TV Review: CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, 8.6 - "The Hero"

Larry's first foray in the Big Apple, "The Hero," is a solid Curb episode sprinkled with truly brilliant moments and some classic quotes. Oh and it features Ricky Gervais!

rating:4

There were those who thought it would never happen, but better late than never. After five episodes set on Larry David's home turf, Curb Your Enthusiasm's eight season finally makes its well-promoted shift to New York City. Ever the reliable protagonist, it's plain to see that Larry has no plan to ditch his old ways and start afresh - he's bringing every inch of bitterness and neurosis with him. Los Angeles suffered for seven seasons, after all, so a lengthy visit to the East Coast is well overdue. Larry's first foray in the Big Apple, "The Hero," is a solid Curb episode sprinkled with truly brilliant moments and some classic quotes. It also stars Ricky Gervais, who riffs (once again) on his ever-funny media persona: the obnoxious, self-praising egotist who calculates his own worth somewhere close to that of deity. This time, though, there's a little comeuppance for the unsightly monster. The results are grande, if a little rehearsed. "The Hero" opens during the same sequence as the previous episode ended, with Larry, Jeff (Jeff Garlin) and Susie (Susie Essman) on a plane to New York. It's still hilarious and telling of Larry's personality (his pettiness and willingness to avoid things) that he's moving to New York purely to get out of attending a fundraising event. He'd rather relocate than simply say no. If a single gesture had to sum up Larry David's character on this show, it just might well be that. When Larry finds himself seated next to a beautiful woman called Donna (we've encountered so many beautiful women this season€ is Larry living out a fantasy since his real-life divorce set in?), Jeff and Susie urge him to make a play. Larry's small-talk proves alienating - it turns out banter about shoelaces doesn't guarantee success with the ladies - and he excuses himself to go to the bathroom. When a drunk passenger gets abusive with a flight attendant, Larry emerges from the toilet, trips on his shoelace, and knocks the aggressive boozer into the aisle. He quickly gets up, surrenders, and returns to his seat. Larry is professed a hero, and the cabin erupts into applause. Larry has no idea what's going on, but he's never been one to turn down an applause he doesn't deserve (see "Palestinian Chicken"). Donna, too, is impressed, and her attitude towards Larry makes a sudden U-turn: the two begin to date. Larry and Jeff go to lunch the following day, and spot Ricky Gervais in an opposing booth. Both admirers of his work, Larry suggests they send him over a bottle of wine (proof that he can be selfless). But this is Curb Your Enthusiasm, and that single gesture brings about a succession of troubles for the episode to come as David and Gervais collide. Whether they're arguing about the nature of comedy (Gervais thinks Extras might be the greatest comedy show ever and, to Larry's dismay, calls Seinfeld "broad") or who has the obligation to pay for what, it's plain to see that these two comedy masters are relishing the chance to act alongside one another. Almost every guest appearance Gervais has made, be it the Golden Globes, or a cameo in a TV show or film, has seen him playing on a variant of his egotistic celebrity schtick. Usually deployed as a way of making boring celebrity appearances more enjoyable for (quite apparently) himself, the guise usually pays off. The joke is, of course, on that very character, blissfully unaware that he sounds ridiculous and delusional. It's a clever method of publicity, really, because it gives Gervais the upper hand, simultaneously making him appear self-aware and out of touch. If he talks about all his awards and nominations with such obnoxiousness, then it's an obvious joke, right? But he still got to mention all those awards, didn't he? So it's great when Larry is given the opportunity to wield a bread-sword and make the British comedy pioneer look like a wimp in front of a beautiful woman. Nothing against Gervais - we just rarely get to see that particular character on the defeated end. It must be said: it's rather odd seeing Ricky Gervais in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Not unnatural by an means, he fits in well, and was used properly instead of just showing his face, but there's always been a sense of distance between Curb Your Enthusiasm and, say, The Office. Ricky Gervais met Larry David a couple of years ago in a TV special and they got on like a house on fire. This was the inevitable next step, I suppose. Luckily, it goes by without a hitch. Other great moments come from Larry and Susie, whose verbal duelling is a constant highlight (and one of the show's best devices for getting laughs). When Larry suggests she doesn't invite him to dinner any more, Susie doesn't explode with rage, she simply says: "I don't have any choice. You're an appendage to us." Something tells me that Larry and Susie share a mutual respect for one another: they are the only two characters on the show who say it like it is. There's strange, twisted admiration between those two, and perhaps even some love. "The Hero" is a strong episode overall, but emphasises two things that have become more apparent during the current season. The first is that individual stories are noticeably more obvious in their interlinking - true, Curb has never been a subtle show, but everything seems a little too pre-planned. Plus, previous seasons offered more ambiguity when it came to episode endings. They seemed clever, and made you grin like a idiot. Now, they either seem to emerge from nowhere, or you've guessed them before the 30 minutes is up. The second is the tighter construction of the show itself. It has become more reminiscent of other single-camera sitcoms, with the improvisation turned down. The camera cuts quicker and scenes aren't left to go off the beaten path. Some of the best conversations in prior seasons came from those moments when the camera were left rolling, with the actors just making obscure conversation ("The Terrorist Attack" springs to mind). Minor gripes when Larry David is still turning in episodes like this one. And for those who fear Larry's pettiness is growing stale, take some comfort in words uttered in this very episode: "I did present who I really was - a phoney, a fraud, a prevaricator€" The man is being himself. You can't ask for much more than that. Curb Your Enthusiasm returns next Sunday on HBO in the US and is coming soon to Sky Atlantic in the UK.
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