Larry David – the character – is always best on Curb Your Enthusiasm when he has an adversary. In Season 11, we’ve mostly had a revolving door of temporary enemies, whether it’s the manager at a sushi restaurant, his optometrist, or Dylan O’Brien. But David’s latest enemy, Irma Kostroski (Tracey Ullman) is so powerful, David calls her the most unappealing person he’s ever met, a character so foul, she gets her name right in the title of the episode.
“Irma Kostroski” goes back to the season’s first episode, ‘The Five-Foot Fence,” as through Kostroski, Larry believes he has found a solution to his Maria Sofia (Keyla Monterroso) problem. If Kostroski can repeal the city ordinance to need a fence around his pool, he can get out of being extorted by Maria Sofia’s father. It’s an extremely roundabout way of getting out of this situation, which pops up again during the first Young Larry table read, but with the Maria Sofia problem getting worse, Larry clearly has to take drastic measures.
Right away, Larry and Irma are at odds with each other, as Irma refuses to tap a person for Larry during a speech given by mayoral candidate Jimmy Mayhew (Terrell Clayton). But once Larry realizes the power Irma has, he decides to get closer to the enemy. Larry decides to go canvassing with Irma to get on her good side, and continues to suck up to her, even though we can see it’s killing him to do so.
Ullman plays Irma so that we completely understand why everyone dislikes her. Larry says that she’s like if Dr. Frankenstein took the worst qualities of multiple people and put them into one person, and he’s not wrong. But also, Irma is just as loud as Larry, just as set in her ways as Larry, and the antithesis of everything Larry stands for. Even though Larry jokes about how he’s looking for love with Irma, we have seen stranger relationships for Larry on the show. Irma could very well be a nightmare that he has to deal with in order to get his way, an actual potential love interest, or more likely, both.
But “Irma Kostroski” isn’t just one of the best episodes of Season 11 because of the title character, it’s also because Larry seems to be at odds with just about everyone in this episode, and reveling in it. Larry has issues with Asa (Jon Rudnitsky), the extremely particular actor who is playing the younger version of him on Young Larry. Asa is full of the worst tendencies, whether it’s being so deep in his performance, he can’t pick the right coffee mug, asks to be called “Larry” on set, and calls people who aren’t actors “non-pros.” He’s the kind of character you want to see Larry destroy.
Larry even gets into a fight with Ruth Berman (Laura Julian), the ex-wife of the man who recently died of a heart attack at Larry’s country club. Larry states she doesn’t get “widow privileges” because she didn’t technically lose her husband. But in reality, Larry is just mad that Ruth took his golf training time and the lobster he wanted for lunch. Larry’s conflict with the not-quite-widow Berman has the entire country club turning against him, and you know an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm is good if there are multiple scenes where an entire room of people is jeering Larry David’s strange, but kind of accurate take on the world.
Even in smaller scenes, Larry’s antagonistic attitude is gold. Take for example when he learns that Susie (Susie Essman) and Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) are part of a book club that is reading “The Sound and the Fury.” There’s no real reason for the scene, but it’s just a great excuse to have Larry laugh at this book club for reading Faulkner.
But even more important is the return of Richard Lewis, who originally wasn’t supposed to appear this season due to medical issues. It might be a small appearance, but it’s great to have Lewis back. Especially in the opening scene at Jimmy Mayhew’s speech, the back-and-forth between Larry and Richard is wonderful, and you can tell this is just two friends picking on each other when Larry asks “when are you gonna die?” This scene is Larry’s way of undercutting the pure joy of having Richard back on the show, a brutal joke that seems almost surprising to Richard, and truly seems like Larry’s way of saying that he loves to have his friend back on the show, even if just for a few scenes.
The best episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm also build to some impressive conclusions, and “Irma Kostroski” certainly doesn’t fail there. Larry decides not to vote when he and another person waiting in line decide that they cancel each other out, so they should just go home. It turns out that this decision actually alters the future of Santa Monica politics, leading, once again, to Larry being booed out of a room, a perfect ending for an episode that is all about Larry butting heads with basically everyone he comes in contact with.
It’s not just Larry David finding his adversary with Irma Kostroski, or his ability to anger almost everyone he encounters that makes this maybe the best episode of the season. It’s also the episode’s ability to just let Larry be as Larry as he wants to be. There are some great smaller moments throughout the episode that give us some ingenious Larry-isms that absolutely resonate. For example, Larry’s refusal to wear pins because wearing a pin doesn’t change anyone’s mind anyway, or Larry’s statement that “I hate people individually, but I love mankind,” which almost feels like it could be the thesis statement for the entire series.
“Irma Kostroski” might be the most contentious we’ve seen Larry David this entire season, which might be why it’s arguably the season’s best episode so far. If Larry is inexplicably drawn by what repels him in “Irma Kostroski,” we’re inexplicably drawn by what repels Larry David.