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Curb Your Enthusiasm: "The Smiley Face"

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If I were to express my feelings about “The Smiley Face” with an emoticon—a move that would certainly infuriate Larry David—I’d use this one: :|

One of the weirder things about Curb Your Enthusiasm is that even though it operates according to a very specific formula, the finished product varies wildly from week to week. Of course, some of this has to do with the fact that Curb is now in its eighth season and by now, a little unevenness is to be expected but still; it’s odd how one week, Larry’s petty, privileged squabbles are uproariously entertaining, and the next, they feel just a bit tedious. The other odd thing is that, aside from the occasional “instant classic” episode like “Palestinian Chicken,” there’s little consensus on the show’s more ho-hum installments. (For evidence, look no further than the comments on these recaps, where no one agrees on anything.) So what separates the solid (if not great) episodes from the subpar ones?  “The Smiley Face,” I think, sits right on the brink between “solid” and “subpar,” so maybe it can provide a useful example.

In “The Smiley Face,” we’ve got a very familiar Curb trajectory: Larry does something sort-of nice for someone else (or, in this case, for two people: his very attractive temporary girlfriend, Heidi, as well as his cheesy new office neighbor, Dino); they each act unreasonably (Heidi borrows money but doesn’t use it for the stated purpose; Dino takes two cabinets in stead of one); Larry un-diplomatically points out said unreasonable behavior, only to increase his own misery.

The formula is the same as always, but this week some of the ingredients were a bit off. Larry’s complaints about Heidi’s emoticons, though valid, felt like a rehashing of last week’s “LOL” controversy, and the smiley-face sunburn was the kind of expansively broad sight gag that Curb usually avoids. Then there was Larry's clash with "Big Dog" over a kitchen cabinet, which, even for him, felt monumentally petty. (OK, the fridge is one thing, but the cabinet? In every office I've ever worked in, the cabinets have been neglected hiding places for orphaned packets of duck sauce and stale crackers, not contested territory.) Plus, Larry has a tendency to get a little shout-y when he's pretending to be mad, as he did with Big Dog, and it's not my favorite look on him.

Another danger with Curb Your Enthusiasm is that, with so many narrative threads to tie together, the show sometimes feel like it has about two endings too many.  “The Smiley Face” felt like it had three endings: Larry crawling out of church, Dr. Rivkin missing his scheduled performance of “Danny Boy,” or Susie beating Antoinette’s mother.  The episode concluded as it should have—with Larry returning to “eat where he shat”—but did it need quite so many near-endings? Rather than feeling intricately plotted, it seemed overstuffed and about five minutes too long.

Finally, I have some mild concerns about the course of the season to date—or, rather, the lack of one: so far this season, Curb is pretty aimless. There's no single narrative goal (e.g. a Seinfeld reunion, a kidney transplant, Producers premiere) tying together the episodes, which means that stagnancy is all the more inevitable. The only unifying season 8 thus far is Larry's newly single status, and I fear that an entire season of Entourage for the AARP set is going to get old, real fast.


Gripes aside, “The Smiley Face” delivered enough fantastic lines to make me, in the end, overlook its various shortcomings. These included: Larry claiming that “the bedside’s a little over-rated”; Larry promising Richard Lewis that “I will be the Edmund Hillary of shitting where you eat”; Larry informing Heidi that "the sorry window has closed";  Larry telling Dr. Rivkin that he has to masturbate before getting a full-body scan in order to “exhaust the area.”

Stray observations:

  • So I guess Larry broke it off with Shara. I’ll try not to be too sad about it.
  • "My relationship with you is over, but my relationship with this restaurant lives on."
  • "The Dog days are over."
  • "Smiley faces, used by idiots at the end of emails and text messages."
  • I loved it when Larry tried to speak in a monotone so Stu and his wife wouldn't think he was lying.
  • I am actually fine with emoticons (in small doses) but don't get me started on letters and numbers used as words (e.g. "CU L8R")
  • He may be the inspiration for George, but these days Larry (and his revolving  cast of super-hot girlfriends) is reminding me a whole lot more of Jerry.
  • I squealed with delight when I realized that Dr. Rivkin was played by none other than Steven Keaton (a.k.a. Michael Gross), who tops my list of ‘80s sitcom DILFs (take that, Alan Thicke).
  • I was somewhat less excited about the appearance of Jimmy Barrett (a.k.a.Patrick Fischler), who is easily one of my least favorite Mad Men characters ever.
  • It’s also nice to see Lisa Rinna’s husband getting some work these days.
  • “Inevitably I will break up with her. There’s no question about it.”
  • “They’re not saying ‘rosebud,’ whatever that is.” But Larry, don’t you know? No one really knows what rosebud means!
  • I feel like some episodes of Curb have scenes that you think will lead to something later, but don’t. For example, I was certain Heidi’s niece would turn up again at some point, but she didn't. (Maybe something got cut?)
  • I like that Larry declined the offer to wear a hat at Mr. O’Malley’s funeral because he hates the Dodgers.
  • Dino’s cabinets were stacked with Fiji, surely the douchiest of bottled water brands.
  • Is Richard Lewis really such a loyal friend that he’d “break up” with his dermatologist because he made Larry wait a few minutes?