If the first episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 11, “The Five Foot Fence,” was setting up the direction of the season, and the second episode, “Angel Muffin,” showed just how brilliantly David and showrunner Jeff Schaffer could intertwine seemingly unconnected stories into one fantastic narrative, the third episode, “The Mini Bar,” focuses on how the show’s great guest characters and easily steal the show.
Sure, already this season we’ve seen Albert Brooks, Jon Hamm, and Dylan O’Brien, but “The Mini Bar” crams the guest stars in. This episode wastes no time showing off its star power, as Jeff (Jeff Garlin) and Susie (Susie Essman) throw a dinner party that also includes Larry, Cheryl (Cheryl Hines), Cousin Andy (Richard Kind), Freddy Funkhouser (Vince Vaughn), and Larry and Jeff’s business manager Harry Baskin (Patton Oswalt), amongst others.
At this dinner party, “The Mini Bar” is able to start almost all of the episode’s storylines. Cousin Andy and his wife Cassie (Lisa Arch) sit at the middle of the table, and learn they can’t “middle,” meaning they are terrible at being the center of attention at a party, boring everyone to the point that Larry and Susie have to combine their powers to stop them. After Larry saves the day, Andy and Cassie want Larry to be the middle for their own dinner party, to which he refuses.
Harry comes to Larry with a problem: after getting a woman’s number, he texted her too often, and now she won’t respond. Larry tries to save the day by telling Harry to respond with a joke about being in hot dog eating competitions. Meanwhile, Freddy Funkhouser has bought his own hotel, and now Larry offers his services to curate his mini bar.
While “Angel Muffin” started with different stories that had nothing to do with each other ultimately coming together in a brilliant way, “The Mini Bar” almost does the opposite, starting all these stories at one point and allowing them fan out from there. Unfortunately, the result isn’t as effective or satisfying. Andy’s dinner party and Harry’s romantic problems do connect in the end, but not in a particularly interesting way.
However, Larry’s curation of the mini bar does lead to some of the episode’s biggest laughs, as David and Vaughn are always a joy to watch together, and Larry’s complete lack of awareness that he has packed this mini bar with incredibly divisive foods like black licorice, multiples types of olives, and wasabi peas is hilarious because of Larry’s complete indignation and assuredness in his choices. Of course, since this is Curb Your Enthusiasm, these three stories could be setting up for payoff down the line, but with the exception of Freddy’s hotel, it doesn’t seem like there’s really anyplace else for these stories to go.
Surprisingly, it’s Keyla Monterroso Mejia as Maria Sofia who continues to steal the show this season. With Larry’s new series getting the boot from Netflix, Larry and Jeff take the show to Hulu. Since Maria Sofia is an unknown actress (and for good reason), the new streaming service wants to see her on tape. To try and make her ready for the camera, Larry enlists the help of Cheryl, who is not ready for how terrible of an actress Maria Sofia truly is.
Throughout this season, Mejia has played Maria Sofia in a way that makes it extremely clear that there is no hope for Larry’s show if she actually ends up being one of the leads. Her over-confidence and wrong choices in every situation is baffling, as she’s so sure she’s making all the right moves, even though no one watching here has any idea what the hell she’s trying to pull off.
Well, except Hulu, who ends up loving her, as she gets in a real fight on tape with Cheryl and Ted Danson, even after Larry and Jeff have thought they’ve saved the show from Maria Sofia’s terrible instincts. While Netflix had Don Jr. (Reid Scott), the Head of Hulu (Elon Gold) spends almost every line proving to Larry that he’s Jewish. This trait certainly seems like the kind of thing that might eventually get under Larry’s skin enough to cause Larry’s Young Larry series to have to find yet another streaming service.
While both Netflix and Hulu have existed this season so far as little more of a way to set up the show’s plot, it will be interesting to see what Curb Your Enthusiasm is trying to say about the age of streaming. For example, the offices of Netflix and Hulu are pretty much the same, and both heads of the studio seem to have three assistants/lackeys who are there to suck up to the studio heads and the talent. This is the first season Curb Your Enthusiasm has been around since HBO Max debuted, so who knows what Larry is trying to say about the era of streaming services, and if Young Larry will eventually land on HBO Max.
It’s wild to say that an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm that ends with Larry David and Patton Oswalt in a hot dog eating contest is a bit of a disappointment, but after this season’s flexing its incredible ability to turn wild threads into a cohesive narrative that ends up tying together, “The Mini Bar” ends up feeling like a series of disparate threads that never quite find a solid conclusion. A great episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm makes every element pay off in a gratifying way, and while “The Mini Bar” has its moments, like Maria Sofia, and Larry’s fury over the reception his mini bar snacks received, this one just doesn’t tie together and culminate in the way one would hope and expect.