Last night’s episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm found Larry David in moods that are least like him (at least on TV): cheerful and open-minded. Enthused about the chicken served at the Palestinian-owned Al Abbas Chicken restaurant, Larry is busy converting his mostly-Jewish chums to the establishment. One joke among these jokesters is that the restaurant would be an ideal place to conduct an affair, since so few Jews patronize the place.
Larry was also enthused about one of the owners of the chicken joint, Shara, with whom he engaged in vigorous sex as she chanted anti-Israeli slogans to maintain her lust. (Let me pause here and say that, on Sunday nights, it’s never a good idea for a TV protagonist to get involved with people who run chicken restaurants. Doesn’t Larry David watch Breaking Bad?)
One self-consciously warped definition of a secular Jew, Larry sees the world only through his own wants and needs. He likes chicken at a place run by vigorously opinionated Palestinians? No matter, live and let live: He chows down. His friend Marty Funkhouser (the fine deadpan slab Bob Einstein) has become an observant Jew? Fine by Larry (well sort of: “Are you for real?” he asks Marty), just don’t wear that yarmulke to Al Abbas, lest it provoke a response that might interfere with Larry’s digestion. Even Funkhauser rationalized his presence in the restaurant by noting tartly, “if Rabin can break bread with Arafat, I can have chicken at this anti-Semitic s—hole.”
When it was discovered that Al Abbas planned to open another store next to Greenblatt’s Deli, controversy raged in the manner of the “Ground Zero Mosque” debate in New York, thus allowing David to satirize two hot-button topics. Like his collaborator Jerry Seinfeld, David sees the world through a prism of potential-joking. Neither of them is overtly political, nor do they seek to break taboos in a latterday Lenny Bruce sense. On Curb, jokes about religion and ethnicity are cast in terms of specific people in particular situations whose outrage, whether genuine or feigned, can be satirized merrily.
The prominent subplot this week involved Larry’s now-defined status as a “social assassin” – the man who will say anything, no matter who he offends. His friends have finally tumbled to the idea that this characteristic which gets Larry into virtually every crazy-misunderstanding comic plot twist on Curb can be used to their advantage. Thus he is enlisted by pal Ron to tell his wife, Eileen, to stop using the irritating phrase “LOL” instead of actually laughing out loud. (The barely-inside joke here was that Eileen was played by Maggie Wheeler who was Janis, possessor of the braying laugh on Friends.)
But the elements of Jewish identity, and the way they dovetail and conflict with an individual’s desires and needs, put Larry David in Philip Roth territory this week. Larry explained that Shara was a “turn-on” because “you’re always attracted to someone who doesn’t want you. Here you have someone who not only doesn’t want you, but doesn’t even acknowledge your right to exist, who wants your destruction.” You’ve heard the phrase “all politics are local”? For Larry, all politics are carnal.
In the end, in a scene all the funnier for looking so cheap and artificial, Larry must decide which of the two groups of protestors he’ll join: The Jews, symbolized most loudly by Susie (her brash vulgarity found its match in Shara – this is Larry David’s idea of parity), or the Palestinians. Given Susie’s shrieking versus the lush sensuality of Shara, the episode’s black-out ending left little doubt in my mind as to which side Larry would opt to join.