You often find recurring tropes popping up in Curb Your Enthusiasm over the years, and Larry David having a difficult relationship with his therapist is one he has revisited repeatedly. One of my favourites is his brief but hilarious psychological breakdown of Steve Coogan’s therapist in Season 6’s appropriately titled ‘The Therapists’, but ‘Running With the Bulls’ reminds me a little more of the therapist he had issues with way back in the Second Season episode ‘The Thong’, in which his shrink at the time shunned him outside of the therapy room, much to Larry’s chagrin. Bryan Cranston’s Dr Templeton is very much in that mould – a therapist who very quickly realises Larry is probably the most irascible, difficult man in the world and does his best to avoid him where possible.
Much as Curb is very much the same show it always has been, there’s a definite amping up of Larry’s neuroses this year. David is playing Larry at absolute peak frustration, which makes sense given he has no ongoing regular love interest to try and keep him grounded, and even that Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) is now more in his life as a friend and happens to be dating Ted Danson, which surely is going to cause bigger issues down the line.
Some have suggested a few of the comic situations this year are too contrived but that’s a fairly silly accusation to level at Curb, because by its very nature the whole thing is contrived and staged for over the top, farcical comedy effect. Curb very much exists in a comedic, heightened reality, and always has.
In terms of consistency, Season Nine is certainly bringing the laughs more than the previous year, even if the connecting tissue again is fairly thin, with the ongoing ‘fatwa’ narrative playing into the stories in bigger ways some weeks than others. Here it comes in late and provides a silly but enjoyably chaotic part of the climax, involving another Curb trope – Larry upsetting and annoying Bob Einstein’s wonderfully hangdog Marty Funkhouser, in this case by sending a funeral for his nephew (a kid, in all honesty, who wouldn’t be dead if not for Larry’s meddling) into mass hysteria. It’s daft and obvious but works, and you can say the same for much of the episode – deep as a puddle but guffaw inducing.
Once again, perhaps my favourite moments come in the interactions between Larry and Richard Lewis, who David seems to be utilising fairly regularly again. Lewis has always had a slight level of pretentiousness about his aspirations, whether it involves a woman or a creative project, so having him create an art exhibit with a very flattering, youthful picture of himself at its centre for Larry and Jeff (Jeff Garlin) to mock, is perfect, topped only by Larry’s growing frustration at Lewis always stealing his prime seat, even at a funeral where he bribes a worker to reserve one for him. Honestly, I could watch Larry & Lewis squabble for half an hour, solid, and I’d be happy.
The only sub-plot which feels a bit superfluous is Jeff stepping out on his harridan wife Susie (Susie Essman) with a realtor; it’s all a bit Brian Rix at one point and feels purely there to give Jeff something to do, and the chance for Susie to be suspicious at Jeff & Larry – though it’s almost worth it for the moment Larry ends up trying not to betray his ‘patient-doctor confidentiality’ with Templeton.
Nonetheless, an already fun if quite throwaway episode of Curb didn’t really need it. Plenty of laughs but ‘Running with the Bulls’ probably won’t be up there with the season’s best when the whole is said and done – if the quality keeps up, of course.
Curb Your Enthusiasm airs in the UK on Sky Atlantic every Monday. Let us know what you think of the season.