TV Review: CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, 8.9 - "Mister Softee"

"Mister Softee", the ninth episode of Curb Your Enthusiam's eighth season, is both ridiculous and funny in equal measure...


"Mister Softee", the ninth episode of Curb Your Enthusiam's eighth season, is both ridiculous and funny in equal measure. What other show could end an episode with baseball star Bill Buckner leaping to catch a baby as it falls from the window of a burning building? Once upon a time, you might not have answered that question with Curb Your Enthusiasm, but this season stands out when it comes to surreal moments. "Mister Softee" - like a recent stream of Curb episodes - emphasises both the good and bad points of the show in general, but manages to pull itself into a genuinely satisfying episode, complete with a warming touch of redemption for a shamed celebrity. "Mister Softee" is an episode practically bursting under the weight of its story threads, the most central of which involves Larry David and a very painful memory. Visiting his new therapist (played hilariously by Fred Melamed), Larry recalls a strip poker game he played as a kid in the back of a Mister Softee ice-cream van with a cute young girl (it's also revealed that she originated an infamous Curb phrase). When he loses, she demands he strip naked, is forced into the street by her disgruntled father, and is laughed into submission by the neighbourhood. One kid even calls him a "four-eyed fuck" - a relative of Susie Green's (Susie Essman), perhaps? Subsequent appearances from Mister Softee vans throughout the episode cause Larry much aggravation: the worst, when he's distracted by the van's music, causes Larry to fumble the ball during a softball game. His team lose the championship as a result. This eventually leads him into a meeting with former Red Sox baseball hero Bill Buckner. Buckner knows a thing or two about fumbling the ball (he did so in 1986 and became a scapegoat for fan hostility), and, as Larry notices when they take a stroll together, is still being called names on the street for the age-old mistake. Other threads see Leon (JB Smoothe) adopting a pair of glasses to earn more respect from white folks (to surprising successes), Larry's busted car seat proving to be a more accomplished love than him, and his therapist's casual and misguided attitude towards doctor/patient confidentially. We learn a few things about George Lucas we never knew, that's for sure. In early episodes of Curb it was somewhat difficult to predict where and when story threads were going to end up. You could rarely guess when exactly a certain thread was going to climax - all you knew was that that it would, at some point, and that it was going to be hilarious. Now, Larry seems to have abandoned the guessing game in most places: Instead, he sets up a situation and then plays it with a hint of dramatic irony. Susie, for example, wanting a ride to her cousin's flaming building, doesn't know that Larry's passenger seat is capable of orgasm magic - of course, we do. It's never unfunny to go down this route, but nowhere near as satisfying as it once was. Whereas that moment was easily guessed, there was one moment - involving a falling baby - that wasn't. Larry offered a similar redemptive moment to Michael Richards (Kramer, from Seinfeld) in the seventh season of Curb, as he drew inspired meta-references to the infamous comedy club incident that got him in a world of trouble. The self-awareness that Richards exhibited showed courage, and an understanding of what he did wrong, and a willingness to apologise for it. Whereas it's understandable as to why Richards needed to clear the air surrounding his situation, Bill Buckner just fumbled a baseball. Obviously, for him to agree to do the episode, it's something that has followed him around ever since - in his own mind, at least. What's nice is that Buckner agreed to play himself in the first place, and does so with a natural, endearing charm. You want this guy to earn the respect he deserves. His banter with Larry also works in a strange way: It seems oddly right that these two be friends. It's also admirable when anybody can take a look at themselves and laugh, and Buckner lets Larry poke fun at his situation with amusing results. Of course, the moment that eventually brings "Mister Softee" together - in which Buckner dives for a falling baby - could have ended with him dropping it. Not as satisfying, sure, but definitely in line with Curb's cynical sense of humour. But Buckner catches the baby (made possible with a strange CGI moment) and receives a round of applause from the citizens of NYC. Touching, to say the least. That's something Curb rarely is: Emotional. Good show, Larry David.

All-round pop culture obsessive.