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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Larry looks for validation on a fitfully funny iCurb Your Enthusiasm/i
Photo: John P. Johnson (HBO)
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Tonight’s episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm takes a closer look at Larry’s propensity for lying out of convenience, from the little half-truths and lies of omission often used to smooth things over to the lies that take on lives of their own. In “Side Sitting,” Larry lies to deflect judgment from cousin Andy (Richard Kind), who invited him to a fundraiser for prisoners in the arts. He also fibs when asked if he used his lawyer Roger Swindell’s (Ben Shenkman) private bathroom. Larry lies once more to help Jeff (who is not a fan of Larry’s gift of a “magnificent” portrait of Susie), then again to trick Ted Danson about the true nature of his relationship with Cheryl—and that’s just in the first 20 or so minutes of tonight’s episode.

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These fabrications are usually self-serving, but they can also be deployed to save the feelings of others (which, to be honest, is probably more about saving Larry the trouble of an awkward interaction). But no matter how intricate they become, Larry’s lies are almost always exposed, leading to even more ill will towards the social assassin. He never truly gets away with anything; his friends and associates eventually just get over it (or not). So when he tells his former assistant, who is now suing him for sexual harassment, that he’s “not that guy”—a predator, the kind of person who’s publicly friends with Harvey Weinstein—he means it. Larry’s a lot of things, including absolutely full of shit and a habitual line-stepper, but he wasn’t sexually harassing his assistant when he asked about her inscrutable tattoo, or used the tail of her shirt to clean his glasses.

Curb returned after a typically long (for this show) hiatus and waded right into the culture shifts that have taken effect in years since the season-nine finale, from the proliferation of red signifiers of intolerance to shining a light on abusive power dynamics in the entertainment industry. Though we shouldn’t hold our breath for the series to directly weigh in on any of it, Larry David and his frequent collaborator Jeff Schaffer (who directed and co-wrote the first two episodes of season 10) show some awareness of what’s happened since Curb last premiered. With “Side Sitting,” they begin to parse what makes someone an abuser and what makes them just a shitty boss, in much the same manner that Larry and Jeff might. It’s a funny but uneven exploration, one that branches off into a health scare for Larry as well as a couple of simmering feuds.

New terms are introduced, including the eponymous “side sitting” move, which is what someone like Larry does when proposing a very short and hypothetical second marriage to Cheryl, who proves she’s not on the same page when it comes to their hookups. He goes unrewarded for his candidness, but at least he was honest about his biopsy and his feelings for her. Larry briefly finds more sympathy among his poker buddies, who all agree to write each other off rather than support one another during an illness. “I can’t be the cancer friend,” Jeff tells Larry, who, at the time, understands.

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Illustration for article titled Larry looks for validation on a fitfully funny iCurb Your Enthusiasm/i
Photo: John P. Johnson (HBO)

Consent culture is touched on when Larry takes Rita (Teri Polo) out for a night of “toilet hopping,” after which he attempts to document just how diligently he respected her boundaries. There’s nothing especially incisive about the exchange; it feels like a scene dutifully dedicated to one of the many topics that have become more visible up under the banner of #MeToo and Time’s Up. But Larry and Rita’s back and forth in the office, in which they both admit to preferring to “fly private” when it comes to bathrooms, is fun. Still, I can’t help but think that asking out someone who works for the person who’s representing you in a sexual harassment suit is going to be more fodder for the plaintiff than anything, even if Larry didn’t initially think his gambit would work (he doubted the allure of wealth).

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As always, Larry is much more conflicted about being honest when it comes to Susie, who asked for a camera for her birthday and got a great portrait of herself instead. The gift clearly impressed Susie, so Larry wants credit for being thoughtful; but her glaring, hanging face is more than Jeff can bear, which is why the portrait ends up trashed by episode’s end, with some help from a pissed-off contractor (Nick Gracer as Milos). Larry is much more open about his disappointment over his friends’ lack of concern about his potential cancer diagnosis; he’s so upset that he doesn’t immediately recognize that he can use this situation to ward off any future criticism from Andy about the mail/fundraiser lie. (God, am I turning into Larry?)

Like clockwork, Larry’s duplicity catches up with him in the final moments of “Side Sitting,” as Roger takes advantage of a deposition to interrogate his client about private bathroom usage. But, as we already know, the way he’s poised to crack under this line of questioning doesn’t reveal much about how he’ll fare in his upcoming legal battle. Larry is sweating because, despite his tendency to flout convention, he knows he crossed a line here. But he doesn’t see his interactions with his assistant in the same light, which means there’s probably a long fight ahead. “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute”—it’s not just a saying for ol’ Lar’.

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Stray observations

  • I’m not sure I think Larry makes a good partner for anyone, but I always liked seeing him with Cheryl, even though he did not deserve her.
  • Ben Shenkman played all those defense lawyers on Law & Order to end up running a fictional law firm with “Swindell” in the name—you love to see it.
  • Hello to Jon Daly, who also appears in an upcoming episode of Miracle Workers: Dark Ages.
  • Leon’s friend so thoroughly wrote off his dad after a cancer diagnosis that he doesn’t even know if his dad is still alive. That’s commitment.
  • “Side Sitting” had just enough Susie for me, but could have used more Leon.
  • When Milos offered to update Larry’s pantry, I assumed he was going to give Larry the “mahogany cream” floors that Susie rejected.
  • The Lunetta staff worrying about Larry just reminded me that I’m not really a “regular” anywhere.
  • With the deposition bit at the end and Teri Polo’s presence, this episode had some shades of Meet The Parents.
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