Now in its eighth season, Curb Your Enthusiasm has managed to become HBO's longest-running scripted (sort of) comedy series. Since its premiere in 2000, Larry David has gotten divorced from his fictional wife, ruined a universally beloved Broadway musical, and given viewers the closest thing to a Seinfeld reunion we're likely to ever see. But even though the series has managed to stay spry and funny after all of these years, Larry cranking his way around Los Angeles while infuriating the same set of showbiz friends has started to feel threadbare.
The solution? Let him complain and argue his way around New York City for a change. Curb Your Enthusiasm's shift to the Big Apple has been the central marketing point of this new (possibly final) season, and for the most part, the change of scenery breathes some new life into the series. While the season's early episodes strike an overly familiar tone, the shift to New York suggests that maybe it's not David's routine that's getting tired so much as the L.A. setting and the cast of characters he's been palling around with for seven seasons. The move to the East Coast provides a whole new set of minor New York-centric problems for Larry to agonize over (in one episode, the sound of a Mister Softee truck renders Larry impotent thanks to the traumatic childhood memories it brings to the surface).
Unfortunately, the move doesn't happen until about halfway through the season, which means the show spends its first half unsure of what to do with itself. In one early episode, Larry gets caught in the Middle East conflict in miniature, when a Palestinian restaurant opens next door to a popular Jewish deli. Larry's Jewish friends urge him to protest, but he's drawn to the other side by the restaurant's delicious chicken and a beautiful Palestinian woman who promises that she and her sister will "fuck the Jew out of him." It's a funny episode, boisterously so in parts, but it's difficult to shake the feeling that we've seen this before. After eight seasons, it's started to become too easy to spot Curb Your Enthusiasm's patented ironic twists and callback gags coming a mile away. In another episode, a character who's taken a vow of silence is introduced, and there might as well be a clock in the bottom corner of the screen counting down to the moment where Larry drives him to a shouting fit.
David's move to New York is an occasion for the show to pare down its expansive set of recurring characters; among those joining Larry on his move are the strongest supporting players, including Jeff Greene (Jeff Garlin) and his shrewish wife, Susie (Susie Essman), and consistently funny foil Leon Black (J.B. Smoov). While the guest stars who featured in the L.A. episodes make memorably funny appearances (like Michael McKean), the guests in NYC offer a new churlish dynamic for Larry to play with. This is especially the case with Robert Smigel, who plays an auto mechanic whose language is so filthy that it borders on incomprehensible.
When Larry makes a game-losing error in a softball championship, he turns to beleaguered Red Sox first basemen Bill Buckner, who's spent the last 25 years taking flack for his World Series-losing error in 1986, for guidance on how to cope with the shame. Buckner's learned patience is matched well with David's acerbic personality, making for vibrant chemistry, and the series allows the athlete a chance to redeem himself to the world by episode's end.
HBO's marketing for this season isn't lying when it says "New York. Same Larry." Even though moving to New York only amounts to a change in window dressing, the minor tweak makes a surprising impact on a series that's starting to grow predictable in its old age.