“Thank You for Your Service,” last night’s unbelievably incident-packed episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, hinged on the kind of tone-deaf punchlines that have marred many of the Larry David show’s recent episodes. But it’s also the ninth season’s most cohesive installment thus far, recalling the jigsaw-puzzle-like construction of vintage Curb episodes.
The tip of the iceberg: Larry (David) doesn’t thank Sammi’s (Ashly Holloway) fiancé, Victor (Chet Hanks), for his military service, then offends Sal (Joe Regalbuto), a golf club’s security guard, by putting the kibosh on their small talk. Sal is involved with a group that performs Revolutionary War reenactments, which is the perfect setting for Larry to get back into Victor’s good graces. But after Sal fires cannons at Larry, triggering Victor’s PTSD, Larry is left to walk home in full uniform, thus paving the way for a jilted postal worker, Jean (Katie Aselton), to pelt him with mail. And that’s just the A plot. Larry also finds time to offend Richard Lewis, Susie (Susie Essman), Mr. Takahashi (Dana Lee), and an “inscrutable” chef (Jordan Black) along the way.
During the first half of “Thank You for Your Service,” this especially dense thicket of plot points feels disjointed, while others tend to drag on, like the short-lived romance between Larry and Jean. It’s unclear why Jean would even be attracted to Larry in the first place (notwithstanding that the fatwa has wrapped him in “sexy pixie dust”), as he insults Jean and her job during their first meeting outside Larry’s house. Not much happens on their first and only date at the movies, save the revelations that popcorn and candy go well together and that finding one’s date in a dark theater is an arduous task.
Another sour note is the episode’s treatment of PTSD, which is used as a dark, silly punchline; Victor thinks the golf club’s valets are redcoats, causing him to run after them and ditch Larry. Luckily, the joke—and Larry and Jean’s rocky finish—sets up the building blocks for a pitch-perfect ending. Fully costumed and on foot, Larry is vulnerable to Jean’s mail attack. Leon (J.B. Smoove) then verbalizes what got Larry into this mess in the first place: “Welcome home, soldier. Thank you for your service.” Cue the brassy, bumbling theme song.
Besides “thank you for your service,” other choice phrases serve as through lines throughout the episode. Unsurprisingly, each speaks to Larry’s complete inability to read people or act appropriately. One is his repeated appeal to “hit the reset button” on his relationships, first with Sal and then with Jean, both of whom he regrets having gotten too friendly with. But as Jeff (Jeff Garland) intones, “Once the window goes down, it cannot go back up.” Just as you can’t undo an entire relationship with the click of a button, nor can Larry take his exceedingly large foot out of his own mouth. The episode’s other quotable catchphrase—“Is that a face?”—gets to the core of Larry, a terrible person who desperately wants to be liked. Larry doesn’t mind offending people, so long as their expressions don’t indicate disgust.
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