As recent seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm have become about telling a larger overarching story, there’s something special about a good standalone episode. Every episode this season has in some way related to the creation of Larry David’s new show Young Larry, but this week’s “IRASSHAIMASE!” completely disregards the larger story in order to tell a simpler episode that – as of right now – doesn’t tie into the bigger picture. While it’s nice to see a stand-alone episode of Curb every once in a while, “IRASSHAIMASE!” is the weakest episode so far in Season 11.
“IRASSHAIMASE!” actually starts quite promising, with a more straightforward focus than the show is used to having. Larry gets Jeff (Jeff Garlin) to set him up on a date with his friend Gabby McAfee (Julie Bowen), and from there, the episode starts to fan out. Larry finds out that Jeff set Gabby up with Hal Berman (Rob Morrow), a man known for having sex with his mother-in-law, and Gabby and Hal didn’t work out for some unknown reason. On the way to the date, Larry borrows a shirt from Freddy Funkhouser (Vince Vaughn), which Larry will later get soy sauce on and completely ruin in trying to get rid of the stain. At the date itself, Larry makes enemies with the restaurant staff for greeting Gabby with the staff’s greeting of “Irasshaimase!”
David and Bowen’s scene at dinner works well, as David shows off his charms, while Bowen is great at playing against David’s sense of humor. It’s actually kind of disappointing that the entire episode doesn’t try something new and let us spend time with these two on this date. An entire half-hour of David and Bowen on a date, instead of focusing on other storylines, could’ve been an interesting way to experiment with the show’s form.
In last week’s “The Watermelon,” I said that the episode works so well not because the episode bothered to connect all of its storylines like in “Angel Muffin,” but because each storyline had its own hilarious moment. Unfortunately, “IRASSHAIMASE!” doesn’t pay off quite as well. I mention that “IRASSHAIMASE!” could’ve been a great way to experiment with the format of the show because this does feel like variations we’ve seen before. After getting talked to at the restaurant, Larry reveals to Gabby that he has been reprimanded at restaurants before. While Curb Your Enthusiasm always finds a new way to tackle Larry’s various problematic restaurant visits, here, it does sort of seem like returning to the same well once more.
“IRASSHAIMASE!” does have some decent payoffs to its storylines, such as Hal sabotaging Larry and Gabby’s second date, and Freddy getting revenge on Larry for destroying his favorite shirt by selling him out at a funeral, there’s a few too many storylines here that don’t go anywhere or go exactly where we’d expect.
For example, Larry having to pick up a dress for Susie (Susie Essman) has surprisingly little substance for a Curb subplot, although it does allow for Larry to try out his Sherlock Holmes impression on an annoyed Susie. Even more disappointing is Larry’s confrontation with the restaurant’s host (Sonny Saito) after Larry tries to retrieve his umbrella that he left behind on his date. Seeing that Larry’s umbrella was taken from a hotel, the host decides he will return the umbrella for Larry, yet anyone who has ever seen an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm knows that the follow-up to this will be someone other than Larry using and keeping that umbrella. Again, it’s not a bad storyline, but it doesn’t add much to the episode, and plays like another tried-and-true idea that we’ve seen before with slight variations.
“IRASSHAIMASE!” is also the first episode of this season not directed by someone other than Jeff Schaffer, with long time Curb director Robert B. Weide jumping in on this one, while someone other than Schaffer and David worked on the story here, as Carol Leifer gets a story by credit. Leifer has only previously written one other episode, Season 10’s “Artificial Fruit.” The standalone nature of “IRASSHAIMASE!” seems like it could’ve been made for any other season, and maybe Leifer’s involvement means this episode was originally crafted in mind for last season. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but its irrelevance to any of the stories we’ve seen so far this season does make this feel seem like it could just be a decent bit of filler for Season 11.
“IRASSHAIMASE!” isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s certainly a step back from the rest of the season. With eleven seasons over the course of now three decades, of course, Curb Your Enthusiasm is going to hit some of the same notes at some point, but “IRASSHAIMASE!” starts off strong, then goes in fairly predictable directions, or follows threads that don’t go much of anywhere at all. “IRASSHAIMASE!” is less Curb at its peak, and more like a shortcut to the valley.