Larry David swears that season 12 is the end of Curb Your Enthusiasm. We're supposed to believe him... even though he's said it before! Still, throughout red carpet interviews and HBO promotional material, the Seinfeld co-creator declared that he is finally shedding the "Larry David" persona to "become the person God intended me to be—the thoughtful, kind, caring, considerate human being I was until I got derailed by portraying this malignant character."
We Curb fans here at Esquire are still in denial. Or, as I like to call it, we just know better. As JB Smoove recently joked, "I don’t believe that, man." Even Cheryl Hines said, "I had heard that before, because since season 1 that’s what Larry has told me." Take it from the cast! Larry is going to stew in that house, come up with a thousand new ideas, and we'll have season 13 within the next three years.
But if this is really Larry's final farewell, we should celebrate the 110-plus episodes he's given us so far. Not that I need the excuse! My colleague Adrienne Westenfeld and I asked our editor if "every episode" was an acceptable answer to "How many episodes should we include in our 'Best of' rankings?" For sanity's sake, we settled on a top 20—and even that was difficult. We had a meeting in Esquire's largest conference room for this one, which should tell you that this is very important work. How do you compare Larry stealing shoes from the Holocaust Museum with Larry causing chaos at a Palestinian chicken restaurant?
It's an impossible task. Yet, we're confident in our choices. I've long envisioned Curb Your Enthusiasm ending with Larry's death and ascension to the afterlife, where God tells Larry that everything he did on Earth was the right choice. I pray that you, dear reader, feel the same about our rankings below.
The one thing any newbie to the Curb universe must understand that everyone's love for Larry is constantly in a battle with their hatred for Larry. Larry is like the ocean–and it's best to just ride the waves.
So, when Larry accidentally trips Shaq at a Lakers game, he provokes the ire of the entire city. Turns out, this is actually great for Larry. Like I said, ocean. Hurl a big rock in there—it doesn't matter! People finally just leave him alone and no one asks for any favors. Featuring Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Joel McKinnon Miller as Shaq’s dubious doctor, this early season 2 episode has a cameo from the great Lakers big man himself.—Josh Rosenberg
"The Ugly Section"
Larry's not afraid to make fun of his looks. The HBO store even sells a sweatshirt with just his bald spot on it! In season 10, Larry believes that he’s been put in the “ugly section” in the back of a restaurant. He blackmails the maître d’ (Nick Kroll) while on a date with an old golfing buddy’s widow (Jane Krakowski), wanting to sit with the attractive people at the front of the joint. Making matters worse, his date's husband just committed suicide a couple days before their meetup. Why? His many years of disappointment rooting for the New York Jets.—J.R.
When Hamilton was on Broadway, nabbing tickets was impossible. It was even harder for Larry. After he’s forced to include Lin-Manuel Miranda in his season 9 musical, Fatwa!, an oyster shucker at a dinner party overhears Larry reveal that he fell asleep during Hamilton. In exchange for his silence, he tasks Larry with asking Miranda for two tickets to the musical. Naturally, Miranda's favor comes with some stipulations—and Larry really doesn't want to see Hamilton.—J.R.
Entire manifestos could be written about Larry's fashion. But in season 2, he becomes obsessed with a black and gold bowling shirt. So he buys multiple black and gold bowling shirts. But his backup shirt supply begins to dwindle due to various mishaps throughout the week. Larry is also investing in a new restaurant with Ted Danson, where he’ll have control over the waiter’s uniforms and a myriad of other “fixes” to the whole restaurant-going experience. His first suggestion: dozens of bells. You know, so you can call the waiters back to your table. That's what everyone wants at dinner. Hearing the rings and dings of dozens of bells.—J.R.
"The Christ Nail"
This episode lands on our list purely because of one perfect sight gag: nanny cam footage of Larry “mincing around” in Susie’s bra. The trouble begins with the Davids’ housekeeper, Maria, whose bralessness makes Cheryl uncomfortable. When Maria reveals that she can’t stand to wear a bra, Larry offers to buy her a top-of-the-line model. There’s just one problem: Maria doesn’t know her size. Thinking she might be the same size as Susie, Larry peeks at Susie’s bra in her laundry room, and even takes the liberty of trying it on. In one of the most hilarious Susie shakedowns of the entire series, Susie and Cheryl confront him with the nanny cam footage, with Susie shouting, “Keep your goddamn hands off my brassiere!” It’s pure comedy gold.—Adrienne Westenfeld
"The Black Swan"
Golf course bugaboos have long been one of Curb’s favorite axes to grind, but no episode did it better than “The Black Swan.” When the club’s slowest player dies of a heart attack following a confrontation with Larry, LD is persona non grata. Then, things go from bad to worse when Larry murders the club’s mascot (a black swan), clubbing the bird with his putter when it flies too close for comfort. Two unforgettable sight gags: when Larry beats the swan to death, it goes down in a shower of black feathers. Then, sharing lunch after burying the bird, Larry demands Marty Funkhouser’s silence at the point of a butter knife. Larry is inevitably outed as “a swan killer and an asshole,” but the web of unraveling secrets is the true pleasure of this episode.—A.W.
Curb has featured multiple plots involving therapists. In one episode, Richard Lewis decides to leave his therapist after seeing him wear a thong at the beach. In "The Therapists," Larry and Leon concoct an insane scheme to win over Cheryl's therapist. How, you ask? By having someone pretend to mug her so that he can step in and be the hero. Larry’s own therapist then agrees to be the mugger after giving him terrible advice about ultimatums. Of course, everything works out perfectly.—J.R.
"The Mormon Advantage"
The Mormon advantage—referenced in the episode's title—is only the fourth-funniest thing that happens in season 11's jam-packed finale. It all starts when Larry is shocked to meet a Mormon with just one wife. There’s also the culmination of his new TV series, Young Larry, Leon’s continued search for a woman named “Mary Ferguson” to go on a vacation with him, and Larry stealing shoes at the Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles because he accidentally stepped in dog poop on his way there.—J.R.
"The Ski Lift"
Why do things the easy way when you could do them the hard way? That’s the overarching plot of season 5, which sees Larry try anything and everything to get out of donating a kidney to his ailing friend Richard Lewis. In this episode, his latest gambit is to pretend to be an Orthodox Jew, befriend the devout head of the kidney consortium, and charm him into moving Lewis up the transplant list after a ski getaway. It all goes sideways when Larry ends up stuck on a broken ski lift with his new friend’s daughter, where the jig on his faux-Orthodoxy is finally up. Larry’s exaggerated performance of devout Orthodoxy (and the hilarious moment when he gives up the ghost) make this episode unforgettable.—A.W.
"Happy New Year"
The season 10 premiere introduced one of Larry's greatest arcs in all of Curb: The Spite Store. After an awful time at Mocha Joe’s new coffee shop, Larry threatens to open a rival store right next door—called Latte Larry’s—just to spite Mocha Joe. Larry also starts wearing a MAGA hat around town, believing that people will finally leave him alone because they wouldn’t want to be seen with a guy wearing that hat. On top of it all, there’s Larry’s idea that saying “Happy New Year” should have a statute of limitations no longer than three days after the new year.—J.R.
When Cheryl’s aunt dies, a magnanimous Larry uses his connections to handle the obituary. Pretty kind gesture for an old curmudgeon like LD, right? Of course, it all goes belly up when an egregious newspaper typo spells the word “aunt” with a “C.” Cheryl’s family is outraged, then things go from bad to worse when it comes to light that Larry encouraged his sister-in-law’s boyfriend not to delay breaking up with her (she lost an aunt, not a parent, so why wait?). There’s not much love for Larry in the B-plot, either: kicked out of his own house, he heads to the Greenes’ for safe harbor, but he won’t find it there. Seeking to mend fences with Jeff’s elderly parents after causing offense, Larry purchases a gift for Jeff’s mother, only to accidentally graze her breast when presenting it. Tough sledding for LD in this episode, but hey, he meant well!—A.W.
"Larry vs. Michael J. Fox"
What if Michael J. Fox is faking his Parkinson’s symptoms specifically to torment his downstairs neighbor? That’s the outlandish plot of the would-be series finale, which saw LD walk away from the series for six years before getting back on the merry-go-round in 2017. In a series of hilarious confrontations, Fox antagonizes Larry and chalks it up to his Parkinson’s twitch, from shaking up a soda to clomping around in construction boots. When Larry’s frustration erupts at a charity event for Parkinson's, he receives the public shaming of a lifetime. The B-plot is also a straight banger: Larry’s love life hits a snag when he teaches his girlfriend’s young son how to draw a swastika, with predictably disastrous results. We’re grateful the series didn’t end here, but if it had, it would've been one hell of an exit.—A.W.
"The Ida Funkhouser Roadside Memorial"
Why does Marty Funkhouser keep putting up with Larry? After all, LD has a nasty penchant for stealing from the Funkhousers: in season 4, he snatched a golf club from the coffin at Marty's father's funeral, and in this episode, he pinches flowers from the roadside memorial dedicated to Marty’s late mother. Larry gifts the flowers to a variety of women, including the headmistress of a prestigious private school, only for it all to blow up in his face spectacularly. After Sammi Greene’s application is denied when Larry is caught repossessing the flowers, Susie shrieks, “Just knowing you is a liability!” Marty is none too impressed, either; righteously furious, he avows to Larry, “If you weren’t my best friend, I would take my bare hands and pop your head off your neck.” Turning to Cheryl, Larry demures, “He’s not my best friend.” Funk-Man, maybe it’s time to reconsider this friendship.—A.W.
"The Car Pool Lane"
There’s a lot to love about this episode, including its role in saving an innocent man from going to prison for murder. But the real standout is Kym Whitley, who has crackling comedic chemistry with LD as Monena, a sex worker he picks up in order to use the carpool lane. Poor Monena gets carted along to a Dodgers game, an airport pick-up, and even Larry’s father’s apartment, where all three of them get baked by smoking some “schwag” Larry bought to ease his father’s glaucoma. In a series packed with unforgettable guest appearances, Whitley steals the show, always holding Larry’s feet to the fire as they go toe-to-toe on their madcap day in sunny Los Angeles.—A.W.
"The Mini Bar"
When Larry has the opportunity to put together ideas for his own mini-bar, he really takes it seriously. Wasabi peas, parmesan crisps, figs, and York peppermint patties. Vince Vaughn doesn't go for it, but Larry was speaking my language. Maybe it's just a Jewish guy thing. But the real highlight of "The Mini Bar" is the introduction of the talented Keyla Monterroso Mejia, who plays the young and purposefully awful actress Maria Sofia. Cast in Young Larry due to a blackmailing scheme, Sofia goes to acting classes with Cheryl and things go haywire. In her audition tape, she tackles Cheryl and wrestles her the ground, which only delights the Young Larry staff even more.—J.R.
In what might be Curb’s brainiest episode (and Larry David’s personal favorite), the series transcends pure entertainment to offer a comedic allegory on the conflict between Israel and Palestine. It all takes place at Al-Abbas, Larry and Jeff’s new favorite Palestinian chicken restaurant. When Marty Funkhouser shows up in a yarmulke and Larry threatens to rip it off his head, LD becomes an unlikely hero to Al-Abbas’s Palestinian patrons—including Shara, one of its comely employees. In the ensuing sex scene (one of the show’s funniest), Larry encourages Shara to call him “a filthy Jew” as she shouts, “Fuck me like Israel fucked my people!” Facing down a disapproving Funkhouser, Larry says, “The penis doesn’t care about race, creed, or color.” It all ends in a hilarious stand-off: when a protest erupts after a second location of Al-Abbas opens next to a Jewish deli, Larry is quite literally caught in the middle of two screaming crowds, torn between his heritage and his base desires. Geopolitics has never been so funny.—A.W.
This season 7 standout marks a new low, even for Larry: single for the first time in over a decade, he starts dating a wheelchair user named Denise to enjoy the “perks” of her lifestyle, from handicapped parking spaces to special treatment in restaurants. When he loses Denise's number ahead of a private concert, he invites another wheelchair user as his date, only for both women to show up. Larry’s galling (but hilarious) solution is what vaulted this episode into our Top 20: to keep the women apart, he locks one in a closet, then later distances himself from his enraged dates by fleeing up a flight of stairs. “We may be disabled, but you’re disgusting!” Denise shouts. As if that wasn’t enough to get you belly-laughing, the episode includes another physical comedy highlight: a knock-down, drag-out fight with Rosie O’Donnell over who gets to pick up the check for lunch.—A.W.
"The Table Read"
"The Table Read" is another Curb episode where a Seinfeld reunion gets top billing, even though the funniest line is from a completely separate plot. As the reunion breaks into chaos, Larry is stuck texting a nine-year-old fan who asks him questions such as, "Do you watch Wizards of Waverly Place?" (Curb is also a great show to watch with your dad—and my dad loves that line.) We also see a great scene with Leon and Michael Richards, which delivers some crossover magic that only Curb can provide. It's like the two Kramers meeting face-to-face.—J.R.
"The Five-Foot Fence"
Larry dates Lucy Liu in this one—isn't that crazy? It's somehow low on the list of crazy things that kick off season 11's premiere, including: Larry finding a dead guy in his pool, Larry trying collect a payment from a guy with dementia, and mishaps involving screen doors. But the major highlight of one of the greatest Curb episodes of all time is Albert Brooks. He wants to hold a funeral for himself, even though he's still alive... so that he can see what everyone would say. It's all loving memories of Brooks—who watches from another room—until they find out he's a Covid hoarder.—J.R.
If you’ve never seen Curb Your Enthusiasm before, we recommend testing your mileage with “The Doll,” a no-backstory-required point of entry that exemplifies everything we love about the show. And if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Curb fan, you’ll know exactly why this episode tops our list. After Larry and Julia Louis-Dreyfus sell a new sitcom to ABC, Larry accidentally traumatizes the network head’s daughter by cutting off her doll’s hair. To save the ABC deal, Larry and Jeff hatch a harebrained scheme: they’ll steal from Jeff’s young daughter, who owns the same doll, and swap out the heads. It all goes sideways, of course; Susie catches these “two sickos” in the act. Then, the doll head ends up in Larry’s pants, to disastrous results. In this episode, Susie levels up into the final boss we know and love; the show introduces her spaghetti western theme music and features some hall-of-fame line deliveries from Susie Essman, including, “The kid is home—HYSTERICAL!—because her doll, Judy, has been DECAPITATED!” It doesn’t get any better than that.—A.W.
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