Television these days is like a big-name music festival — if you want to put your sufficiently famous band back together, someone will write you a check and send a car. But there was never any question that Larry David’s series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” would be welcome any time on HBO, where its long-delayed ninth season began Sunday night.
Indeed, the question after each season of “Curb” was not whether the network wanted more but whether David wanted to do more.
There was a gap year between Seasons 3 and 4, Seasons 5 and 6 and Seasons 7 and 8. If the wait for Season 9 was a little longer — has it been six years since the series left us to our own devices? — it picks up with no alterations other than those time arranges; otherwise, it is completely of a piece with the seasons that preceded it. There has been no attempt to fix what was not broken, to innovate, to go deeper; given that one point of the show is the impossibility of meaningful change, change would be inappropriate.
All the old music, composed and improvised, is there, expertly played. Here is Larry back again, with his unusually loud way of talking, and his trade-mark noises — the long “eeeeeeeeeeh” he’ll insert to delay an admission, or the quick “nah” with which he’ll refuse a request or an invitation.
Though Larry’s narcissism might be said to have a certain contemporary resonance, there has been no move to bring the show explicitly into 2017, whatever that would mean, and comment on the world we find ourselves mired in. Indeed, the single political event referenced in the Season 9 opener is the 1998 death sentence placed upon Salman Rushdie by Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which Larry has spent five years turning into a musical, “Fatwa!”
“There’s a lot of funny stuff in there,” Larry tells his manager, Jeff (Jeff Garlin).
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” is an oddly traditional kind of comedy, something in the spirit of an old Laurel and Hardy, with a modern neurotic sensibility overlaid. Like the classic comics of yore, Larry is a hero and a victim, the architect of his own downfall, sometimes deserved, sometimes not, but always the result of his being out of joint with a world whose injustices and inconsistencies other people are able to accept or ignore. Only Jeff and J.B. Smoove as Leon, Larry’s housemate, see his point. Susie Essman, as Jeff’s wife Susie, is back to disagree.
The season premiere also featured appearances by old hands Cheryl Hines as Larry’s ex-wife and Ted Danson as a version of Ted Danson. Carrie Brownstein guested as Larry’s assistant Mara, a character straight out of “Portlandia,” returning to work after what Larry calls a “two-day unauthorized vacation”
“It wasn’t a vacation,” Mara replies. “I was very constipated.”
“Half the population is constipated,” Larry points out. “I got married constipated.”
This subject is batted around for a not surprising long while.
We will also be introduced to the matter of “the foist”; Richard Lewis and his dead parakeet; the question of whether a man with little hair should pay more for a haircut than a man with lots; and when and for whom one holds open a door. Most of the impressive amount of trouble Larry causes he brushes off like lint; but at the end he is in disguise, crawling through a restaurant on his hands and knees.
Like “Seinfeld,” the show David co-created with Jerry Seinfeld, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is about the way little things prey on the mind and influence decisions that lead to big, usually unfortunate ends. It is about the lies that come back to haunt us, and the truths that come back to haunt us too. Much of what he says makes sense; the comic in him compulsively holds the world up to ridicule, but irreverence also comes with a price.
Larry is a fortunate person who cannot stop doing the sometimes literal math that will prove he is not one. (“This is not the middle,” he tells Richard Lewis. “I took more steps than you to get here.”) He assumes an intimacy with practical strangers he thinks allows him to say whatever is on his mind. “How is it appropriate for you to have an opinion about this?” he’s asked at one point, having inserted himself into an argument that, in typical “Curb” style, his own earlier remarks have caused. “I saw wrong and tried to right it,” he replies.
“Strangest man on the planet,” Danson says of Larry in Sunday’s episode. But we are all a little bit Larry; we know what it is like to be misunderstood or mistaken, to take the preemp-tive step that leads to the very outcome we were trying to avoid.