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‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Made Something Out of Nothing

Larry David — the character at least — does not hesitate to punch down. He’s a down-puncher! A recurrent theme of the show is his affluent character believing himself to be persecuted by service employees, including, in the final season, a car valet, a masseuse, a hotel housekeeper and multiple restaurant servers.

His saving grace is that Larry almost never punches down, up or sideways without injuring himself twice as badly. Inevitably, his “A.I.T.A.” is answered with a resounding “Y.T.A.” (often delivered by the deliciously scathing Susie Essman).

But also, there’s a kind of twisted egalitarianism to Larry’s bile. He believes, like the Roman playwright Terence, that nothing human is alien to him, that no one is better or worse than he is — and that, therefore, no one gets a pass from his kvetching.

Like his forebear Mel Brooks (who appeared in an arc casting Larry in his musical “The Producers”), David has also played with material that could explode on a lesser comic. In a classic episode, Larry becomes addicted to a Palestinian chicken restaurant that raises a furor when it opens a branch next to a Jewish deli. (While the plot might seem uncomfortably prescient during the Gaza war in 2024, when it premiered in 2011 it alluded to the controversy over a planned Islamic center in Lower Manhattan that was mislabeled a “ground zero mosque.”)

Larry is unsettled, as a Jew, by the militant posters on the restaurant’s walls. He is seduced, as a mortal, by the delicious poultry and by a Palestinian woman he meets there, who turns him on with antisemitic dirty talk.

Does the episode stereotype? Does it caricature? Does it mock deadly serious issues? Yes — brilliantly. It blows straight through offense into transcendence, guided by the comic philosophy that all people are debased, fallen and governed by low passions, above all Larry David. He ends the episode in a parking lot between two furious crowds: a group of Jewish protesters, including many of his friends, and the Palestinian counterprotesters, including his girlfriend — tribe vs. tribe, socialization vs. appetite, the camera pushing in on Larry’s anxious, indecisive face.

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