still a nice step up from last week’s rather bland affair. Curb Your Enthusiasm gets its best episodes from when Larry’s behavior is both horrifyingly cringeworthy and completely believable, but when it can’t quite get both sides of that equation working, it can make some great episodes by just leaning on the former as hard as it can. I had some quibbles with “Denise Handicapped,” but for the most part, it was hysterically horrible, the kind of episode that simultaneously makes you glad you don’t actually know Larry David and glad you have him as a virtual outlet for all your general misanthropy.

Stray observations:

  • My wife points out that the whole conversation where Denise realizes that Larry is bald was fairly similar to the episode of Seinfeld where George got a wig and then dated a woman who was bald on some levels. (I have to admit I don’t completely see it, but the reversal is pretty similar, I guess.) Even in episodes without the Seinfeld cast, the series seems to be employing more references than usual to the prior series.
  • Speaking of which, how many casual viewers are baffled as to why the Seinfeld cast isn’t showing up every week and dominating every episode like advance press for the season seemed to indicate it would?
  • Best moment: I’m still amused by Jeff realizing just how deep Larry has gotten into trouble and his response of, “Enjoy!”
  • Amelie's back next week. Thanks for having me over.

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