Curb Your Enthusiasm has returned after six years and, as promised ahead of the HBO comedy's highly anticipated Oct. 1 launch, not much has changed.
Larry David's TV alter ego was still thrusting himself into uncomfortable situations — this time, crossing international borders when a fatwa is issued against him — and catching up with the people in his life, including manager Jeff Greene (Jeff Garlin) and his foulmouthed better half Susie (Susie Essman), favorite freeloader Leon Black (J.B. Smoove) and ex-wife Cheryl David (Cheryl Hines).
But is one of those relationships ready for a change?
During a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment from Sunday's season nine premiere, Ted Danson (also returning to play a loose version of himself) announces to Larry and Cheryl that he and wife, Mary Steenburgen, have separated. Though David and the Curb team are keeping season details close to the chest, they have divulged that both Cheryl and Larry will begin dating other people. For the discerning Curb viewer, the Ted moment wasn't a coincidence.
"I miss being married to Larry," Hines admits to The Hollywood Reporter, recalling the good old days when asked about the potential of a reconciliation. "There is a world in which I think we belong together."
Executive producer Jeff Schaffer told THR that several seeds were planted in the premiere that will come to fruition in later episodes, in addition to setting up Larry's season arc about living in Los Angeles as a wanted man. "There are a lot of things in [the premiere] that seem innocuous but are really step one of a story that is going to be a story in episodes two, three, four or five," he teased. "There are a lot of things where you will look back and say, 'Oh, that’s where that started.' "
When viewers first get caught up on Cheryl and Larry's relationship, it's clear that the couple stayed on good terms in the show's missing years. Schaffer says they wanted to explore what happens when the pair start dating other people while "swimming in the same small L.A. pond."
Hines admits that stepping back onto set — where all of the scenes require the cast to improvise their dialogue — felt different only in terms of how Cheryl has changed. "It’s a little liberating because I don’t have to worry about Larry — he’s going to do something stupid and it’s not my problem," says the actress with a laugh. "They have a shared past. They have shared friends. It wasn’t like, 'Oh, you get to hang out with these guys and I get to hang out with those guys.' That was interesting to see. You don’t have to split up the friends, but then, what does that mean?" She then offered one hint: "Larry can be surprising."
One person who does worry about Larry is Leon, who is still living in Larry's house and finds himself promoted to assistant by the end of the premiere. It was Leon who failed to deliver Jeff's message warning Larry not to impersonate the Ayatollah on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Larry goes on the show to pitch his play Fatwa! The Musical, and the offensive appearance spurs Iran's leader to issue an actual death sentence, calling for the Seinfeld creator's head. Though Jeff is worried about what this might mean for him, Leon has no qualms about being fatwa-d by association.
"Let's just say Leon's got Larry's back," Smoove tells THR of what's to come with the duo. "Whether Larry accepts Leon’s advice or not, Leon is always going to give it to him straight. Leon will tell Larry straight up and blunt how to handle this shit. You’ll see on the season what Leon brings to the table."
Putting it even more plainly, "Leon gives a fuck about Larry," says Smoove. "Sometimes he elaborates too much, but his focus is there, and he’s coming from the heart."
Someone on the other side of the Larry friend spectrum is Susie, who continued to bounce from friend to nemesis throughout the premiere. After discovering that Larry had "foisted" his inept assistant (Carrie Brownstein) onto her, she closed out the supersized 40-minute opener with her fist and Larry's face.
"The punch in the face — I enjoyed that," Essman tells THR. But her favorite scene of the episode was actually when Susie and Larry meet up at the valet stand and Larry completes the actual foist. In Susie's eyes, Larry was saving the day by offering her his assistant, and the pair, who are usually at odds, have a very friendly encounter. "I really enjoy when we do those types of scenes because of course it’s a sinister scene, but we’re being lovely to each other on the face of it," she says. "That’s the other side of our relationship where I say, 'Get the fuck out of my house!' and then the next day we’re fine."
As for whether Susie will continue to deliver a big fat "I told you so" over Larry's failed musical, the actress says, "I told him up front that it was a stupid idea and that no one wants to see that crap."
Hines was starring on Fox's Son of Zorn when the news broke that Curb would be returning for a long-awaited ninth season. When she texted David asking if she would be in it, the creator told her he wanted her to come back if she could find time in her schedule. Similar to Garlin's situation at ABC as the co-star and executive producer also stars on The Goldbergs, Hines had to get the network's go-ahead, which she did. "That really doesn’t happen," she says of the cast being able to work with their employers so they could all return to Curb. "It shows how people really respond to the show. That these network executives on a personal level say, 'I kind of do want to see what would happen next.' "
But working Curb into their contracts as they've gone on to do other work over the show's 17-year lifespan (the first season launched in 2001, and several seasons had two years between them) is something the series regulars have become accustomed to — and are prepared to do again if David goes ahead with a 10th season. He's already promised he won't wait five years if he does do another.
"Larry's not just anybody. He's unusual," says Essman of both her and Garlin being able to carve Curb into their other contracts. "If I can, I always contractually put it in. Most places will let you do that because me being on Curb would be good for something else."
Smoove agrees. "Even when you’re not doing anything, you always leave the door open to the possibility of Curb coming back," says the actor, who also shares the advice he once told David about the longevity of the series. "When I first met him and he started talking about how long he would go with this show. I said, 'Think about a number.' Because the last thing you want to do is stop too early or go too long."
Encouraging David to think about how his series box set will look sitting on a shelf, Smoove said not to pick a "goofy ass number" that would mess up the legacy. "Then you’ll have to do another one to make it even, or odd," he says. "Larry didn’t give me an answer, but I made him think about that shit, though!"
When asked about the likelihood of a 10th season, Hines agreed that it does seem like Larry is gearing up for another. Schaffer went one step further: "I wouldn’t bet on Larry running out of ideas. That’s what I’ll say."
What did you think of the Curb Your Enthusiasm premiere? Check back in with Live Feed for weekly show coverage. Curb airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.