This semi-triumphant ninth season of Curb concludes much as it began, with Larry blissfully singing Mary Poppins lyrics aloud just prior to a maddening inconvenience. Although, the fussy soap dispenser that bedeviled him in episode one would be a welcome snag compared to being chased through greater Los Angeles by a fatwa-compelled pursuer.
It turns out Jeff was right: There still is at least one enraged loyal Iranian-American unaware the Ayatollah had rescinded his bounty on Larry’s bald head. And so while Fatwa! the musical meets its hastened demise, the actual death decree it first provoked lives on. In turn, debates will no doubt linger about whether the whole exercise of satirizing Muslim clerics and exorcising the saga of Salman Rushdie’s real-life, ongoing fatwa concerns (which, it should be said, resulted in multiple related murders) was timely and/or appropriate.
Conversations will similarly roil over whether season nine’s continual, almost adolescent preoccupation with retirement-age sex was ill-aligned with current cultural reckonings over creepy older men in entertainment. “Fatwa!” can’t take its mind or eyes off tits (to use Larry’s word of choice), and specifically dudes staring at an ASL interpreter’s (Tina Sirimarco, who is something of a famous and controversial interpreter) assets while she translates Fatwa! and, later, Susie and Victor’s wedding vows, for the hearing impaired. Each individual’s beholding eye can determine whether there’s humor in objectifying a sign-language interpreter (and one who presumably approved of how her role would reflect on ASL advocacy), and whether it’s undone by watching Richard Lewis and Ted Danson ogling Sirimarco.
In any event, Fatwa! is a wash. There is plenty of blame to go around: F. Murray Abraham was outfit-tracking Larry, and Larry was just being Larry by putting the episode into his work. The Miranda family really does have a defect when it comes to offering a commensurate “Thank you” or “Sorry,” and Lin was overly hard on the hard-working costume designer (Greg Worswick) and manipulative in his aims to mute Larry’s creative influence. But ultimate blame for everything unraveling falls on L.D. — not for needlessly hectoring company manager Cody (Nick Offerman in a true ensemble appearance, as has been the case for most guests this season), or even accidentally Aaron Burr–ing Lin in the throat with a paintball gun (not a euphemism, I promise). His biggest lapse in judgment is twofold: organizing a paintball gathering and, moreover, staging a musical to begin with. Had he learned nothing about playfully re-creating warfare after his disastrous Revolutionary War misadventure with Victor, to say nothing of his volatile brush with Broadway while starring in The Producers?
The appeal of Curb is, inevitably, that Larry learns nothing, as it was for the Seinfeld gang. It must continue to mystify the actual Larry David that audiences want everything to do with these misanthropes he throws at them, and on some level, season nine is a real litmus test for how much pointless dickishness we can condone. The answer is essentially articulated in this finale by Susie, who can only roll her eyes and lament Larry being Larry when he doles out an utterly disingenuous paean to what Sammi’s meant to him all these years.
The biggest surprise surrounding “Fatwa!” isn’t that Larry’s life is still in danger, but that Sammi and Victor’s big day is more of a sidebar to the goings-on. Sammi hardly had more to say than the ASL interpreter turning Victor’s gaze 45 degrees as they stood at the altar. A missed opportunity? Maybe. Alas, Larry missed the occasion entirely while dueling it out with Lin and arguing with his ambulance driver about the logistics of making a pit stop en route to the hospital. (Between his exploits on the public bus and in an Uber, Larry clearly needs to steer clear of assisted transit.)
All this clears a path for Casey Wilson’s cameo as a multipurpose stand-in, both for Funkhouser over dinner and Larry at the microphone during Sammi’s wedding. The outcome of Wilson’s arc is absurd, though the catalyst — Larry getting into it with a hostess over the old “can’t be seated till your party’s all here” pretense — is a fresh and worthy nit for Curb to pick. And said icy hostess (Cate Cohen) is as worthy an adversary as the unapologetically slick Lin-Manuel.
In the end, if one feels that 2017 onscreen Larry is borderline Archie Bunker and gets what he deserves, “Fatwa!” provides. If all the above chicanery isn’t enough, Lin’s swinging cousins Valentina and Ernst defy his presumptions about their marriage being for show and defile his home with an epic orgy. Leon simply assumed Larry might have been “sleep fucking” his way into the action, but the bigger shock is Leon himself having abstained. Instead, there’s a bit of déjà vu: Larry and Leon left off at the end of season eight exiled and stranded in France, and they wrap up season nine both jilted by one of Larry’s remarkable failures. But hey, at least Victor was commensurately thanked for his service.
Apart From All That
• I’m assuming Casey Wilson’s alter ego Marie Deschamps was a nod to Curb producer Mychelle Deschamps.
• Cheryl knows: Separate bathrooms.
• So much depends on professorial weed.
• We love Larry because of this: “I’ll put your card in my pocket. I will never call you, but I’ll put it in my pocket.”
• “… And anyone who enjoys ASL.” Stealthily funny line for Lin.
• Ernst swings in his mother’s jacket? Ew.
• Casting thumbs-up: Both actors playing Victor’s parents are, in real life, deaf.
• Pete Rose, lol.
• If Nick Offerman’s other doppelgänger, Ron Swanson, knew Susie had Lagavulin behind her bar, he’d have just gone to her place.
• So, this season: Pretty good?