Most Controversial Episodes of ‘Curb’

At long last, the final season of Curb Your Enthusiasm has arrived. Since the HBO comedy premiered in 2000, creator and star Larry David has spent 110 episodes shocking and delighting us—often by exploring taboo subjects other writers might be too afraid to touch. Practically every episode involves Larry getting embroiled in some web of misunderstandings and bad-faith interpretations, offending people wherever he goes. It’s a quality that rarely extends to real life, where David has mostly managed to avoid any concentrated backlash.

Perhaps in some ways, Curb resists traditional criticism when it comes to material aging poorly. Re-watching the show, it’s easy to spot certain jokes that wouldn’t be made today, if only out of fear of (often justifiable) pushback—but just as often, those edgy riffs hold up because they’re grounded in Larry’s very specific, skewed way of viewing a constantly changing culture. Besides, as in series like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, depiction doesn’t always equal endorsement; even at his most reasonable, Larry never claims to be a moral authority, and he almost always gets punished for his ignorance.

Still, in looking back at the last 11 seasons, some episodes still stand out as particularly bold—the ones that make me gasp even on a third or fourth re-watch. With season 12 starting on Feb. 4, let’s take a look at 10 of them.

Read more: The Uncancellable Larry David

Season 1, Episode 10: “The Group”

In future seasons of Curb, final episodes would usually serve to resolve the ongoing season-long storylines. But Season 1, the show’s narratively loosest, climaxed with a particularly wild self-contained episode. When Larry’s ex-girlfriend Lucy (Melanie Smith) asks him to attend an incest survivors group with her, he makes up his own false abuse story to set the other women at ease about his presence, embellishing with extraneous details about his uncle Leo. There’s also a lot of dark comedy with another member (Laraine Newman) who lists off an endless litany of the abuses she endured—and, in the hysterical final scene, ends up publicly confronting the real, very much innocent uncle Leo.

Season 3, Episode 8: “Krazee-Eyez Killa”

Most of this hilarious episode is about Larry accidentally getting involved in hiding the infidelities of his new friend: a rapper named Krazee-Eyez Killa (Chris Williams), who’s engaged to Wanda Sykes. But the most jarring and obviously controversial element of this episode comes from a throwaway moment: David’s use of the N-word, which he utters multiple times while befriending Krazee-Eyez Killa. There’s no intended malice in his usage of the word; Larry is just repeating back Krazee-Eyez Killa’s affectionate epithet, referring to himself with the word. Still, it’s hard to imagine this episode airing in 2024.

Season 4, Episode 9: “The Survivor”

This personal favorite revolves around a vow renewal ceremony for Larry and Cheryl’s 10th anniversary. Larry invites his father’s friend, a Holocaust survivor, thinking he’ll be able to bond with the rabbi’s guest, a fellow survivor. But it turns out the rabbi’s friend is then-29-year-old Colby Donaldson, who was (in real life as on Curb) on the show Survivor. At dinner, the two survivors get into a gloriously inappropriate argument over which of them suffered more.

Season 5, Episode 4: “Kamikaze Bingo”

This one is a tad too on the nose for me with its kamikaze theme and narrative parallels, though many viewers praise it highly. After meeting a Japanese art dealer named Yoshi whose father made it out of World War II alive despite his role as a kamikaze pilot, Larry suggests his dad was a coward for surviving—leading a dishonored Yoshi to attempt (and fail) suicide himself. At the end of the episode, Yoshi’s father gets his revenge during Larry’s visit to the nursing home, yelling “Banzai!” as he charges toward Larry in his motorized chair.

Season 5, Episode 7: “The Seder”

When Larry meets his new neighbor Rick (Rob Corddry), a Seinfeld fanatic who can help him with his golf swing, he thinks he’s found a new friend. That’s when he realizes Rick is a convicted sex offender. But he sticks to his guns and invites Rick to the Davids’ Passover Seder, a decision that proves … controversial among the other neighbors, to put it lightly. Just look at how tightly Susie Greene (Susie Essman) clutches her young daughter Sammi (Ashly Holloway) to her side when Larry introduces them to Rick. Larry displays an uncommon degree of empathy in sticking up for the guy, though a big part of that comes from enjoying his flattery. Unfortunately, when Sammi chokes during dinner, Rick is the only guest present who can save her with mouth-to-mouth, though the episode thankfully spares us an actual visual.

Season 5, Episode 9: “The Korean Bookie”

When Jeff’s dog Oscar goes missing, Larry starts to suspect that his bookie, a Korean man who also works as a florist, is responsible. At the end, he finds out the bookie contributed a dish to a friend’s wedding. He connects the dots, assuming the missing pet became a key ingredient for the dish, then ruins the event by erroneously telling everyone they’re eating dog. Of course, Oscar turns out to have been alive the whole time, revealing the racism underlying David’s assumption.

Season 6, Episode 8: “The N Word”

Oh yeah, the other episode where Larry says the N-word a bunch. This time, he overhears someone else say the word in the hospital bathroom, and makes the mistake of saying it himself while telling the story to other people. Multiple times, various Black characters overhear him: a doctor who accidentally shaves Jeff bald while distracted, and the family Larry took in after they were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Season 6 is the first to feature breakout star J. B. Smoove as Leon Black, introducing him along with his Auntie Rae (Ellia English), his sister Loretta (Vivica A. Fox), and her two kids. But Larry’s use of the slur leads the Blacks to temporarily move in with Jeff instead, only to return after they get sick of his loud snoring.

Most Controversial Episodes of 'Curb'

Season 7, Episode 1: “Funkhouser’s Crazy Sister”

This particularly amoral, dark episode revolves around the release of Marty Funkhouser’s (Bob Einstein) sister Bam Bam (Catherine O’Hara) from a mental institution. First, Jeff betrays his wife by taking advantage of Bam Bam sexually. Then, to cover it up when Bam Bam reveals what he did during a dinner party at the Greenes’, Jeff suggests she was making it all up. As a result, she gets carted off back to the mental institution despite her innocence. Even Larry looks disturbed by that one.

Season 7, Episode 6: “The Bare Midriff”

While Jerry Seinfeld and Larry are working together on the Seinfeld reunion, they run into a problem with their assistant (Jillian Bell): she won’t stop wearing shirts that expose her midriff. In some ways, they have a point—the assistant certainly isn’t behaving or dressing professionally—but the extent of their kneejerk disgust clearly comes from a place of fatphobia. In the goofy final moments, though, that exposed midriff saves the day: Larry almost falls off a building, but manages to grab onto his assistant’s belly instead, hanging precariously from her flesh.

Season 8, Episode 3: “Palestinian Chicken”

This episode is a consensus favorite, and David recently named it as his own. After Larry and Jeff start visiting a new and acclaimed Palestinian chicken restaurant, he becomes an unlikely champion of the Palestinian community in L.A.—and an unlikely sexual partner to the restaurant’s owner, a woman named Shara (Anne Bedian), who insults him in bed with anti-Semitic language (he likes it). His apparent shift in allegiance isolates his Jewish friends like Susie and Marty, and in an ending immortalized via GIF, Larry finds himself torn between communities. Though the episode is over a decade old, its relevance is certainly felt today, with many Americans at odds over the war in Gaza—though Larry’s stance at any given moment is clearly more motivated by chicken and sex than politics or human lives.

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