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Jon Hamm gets a little too into character on a lively Curb Your Enthusiasm

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“Who is that racist towards—Susans?

“Elizabeth, Margaret And Larry” is the most fun Curb Your Enthusiasm has offered all season long. The pairing of Jon Hamm and Larry David is an inspired one, as Hamm throws himself into playing a version of himself playing a version of Larry David. Hobe Turner might not be real (near as I can tell), but the chemistry between the “two Larrys” is. Larry’s Kramer impression, Leon’s Kramerica-esque business, and Jeff Greene’s Law Of Day Over also help make this the best episode of the season so far.

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The eighth episode of the season begins mid-conversation, with Larry and Jeff ranking body parts by their grossness while talking about mani-pedis (apparently, testicles top the gross body parts list, followed by toes). It’s typically inane chatter, but when Susie and Cheryl arrive, we’re reminded of the toll that this season’s larks and losses have taken. Larry and Cheryl’s reignited romance was quickly extinguished, and now Susie and Jeff are on the outs. I should say “again,” because Jeff’s adultery and Susie’s Susie-ness have caused friction for the couple in the past. But unlike last season’s “Running With The Bulls,” Jeff isn’t eager to smooth things over. Instead of buying Susie a house to make up for his philandering, he sets up in Larry’s house when she kicks him out.

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The latest straw for Susie has more to do with Larry than Jeff. Larry learns from his run-in with Cheryl at the top of the episode that her sister Becky (Kaitlin Olson, reprising the role) is selling the house that Larry and Cheryl bought for her. Naturally, Larry thinks trying to benefit from a gift is gauche—it’s kind of like double-dipping in someone’s generosity. He wants to put a stop to it, or at least get his money back, so he heads to Becky’s house to give her a piece of his mind. But the recently dumped, recently fired Becky is far too pathetic to be lectured about the bounds of gift giving; instead, they have sex. Later, Larry admits that he always had a bit of a crush on her, but doesn’t reveal if it was when she was yelling at him for the botched obituary in “Beloved Aunt.”

Becky and Cheryl are estranged, but that doesn’t stop Becky from telling her older sister about Larry (the conversation kicks off with “Guess who I fucked?,” which, I gotta admit, could be a Sweet Dee move). Once things are out in the open, Cheryl’s pissed, Susie’s pissed, Larry is Larry, and Jeff is on Larry’s couch. These are typical developments for Curb Your Enthusiasm, along with one of Larry’s friends dating someone who takes exception with Larry. This time, it’s Richard Lewis’ girlfriend Michelle (Sasha Alexander), a CEO with a taste for white furniture. Larry’s reluctance to meet her has put Richard in a bind, a bind that leads him to make up a ridiculous excuse for why she doesn’t get to hang out with them. The “bleeding rectum” lie doesn’t fly with Larry—not because it’s embarrassing, but because there’s no way it can have any longevity.

Larry’s gotten into it with his friends’ significant others before, but he’s never done so with an understudy at his side. After being cast as a Larry David type in a movie from some Seinfeld alum (one Hobe Turner), Jon Hamm ends up shadowing Larry for much of the episode. At first, Hamm is basically an audience stand-in, as awed and mortified by Larry’s convention-eschewing ways as we are. He covers his face as Larry asks a group of Asian Americans for their recommendations on Chinese food, but once the encounter is over, he just grins.

I do not know what kind of preparation Jon Hamm usually does for a role, but his research and dedication here make “Elizabeth, Margaret And Larry” one of the highlights of the season. He starts dressing like Larry, right down to the eyeglass frames. Jon also takes Larry’s side in the “sex with an ex’s sister versus sex with an ex’s friend” debate, which leads Susie to kick him out of her home (she truly is ride or die for Cheryl, except when it comes to paying your part for a chartered flight). He throws out terms like “appetizer allotment” over lunch with Larry and Richard, which prompts Richard to remark that there are now “two Larry Davids.” After getting a kick out of Larry David attempting a Kramer impression at the top of the episode, I laughed out loud at Jon and Larry doing a round of “prett-ay good”s at the table.

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But Jon eventually goes HAM while trying to get into the mindset of Lawrence Dean, the Larry David-type character for the fictional movie. Over dinner at Michelle the CEO’s home—where Larry’s bleeding rectum is not welcome—Jon joins Larry in mocking their fellow guests, including Cousin Andy (Richard Kind) and his wife Cassie (Lisa Arch). They fight over the lazy Susan/rotating table protocol, with Larry insisting roundabout rules apply. Larry scoffs at Cassie’s concerns about the use of the term (lazy Susan, not roundabout), but it’s Jon who gets the ball rolling with his dry, only slightly incredulous “Who is that racist towards—Susans?”

Jon clearly loves the lack of filter, the near-total disregard for the feelings of others, so he quickly goes from being yet another witness to Larry’s social misdeeds to making them second nature. He repeats all of Larry’s actions at Mocha Joe’s from the beginning of the season, causing Cheryl, who seemed psyched about having coffee with Jon Hamm, to declare that he’s become just like her ex-husband. It’s too bad for Cheryl, and for the newsstand guy (Ravi Naidu), who ends up subject to the fake Larry’s whims the same way he would have been to the real Larry’s once the real Larry got bored with being helpful. But with its two Larry Davids, “Elizabeth, Margaret And Larry” marks a season high.

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Stray observations

  • Something that I wish had become more of a running gag was everyone guessing what a movie about a Larry David-like character would be. Richard Lewis wonders if it’s called The Biggest Asshole On Earth, while Susie suggests the character would be a “disgusting pervert.”
  • It was good to see Kaitlin Olson here again, though I’m surprised the Becky-Larry relationship lasted as long as it did, even if he is the owner of a spite store.
  • I found myself wondering for much of the episode which Seinfeld character would have been more likely to have the same bathroom break business idea: George, who filled in as the neighborhood parking attendant, or Kramer, who never saw a workflow void he didn’t think he could fill.
  • I wonder if Jon and Hobe’s movie, which is about a very successful sitcom creator who stole the idea for his groundbreaking show, will get a trailer by the end of the season. After all, we did get to see Ted Danson as Lee.
  • I am a “Thanks so much!” kind of person, but I have seen the magic of “would appreciate” at work.
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