Few television series — especially those just unspooling their long-awaited ninth season — would be bold enough to trade on the concept that absolutely nothing has changed over the intervening years. Characters grow, situations change. But Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is not just any television series.
Six years after the HBO series wrapped its eighth season, Hollywood’s favorite malcontent is back, and he’s the exact same curmudgeon audiences love (and his friends love to hate). The Larry David of “Curb” doesn’t evolve, and never learns, and HBO has even made that the backbone of the show’s marketing campaign: This season’s official trailer literally boasts that “nothing has changed.”
Nonetheless, it was a long hiatus, and although the cameras weren’t rolling, surely Larry got into plenty of misunderstandings and stepped into countless of awkward situations during the intervening years. The last season saw him and best pal Leon (J.B. Smoove) arriving in Paris, for what looked to be an indefinite trip. Turns out, it was not, and the ninth season premiere reveals not only how Larry spent his time, but how it might frame up the rest of the long-awaited new season.
Spoilers ahead for the Season 9 premiere of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
While “Curb Your Enthusiasm” revels in the everyday absurdities and tiny disasters that plague Larry’s entire existence, each season has been built on the foundation of a big, overarching storyline. In Season 4, the plot revolved around Larry starring in a somewhat ill-fated production of “The Producers,” which — despite the usual slings and arrows, and also Ben Stiller getting stabbed in the eye — managed to make it all the way to Broadway. That experience appears to have shaped Larry’s future, as the “Curb” Season 9 opener reveals that Larry has spent the last five years (five!) writing his own musical: “Fatwa!”
As indicated by its kicky title, “Fatwa!” (the musical) chronicles the “Satanic Verses controversy,” which unfolded in 1988 after noted author Salman Rushdie published his controversial novel “The Satanic Verses.” The book, built on the conceit that the Islamic Prophet Muhammad interpreted the words as Satan as divine revelation, resulted in Rushdie being accused of blasphemy (bad enough) before Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering fellow Muslims to kill Rushdie (pretty, pretty, pretty not good).
Larry, of course, wants to play the Ayatollah.
We find out about “Fatwa!” (the musical) after a gleeful Larry delivers the final script (incidentally, dated October 1, 2017, the date of the premiere) to his manager Jeff Greene (Jeff Garlin). Both men are pleased that this apparent five-year-long odyssey has resulted in an actual script, and the initial response to the script is quite good. Jeff reports back to Larry that he’s got a number of producers lined up, but then Larry throws a huge wrench into the entire process (shocking) by chatting up the project on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
You can probably guess what happens next: Larry breaks into a number of (very amusing, totally offensive) impersonations of the Ayatollah, which leads to the Iranian leader declaring a fatwa that orders Muslims to kill him. It’s publicized, it’s everywhere, and it’s not going away.
Larry David: marked man.
Just one episode in, it’s unclear how much this fatwa (and, also, “Fatwa!” itself) will inform rest of the season, but it’s the kind of table-setting that “Curb Your Enthusiasm” has always excelled at mining for comedy. And while we’re not eager to see Larry’s life threatened (well, more than it usually is), the prospect of hearing even one song from “Fatwa!” (the musical) is too tantalizing to dismiss.
John P. Johnson/courtesy of HBO
Beyond said fatwa and “Fatwa!” (the musical), Larry’s life remains the same, just as the marketing slogan promised: he’s back in Los Angeles (no word yet on how long that Paris jag lasted), Leon is still living with him (now in a private back house). The Greenes are still sparring (and appear to have moved into yet another new house during the interim), while their daughter, Sammi (still played by Ashly Holloway), is due to be married (another plotline that will likely drive this season). Larry and his ex-wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) have not gotten back together, but appear to still be on friendly terms, as the premiere sees them chatting amicably at an event for Cheryl’s latest charitable endeavor: PAM (People Against Mutilation).
In fact, it’s there that “Curb Your Enthusiasm” teases out another major (and this one, long-simmering) change that just might inform the episodes to come: the revelation that Ted Danson (Ted Danson) and his long-time lady love Mary Steenburgen (who does not appear in the episode) have separated, and divorce is imminent. Cheryl, who has always had a special bond with the dashing actor, gets a little gleam in her eye. Uh oh.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.