Perhaps it’s just the 22-month, “Sopranos”-esque layoff between seasons, but after ending on an improbable flight of fancy and a plot that uncomfortably mirrored star Larry David’s marital split, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” returns as irascible, weird and flat-out-loud funny as ever. A (sort-of) “Seinfeld” reunion takes over, beginning in episode three, but in a more general way, David’s obsessive world of the self-absorbed and privileged somehow seems even better suited to our Facebook-using, inward-looking times, resulting in a viewing experience that’s pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Larry’s marriage to Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) evaporated in the last season, freeing the actress up to go star (briefly) in ABC’s “In the Motherhood.” But Larry has moved on to a relationship with Loretta (Vivica Fox), whose entire family has become part of the deal.
What might have been a jump-the-shark moment yields several side-splitting new threads (some too good to reveal) in the first trio of episodes, showcasing David’s sharp eye for the absurd and the violation of small social conventions. These include, but are not limited to, the etiquette of sifting through somebody else’s refrigerator, how to tip on a split dinner check, whether it’s insulting to tell someone who’s gay that they “look gay,” and how much time must pass before you are prepared to kiss a relative stranger who has just performed an act of oral sex.
What makes “Curb” such a rewarding show, ultimately, is how deftly David layers these exchanges — which invariably include somebody shouting at the top of his or her lungs — upon each other in the course of a mere half-hour. While the actual dialogue is loosely improvised, the story plotting is so intricate it’s easy to overlook the meticulous spadework that goes into making a gag from the opening minutes pay off just before the credits roll.
If there’s one cautionary note, although the “Seinfeld” hook is wildly promotable, it’s still iffy whether the meta-concept of a faux reunion within another program — while simultaneously deriding the notion of TV reunions — will ring true. Then again, as Jason Alexander says (playing himself) about the series’ disappointing actual finale, “We’ll go out on a good note this time.”
With David’s eccentricity permeating every aspect of the show, these new episodes feel more unrestrained than ever. Ultimately, in the writer’s tweaked universe, much like reality TV, the fun is in the journey. Only please, fellow “Curb” travelers (and you’ll understand this later), please remember to keep your heads above dashboard level during the ride.