A good chunk of the comedy in HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm comes from Larry David’s reaction shots, and I’m happy to report that season 6 is dotingly dedicated to close-ups of David’s face. Call it the Looks of Larry: There’s the appreciative, chuckly grin he gets when Jeff Garlin — who plays his manager — rumbles through one of his progressively outrageous riffs. There’s that wrinkled-nose look of disgust he wears when someone breaks one of the many ”unwritten rules of society” he holds so dear. And then there’s the eyebrows-raised, whatcha gonna do? look of contrition when he acts like an idiot himself. David’s reaction shots are much more than parsley sprigs of comedy — they’re often essential to the gag.
That’s not to say that this season — which, as always, revolves around David playing an outsize version of his L.A.-writer self, with Cheryl Hines as his chagrined, game wife — isn’t funny in its own right. I defy the naysayers who claim Curb is in a rut: Who cares if it’s not reinventing itself? It has become one of the most reliably amusing comedies on TV, taking little annoyances, indignities, and offenses, and worrying at them until they bubble into fantastically overblown debacles. This season sees Curb reining in the complete ludicrousness of season 5 — which was laughable but not always satisfyingly laughable — and returning to its more nitpicky, Seinfeldian roots. The show blasts people who demand too many ice cream samples (moderately irritating), malfeasants who don’t correct dry cleaning mix-ups (solidly exasperating), and guests who leave evidence of self-pleasure on their hosts’ bedspreads (wonderfully, wonderfully wrong). Curb is at its sharpest when Larry tries to articulate his particular secret codes of conduct, actually making a case for why it’s acceptable to steal a few bouquets from an overflowing memorial but rude to donate money anonymously.
The overarching plotline of this season has Larry and Cheryl taking in the Blacks, an African-American family who lost their home in Hurricane Edna (his typically misfired greeting to the Blacks: ”That’s like if my last name was Jew”). The Black matriarch is played by the versatile Vivica A. Fox, who really, really deserves her own series. But then, most of Curb’s talented guest stars could hold their own shows: Curb is one of the few comedies that consistently, successfully weaves in guest appearances. Here, Richard Lewis returns for a cranky spin, Ted Danson continues to play a swaggeringly righteous version of himself, and even Sen. Barbara Boxer shows some surprisingly nice timing. To use Larry David’s favorite minimalist assessment: This season is pritty, pritty good. B+