As a comedy of manners, Curb Your Enthusiasm focuses on the minutiae of the modern well-to-do Angeleno — and while it's not quite Jane Austen core (reimagined by a cranky, golf-obsessed Jewish comedian), it comes awfully close. A symphony of slights and masterpiece of misunderstandings, Curb takes a sharp look at social graces, dissecting them until they dissolve while answering all the big questions: How many napkins should you take from a restaurant dispenser? How long should you hold the door for someone? When should you not put trash in a garbage can? When is a "stop and chat" necessary?
Writer, creator, and star Larry David might seem like the OG IDGAF guy, but the opposite is actually true — he cares too much. Larry simply cannot abide by society's little lies (i.e. "How are you?" "Fine.") and skewers them at every turn, taking a blunt approach that inevitably makes him the least popular man alive. (Even the extras look like they want to throttle him.) So why does he do it? The answer's right there on our screens: The look of relief (even joy!) on his face when he says what he's thinking, consequences be damned. For Larry, being right is better than being polite, and for those iron-gutted viewers who can withstand the cringe, there's something therapeutic about observing this sneaker-clad alien living life without a filter. He is, as his manager and best friend Jeff Greene (Jeff Garlin) puts it, a true "social assassin."
As HBO's longest-running scripted series prepares for its upcoming season 12, let's revisit the freak books, black swans, and disregarded social contracts that make up EW's list of the 25 best episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
1. "Trick or Treat" (season 2, episode 3)
Curb knows how to turn even the most banal questions — like, say, "How old is too old to trick-or-treat?" — into battlefields. After Larry refuses to give candy to a pair of un-costumed teens on Halloween, the David's yard is vandalized with toilet paper and graffiti ("bald a--hole" is spray-painted on their door). The cops are called, and they're both confounded by Larry (a pattern that's repeated, ad nauseam), disagreeing with his description of the graffiti as a "hate crime." Their attempt at explaining the meaning of a "social contract" to him (not knowing, as we do, that this is a man for whom the term holds no meaning) is a comedic delight.
Later, while waiting in line to see a friend's play, Larry whistles a Richard Wagner refrain within earshot of a fellow Jewish man, who angrily informs him that the German composer was an antisemite and Larry's enjoyment of his music makes him a "self-loathing Jew." In true Curb fashion, once Larry figures out that this man is also the father of one of the trick-or-treat vandals, he hires an orchestra to play Wagner's music outside of the man's house, the classiest payback ever.
2. "The Doll" (season 2, episode 7)
Before Logan Roy, there was Susie Greene (Susie Essman), wielding the F-word like a samurai sword. This episode firmly establishes her as Curb's resident badass, complete with her own Spaghetti Western theme music. Jam-packed, the episode also features guest star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who successfully pitches a new ABC show with Larry. Unfortunately, Larry endangers the deal after giving the doll of the daughter of an ABC executive a haircut. As the eternal Ethel to Larry's Lucy, Jeff tries to fix the situation by offering his own daughter's doll head ("Judyyy!") as a replacement, which, of course, doesn't sit so well with a fire-breathing Susie. "The kid is home — HYSTERICAL — because her doll, Judy, has been DECAPITATED," she screams at a thoroughly cowed Larry and Jeff. "'Cause you two SICKOS took the head for god knows what reason, some VOODOO S--- you're doing!" She deserved an Emmy.
3. "Chet's Shirt" (season 3, episode 1)
Teeth and shirts, shirts and teeth. Curb has a real thing about death and injury — as in, laughing in the face of it. In this episode, Larry sees his deceased pal Chet wearing a great shirt in an old photo, becomes obsessed, and eventually buys several for himself. These shirts will, throughout the course of the episode, become comedic props that alienate Larry even further from his friends and family. In a bizarrely funny side plot, LD's dentist works to fix his teeth after a piñata accident, but adds buck caps ("Chiclets!") as revenge for not accepting a dinner invite.
4. "The Special Section" (season 3, episode 6)
The theme of death rears its head again, even more prominently, in an episode revolving around a graveyard. When it begins, we find a wigged and mustachioed Larry (uncharacteristically) working on a Scorsese movie in New York. Returning to L.A., he receives some shocking news — his mom has died, the funeral was two days ago, and no one told him. His father, Nat (the legendary Shelley Berman), lets him in on his very on-brand reasoning behind this: They didn't want to bother him. The bright side? Her death is the perfect excuse to get out of stuff! But when Larry's late mom is laid to rest in the cemetery's "special section" (because she had a tattoo, which is a no-no in the Jewish faith), Larry's cousin Andy (Richard Kind, born for the role), along with Jeff, Nat, and a not-so-helpful gravedigger... fix it?
5. "Krazee-Eyez Killa" (season 3, episode 8)
In the least surprising revelation of the series, we find out that LD cannot keep a secret to save his life — literally. When Wanda Sykes' fiancé, the foul-mouthed "Krazee-Eyez Killa" (a hysterical Chris Williams), brags to Larry about his extramarital conquests, Larry promptly tells his wife, played by the forever stellar Cheryl Hines. This gets back to Wanda, who breaks up with the rapper, putting a bullseye on Larry's back. Elsewhere in the episode, Larry makes an enemy of a boutique employee (Jason Sklar), resulting in the most explosive argument over sweater-folding techniques you'll ever see.
6. "The Car Pool Lane" (season 4, episode 6)
We're prett-ay sure this is the only scripted comedy in television history to help save a man from death row. "The Car Pool Lane," considered by many Curb fanatics to be one of the show's all-time great episodes, contains footage shot at Dodger Stadium that was successfully used to prove a man was watching baseball when the prosecution thought he was, um, committing murder. (The Netflix doc Long Shot gets into all the details.)
The episode circles around loose themes of sex, drugs, and breakin' the law. There are two main threads: Larry buys "schwag" from a pot dealer (played by Lost's Jorge Garcia) to help his dad with his glaucoma while also desperately trying to attend the aforementioned Dodgers game. LD needs to use the carpool lane to get to the game on time, but he's riding solo, so, naturally, he does what anyone would do and hires a sex worker (Monena, played by Kym Whitley) to ride shotgun. After the game, Marty Funkhouser (Bob Einstein, a.k.a. Super Dave Osborne) has car trouble and asks Larry to take him to the airport, which leads to more drug-related problems. In the end, Monena shares some strong herbage with Larry and his dad, bringing out Larry's inner Gollum.
7. "The Survivor" (season 4, episode 9)
9/11 is not typical fodder for comedy, but if anyone can pull it off, it's Larry David. When Larry consults with his rabbi about the ethics of Cheryl's anniversary "gift" (permission to cheat, just once), the holy man points to a photo of his dead brother-in-law, who, indeed, died on 9/11. Further digging reveals that he died "uptown, after being hit by a bike messenger," which really aggravates Larry, who (as usual) cannot keep his feelings hidden.
Larry, does, however, meet a woman who makes him want to take Cheryl up on her offer. In an inspired bit of casting, Gina Gershon plays a heavily-accented Hasidic woman who works at a dry cleaner and has a major thing for Larry (not to mention an atypical approach to sex). Also, Larry and Cheryl plan their vow renewal, which he won't recite as written ("for all eternity" is something he simply cannot commit to), demonstrating his supernatural inability to take things figuratively. Finally, a TV Survivor (Colby Donaldson, a former Survivor contestant) meets an actual Survivor (from, you know, the Holocaust), resulting in a debate over who had it tougher. It's the kind of gasp-worthy bit you'll only find on Curb.
8. "Opening Night" (season 4, episode 10)
If you had to sum up this wild episode in a single line, it might just be Cheryl asking Larry, "What are you doing in the lobby, 20 minutes before the show, fighting with a Sikh?"
A revival of Mel Brooks' The Producers starring Larry and a perpetually annoyed David Schwimmer has the crew flying to New York for the Broadway debut, which also provides the perfect excuse to explore the multiple indignities of travel (and tipping). From airports to airplanes, hotels to restaurants, a literal buffet of slights, misunderstandings, and aggravations is offered up to the viewer in a one-hour comedic feast.
Not only do we have Brooks and Anne Bancroft, but we also get Nathan Lane delivering a pep talk to an uncharacteristically terrified Larry. Stephen Colbert also appears as a particularly Curbian character, one who "curses" Larry after being displeased with the photo he asked Larry to take of he and his wife. LD's costar, Cady Huffman (who won the 2001 Tony for her role in the musical), makes a move on him, and it seems he'll finally cash in on Cheryl's anniversary gift... until he spies a photo of President Bush in her dressing room. (Spoiler: Cheryl's gift is not redeemed.) In real Producers style, the opening night seems headed for disaster and Brooks, who secretly wants the show to fail, is thrilled. On stage, though, Bialystock and Bloom manage to turn it around and the show winds up being a smashing success, much to Brooks' dismay.
9. "The Freak Book" (season 6, episode 5)
Famously furious tennis star John McEnroe brings his permanent state of agitation to the Curb universe and, surprise, it's a perfect fit. "The Freak Book" is one of those unexpected, weird mini masterpieces: Larry fights for the rights of the working class (limo drivers and bartenders, specifically), picks up McEnroe (posing as a chauffeur named Charlie), and drives a (loudly sobbing) family from a funeral with McEnroe jammed in the middle. Meanwhile, the "freak book" (a Ripley's type of thing) rears its head again and again, getting Larry and Jeff (and later, Larry and John) kicked out of multiple parties for cackling like naughty children and shouting, "Look at the freaks!" Unclassifiable, hilarious, with not a second wasted, this a perfect episode in our (freak) book.
10. "The Therapists" (season 6, episode 9)
After the bust-up of their relationship earlier in the season (the reason: Cheryl thought her plane was crashing and called to say goodbye, but Larry put her on hold to deal with the TiVo guy), the couple goes on a date, where Larry tries to show he is a new man by tucking in his shirt. Steve Coogan makes an appearance as Larry's therapist, while Cheryl tells Larry that her therapist told her not to get back together with him. Of course, Larry has a terrible plan to win her back, inadvertently proving this advice to be correct when he stages a mugging — with Coogan assaulting Cheryl's therapist. Coogan is arrested, and the experience is so traumatic that he becomes a patient himself.
11. "Denise Handicap" (season 7, episode 5)
Larry dates Denise, a woman in a wheelchair, because he loves the "perks" of handicapped life (parking, for one). Larry also enjoys the feeling of moral superiority he's granted by others for dating a disabled woman. Later, after Jeff and Susie's daughter Sammi (Ashly Holloway) almost drowns on LD's watch, Susie throws his BlackBerry into the ocean. Now unable to contact anyone (including Denise), he can no longer use her for good concert seats. This leads him to finding another woman who uses a wheelchair to bring instead. In madcap sitcom fashion, Denise ends up being there and both ladies confront Larry. Other highlights: A knock-down fight with Rosie O'Donnell over a restaurant check, a round of super inappropriate questions with an adopted child's parent, and a loud, profanity-laced refusal of Ted Danson's gift of pie.
12. "Black Swan" (season 7, episode 7)
Death continues to be a source of some of Curb's funniest bits. "Black Swan" begins and ends in a graveyard, but the main events unfold at Larry's beloved golf club. First, Larry mocks a man named Norm for playing golf too slowly, then incurs the blame after Norm subsequently dies of a heart attack. Another golf-and-death-related tragedy follows when Larry murders the club's mascot — a black swan — clubbing the bird when it flies too close. Standing in a circle with Richard Kind, Jeff Garlin, and Bob Einstein, LD creates a decidedly Jewish version of a famous Goodfellas moment with a pile of black feathers on the ground instead of a body. (Kind: "This is ha-rrible!") The episode ends with Larry's mother's grave getting a surprise addendum: "Mother of Larry, An A--hole and Swan Killer."
13. "Officer Krupke" (season 7, episode 8)
"I'm Larry David, and I enjoy wearing women's panties," is a quote for the ages — and the best way to sum up this raunchy episode. We begin with Susie finding women's underwear in the glovebox of Jeff's car. Larry, ever-loyal, is immediately roped in, spending the next 28 minutes covering for Jeff by pretending the panties are his. Larry also meets a real "Officer Krupke" (of West Side Story fame), boldly wears a pair of pants with plastic security tags attached, lustily sings show tunes, and gets into a fight with three second-graders over a lemonade stand. Fun fact: The parent of one of the kids is comedian Carol Leifer, ex-Seinfeld writer and the real-life inspiration for Elaine.
14 and 15. "The Table Read"/"Seinfeld" (season 7, episodes 9 and 10)
Years before TV and film devolved into an endless march of requels and revivals, Larry ingeniously used Curb to stage a Seinfeld reunion that doubled as a parody of a Seinfeld reunion. The reunion, after all, only happens because Larry wants to win Cheryl back and she liked him better when he was working. For comedy fans, the experience of watching Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards, and Jason Alexander rib, annoy, and entertain each other feels like winning the lottery. When Cheryl is cast as George Costanza's ex (the character famously based on David), sparks begin to fly again between her and LD — until, of course, the ridiculous happens. As the undisputed king of dying on the dumbest possible hills, Larry decimates his season-long quest for Cheryl's love in a single statement: "Do you respect wood?"
17. "The Vow of Silence" (season 8, episode 5)
Curb's death obsession is rivaled only by his preoccupation with getting out of any and all commitments. In this episode, we're treated to a run-in with Michael McKean, who asks Larry to be part of a charity event by spending the day with handicapped kids — which couldn't possibly be less appealing to him. Instead of just saying no, Larry lies and says he's sorry to miss it, but he's going to be in New York. This spirals into a maelstrom of I Love Lucy-level of absurdity when McKean sees him again, letting him know the event has been rescheduled, meaning Larry has to make up a new lie about going back to NYC.
But it doesn't end there. McKean returns a third time with a third new date for the event... and Larry lies again! McKean then offers him an apartment to use for his now three-month New York visit. Luckily (for Jeff, not Susie), the Greenes are spending the summer in New York, too. This being New York, there's plenty of parking distress, as well as a hysterical Pinkberry battle and a vow of silence (behind which lies a Larry/Jeff secret). The way each thread ties together, leading to a major reveal at the end, is a comedic feat of epic proportions — and strong evidence for the show's genius status.
16. "Palestinian Chicken" (season 8, episode 3)
By season 8, Larry has firmly established himself as a character defined by a nearly magical ability to ruin even the most mundane social situations. So when Jeff calls him a "social assassin," LD — and the audience — recognize this as the perfect description of our anti-hero. "Palestinian Chicken" is one of Curb's most famous episodes, dancing around the Israel-Palestine conflict via Larry and Jeff's new favorite chicken spot. When they invite a newly religious, yarmulke-wearing Marty Funkhouser to join them for a meal, the mere act of asking him to remove his head covering is fodder for an amazing run of jokes. ("What is this, the raid on Entebbe?" "Be proud here in the parking lot!")
But Marty gets mad, Larry tells him to get lost, and the restaurant's Palestinian customers cheer on LD like a hero. This leads to Larry having an affair with an employee, whose insults and political exhortations during sex turn him on. (Larry's been called a "self-loathing Jew" before and, hey, if the shoe fits...)
In the end, Larry gets caught in a protest outside a second chicken location after it opens next to a Jewish deli. The episode ends with him standing in the street between the two opposing protests, torn between his Jewish heritage and the promise of chicken (and sex).
18. "Larry vs. Michael J. Fox" (season 8, episode 10)
The greatest thing about this episode is the creative team and Michael J. Fox not tip-toeing around Fox's Parkinson's disease, but instead making it an essential part of the storyline — and, somehow, laugh-out-loud funny. Fox, literally taking a page from the Larry David playbook, uses his Parkinson's twitch as the perfect excuse for all kinds of antagonizing behaviors, from shaking up Larry's Coke to clomping around above Larry's apartment to shaking his head at Larry in disgust.
Larry has his chivalrous moments, too, but, this being Curb, they're performed with a Davidian lack of grace. For one, his girlfriend Jennifer (Ana Gasteyer) has a gig playing background piano at a bar, but Larry has difficulty grasping the concept of "background music" and spends her entire set shushing everyone. He also accidentally introduces Jennifer's mini fashionista son, Greg, to Hitler mustaches (and swastikas). Later, Greg proudly crafts a swastika-themed pillow sham, which leads to a Susie meltdown and Jeff getting hit by a bike, because of course it does.
19. "Foisted" (season 9, episode 1)
Season 9 is when J.B. Smoove's slick, motor-mouthed Leon became truly essential to Curb. He appears in nearly every episode, consistently stealing the show and constantly pushing LD to the brink of exhaustion. "Foisted" is a highlight reel of hilarity, with Carrie Brownstein as Larry's constipated assistant (leading to some A+ crudity) and an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel where LD reveals his idea for a new musical, Fatwa! This announcement leads to the Ayatollah calling for the death of Larry (in other words, an actual Fatwa). Jeff tries to warn Larry about his potential assassination by leaving a message with Leon, who promptly forgets to pass this crucial information along. Impending death aside, though, this whole mess leads to something beautiful: the creation of Larry's alias ("Buck Dancer") and his sick army jacket.
20. "Happy New Year" (season 10, episode 1)
Plenty changed in the world between this 2020 episode and the 2017 one that came before it. 2017, you might recall, was the year Obama left office, Trump was sworn in, Hamilton was a Broadway sensation, and The New York Times' bombshell reporting on Harvey Weinstein gave momentum to the #MeToo movement. Curb fans tuned into the season 10 premiere wondering how LD would address this changed landscape. The answer? He attacked it — with gusto. In its 10th season, Curb didn't shy away from anything about the new, often ugly reality of 2020, including the strange power of a MAGA hat — leading to Leon's line about how the hats are never worn backwards because "if you're going to get your ass kicked, you want to see it coming."
That being said, the storyline about a potential sexual assault charge feels a bit tone-deaf, especially since Curb's creative team is primarily made up of men. While Larry's potential cancellation was the result of goofy mixups — he commented on his assistant's tattoo and cleaned his glasses on her shirt, then felt the blowback of Jeff's resemblance to Weinstein — playing this particular subject for laughs felt a bit... off. Still, there's so much to love in this episode, from the introduction of the "spite store" to Larry's statute of limitations on "Happy New Year" to the MAGA hat as lunch-date Kryptonite.
21. "You're Not Going to Get Me to Say Anything Bad About Mickey" (season 10, episode 4)
Leaving their usual Santa Monica/Pacific Palisades environs for a more exotic locale (a wedding in Cabo), Larry, Leon, Jeff, Susie, and Cheryl fly to the event on a private plane. Larry is tasked with gathering the passengers' weights (for safety reasons), but no one will comply. The topic of weight becomes a thread through the entire episode, from a carnival barker who specializes in guessing a guest's poundage to Larry not being able to fly home because of a heavy souvenir (coffee beans for his new business venture). As we've seen before in Curb world, vacation means frustration, bringing with it a myriad of agitations, from small hotel rooms to mysterious stains to forgotten toothbrushes, the latter of which leads to a fight with Ted Danson, who is now Cheryl's boyfriend.
22. "The Surprise Party" (season 10, episode 6)
LD's preparations for opening his "spite" coffee shop are keeping him busy, raising the question of whether someone as high-strung as Larry should be in the caffeine business. Larry also meets business rival Mocha Joe's mother, Mocha Jane, a sweet lady who hilariously vows to take him down. Opening and stocking his shop also provides the perfect excuse for LD to show off his many inane ideas for "improvements," from special squatting toilets to a coffee cup that stays hot. The latter idea inspires Freddy Funkhouser (Vince Vaughn, in his element) to introduce him to an inventor who Larry is sure is a Nazi. The cameos — Fred Armisen, Rebecca Romijn, and Chris Martin — each hit like a shot of espresso.
23. "The Watermelon" (season 11, episode 4)
In Judaism, the word "dayenu" means "it would have been enough," and it describes this episode well. Brilliantly (and hilariously) exploring the heaviest of topics in ways only Curb can, Larry gets himself into hot water with animal rights activist (and "cream shamer) Woody Harrelson by pretending to have his own cow (for a kinder, gentler, latte). Further twists and turns ensue, from a Star of David sewn on the back of a Klansman's robe to Leon's issues with watermelon, plus a goosebump-inducing ending in which Larry saves the day with his shofar-blowing skills.
24. "What Have I Done?" (season 11, episode 8)
From Larry's brassy, sassy, sort-of girlfriend Irma (Tracey Ullman, dominating every scene), the sitcom based on his life (Young Larry), Jeff's latest affair, and Leon's new business as a "house husband," season 11 weaves a complex web. Still, the most memorable parts of "What Have I Done?" aren't driven by plot so much as they are physical comedy and Larry's particular brand of cringe — like when he arrives much too early to a vow renewal ceremony and gets caught on the Ring camera acting like an 8-year-old. The episode ends with a true twist when Susie discovers a text on Jeff's secret cell phone.
25. "The Mormon Advantage" (season 11, episode 10)
In the season 11 finale, the Curb team nearly overwhelms itself while wrapping up Larry's season-long quest to repeal a fence law while also creating the aforementioned Young Larry. This involves stolen shoes from a Holocaust museum, angry Mormons, stolen documents, bribes, the latest "Mary Ferguson" in Leon's Rolodex, and a bizarre cameo from Trump whistleblower Alexander Vindman. This episode is also notable for wrapping up Irma's story and revealing Leon's glorious middle name — Luscious. Watching Leon and Irma spar in Larry's kitchen over potato chips and a cat puzzle is worth the cost of that Max subscription alone.