After what was widely (and rightly) dismissed as a disappointing season, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” roars back with a terrific trio of half-hours to open year six, so dense and intricate in weaving together Larry David’s twisted view of humanity it’s remarkable how neatly the episodes tie together their loose ends. Widely imitated but seldom equaled in the art-imitating-celebrity-life genre, this HBO series has experienced missteps but remains the unrivaled standard-bearer in behind-the-ivied-gates glimpses of Hollywood self-obsession.
Playing a tweaked version of himself, David continues to mine nuggets from small tics and universal foibles while pressing political hot buttons — in the premiere’s case, being pressured by his liberal wife (the fictional David still has one of those), Cheryl (Cheryl Hines), to give shelter to an African-American family displaced due to “Hurricane Edna.”
The episode’s centerpiece, though, hinges on Larry’s latest epiphany to help thumb his nose at social niceties — namely, covering up having skipped a friend’s party by showing up the next night and simply pretending to have mixed up the dates. It’s a gem of an idea, albeit one that — strained through “Curb’s” bent lens — inevitably backfires.
By all rights, David and his extended posse (including Richard Lewis and Ted Danson playing themselves) should be the least sympathetic of characters — wealthy and privileged, yet also unbelievably peevish, selfish and petty. Yet as he did on “Seinfeld,” David has found the right combination of self-deprecation and illumination of larger truths, from irritation at smoke alarms to the nagging sense that even the best intentions of bleeding-heart types won’t work out as planned.
That quality extends into the second and third episodes, which include vital new insights on the etiquette of masturbation and dry cleaning; a surprisingly good guest shot by California Sen. Barbara Boxer; discussion of how many tastes is too many at the ice-cream counter; and Larry’s growing jealousy toward the saintly Danson, with a hilarious bit over who can be more selflessly generous to something called the Natural Resources Defense Center (actually shot at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills).
As a side note to this sixth-season launch, the first of “Curb’s” 10 episodes makes its debut sandwiched between the premiere of the sex-filled drama “Tell Me You Love Me” and the horrifically sobering documentary “Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq,” which just might be the weirdest night of scheduling in recent memory — an emotional roller coaster (aroused, amused, despondent) if there ever was one.
It’s the kind of mildly absurd predicament, come to think of it, with which Larry David could have a field day.