In the uncharacteristically elaborate opening of “Foisted!,” the first new episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in six years, the camera flies over an upscale neighborhood in Los Angeles, past manicured, ritzy properties, before swooping into Larry David’s (Larry David) home through an open window. Even if this is a series largely concerned with the lives of a city’s golf-playing, fundraiser-attending upper crust, this aesthetic flourish feels out of place. After all, throughout the show’s first eight seasons, more understated camera work, sometimes shaky handhelds, guided us through gilded milieus. But a polished aerial zoom? To use Curb parlance, what a shanda!
Fortunately, the big-budget razzle dazzle is a red herring. When we meet Larry in the shower, he’s up to his old shenanigans: exhibiting his love of show tunes as life throws him a curveball in the form of a faulty shampoo dispenser. From here on out, it becomes suddenly and definitively clear that the Curb marketing team was correct to state that, for David, “nothing has changed.” “Foisted!” jumps back into a familiar groove, with Larry as misanthropic as ever and everyone around him almost preternaturally devoted to making sure he never collects his bearings.
Larry has spent the last five years writing Fatwa! The Musical, meaning he’s probably dealt with more than a few incompetent assistants in that time. For Larry David, assistants and receptionists have always offered rich comedic possibilities, and Carrie Brownstein’s Mara is no exception. When Larry finds out that his blundering assistant has been “foisted” on him by Jimmy Kimmel (and on Kimmel by Martin Short), he uses the same technique on Susie (Susie Essman). It’s a perfect example of the needling humor that Curb does best, and it gets to the core of Larry’s martyr-meets-nuisance persona. He doesn’t consider himself so cruel as to fire someone who’s physically disabled and a victim of abuse, but he has no problem knowingly screwing over Susie.
Larry’s handling of Mara is inelegant at best but not unearned. She is, after all, a terrible assistant. Much of the time, Larry is wholly infuriating, either assuming he knows best or obsessing over a minor inconvenience. Sometimes, though, Larry manages to be sympathetic of someone else’s hardships while also considering how that creates difficulty for himself. As he crassly explains to Leon (J.B. Smoove) at one point, “Let’s just say her uncle fucked her…do you see the dilemma that I have?” Larry’s behavior oscillates between groan-inducing and well-intentioned, and so we find ourselves alternately cheering at and laughing with TV’s biggest misanthrope.
“Foisted!” fails to strike that balance when David meets Betty (Julie Goldman), a conventionally masculine lesbian who plans to be the bride at her wedding. David tells Betty that he’s “not really getting bride vibes” from her; to him, her vests, ties, and short hair peg her as the “groom.” But it’s a weak conflict from which to mine humor from his “equal-opportunity offender” persona, especially for a series that’s garnered thornier laughs from Larry’s relationship to the L.A. lesbian community. The plotline feels more dated and less clever than season five’s “The Bowtie,” in which Larry’s desire to be loved by lesbians stems from a general deep-seated desire to be liked by everyone.
The episode fulfills the uneasy task of setting up multiple plotlines for the season to come, including Susie’s burgeoning soap company, Sammi’s engagement, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen’s divorce, and the fatwa issued against Larry by the Ayatollah. What’s impressive is the subtle ease with which Curb unfurls these new developments without feeling overstuffed. “Foisted!” isn’t a grandiose return for Larry David, nor is it an excellent episode ranking alongside “The Survivor” or “Palestinian Chicken.” Rather, it’s a confirmation that six years later, Curb is proudly and defiantly unchanged.