SONIA BRAND-FISHER: Larry David: Social Assassin. A title given with pride, by Jeff, and received with pride, by Larry who has earned this distinction for his weekly schtick associated with being unapologetically audacious and disturbingly direct. I love it. I love him. “Curb Your Enthusiasm”‘s Episode 3 of Season 8 made use of what Larry is infamous for, and got to the core of what he tries to accomplish with every new episode of “Curb.” He is asked by multiple people to be a social hit man, and to kill the personal quirks of his friends with little mercy, and little tact. In an episode called “Palestinian Chicken,” the filters drop and the gloves come off as Larry tackles his identity, his loyalties, and a ravenous anti-Semite bombshell.
In a brilliant and brutal episode that plays up the themes of territory and devotion, the metaphor of the Palestinian chicken wears multiple masks. When an anti-Israel Palestinian chicken restaurant opens in LA, Larry and Jeff have lunch there and discover that they serve the best chicken that they have ever tasted. Their love of this chicken gets them in trouble with their Jewish friends, and hence these friends are tempted to try the chicken themselves. The Palestinian chicken restaurant becomes a safe-haven for two Jewish friends of Larry who are having an affair. Larry is propositioned sexually by a Palestinian woman who thinks that Larry is noble for trying to knock Marty Funkhouser’s yarmulke off in the parking lot. In this crypto-land of milk and honey, Larry can disconnect himself from his identity as he knows it, and just enjoy the sweetness of the chicken.
On the other hand, Larry’s friends begin to demand that he use his typical Larry-licious social tactics to permanently stop the annoying little habits of their spouses and mothers. What’s wonderful and complex about this episode is how flattered Larry is that his friends would think of him for such a job. Yet, as he begins to frequent the Palestinian chicken restaurant and indulge himself in chicken, sex, and prepping for a golf tournament, he doesn’t want to be a social assassin anymore. He just wants to live his life, and do what gives him pleasure. His loyalties to his friends strain, and in a final, brilliant shot of the episode, Larry is caught between the grand opening celebration of another Palestinian chicken restaurant, and a protest rally by the Jewish deli right next door. With friends and Jews on one side, and chicken and sex on the other, what is Larry going to choose?
What this episode did with intelligence and chutzpah is show Larry negotiating life post-Cheryl amidst friends that he has always had, trying to find ways to define himself as a single man. Who or what does he have to be loyal to? Are there any real consequences for him anymore? Does anybody care about what he does if it doesn’t directly involve them? Who is Larry David becoming if he becomes increasingly disconnected from “Larry David”?
HOWARD MEGDAL: This episode will stay in the pantheon, among the first that people will recall when they talk of what they loved most about Curb Your Enthusiasm.
I’d like to explore a little further what Sonia mentions of Larry’s identity. After all, Larry is a Jew (“a big Jew”, as he mentions in his pickup routine of the delicious Palestinian lady), but what is his practicing religion? Pursuit of women, good food, and breaking down barriers to solve problems others have decided are intractable. Is it not the perfect storm, then, to place Larry at the center of this battle? It is only shocking this wasn’t a storyline sooner, though Cheryl prevented such things, I suppose (dry cleaners notwithstanding).
The episode manages, at the same time, to illustrate the nonsense behind the opposition to the so-called Ground Zero Mosque last year. One of the sharpest lines in the episode comes from Larry Miller’s character, when he begs off of the protest of the Palestinian chicken joint set to open next to a Jewish deli, claiming he has to protest “the German place on the other side.” The fleeting nature of one’s enemies has hardly been better lampooned.
Oh, and Marty’s crisis that brought him to Judaism, the dieting woman who Larry serves as referee for… all manage to begin from an understated place, making the mania that builds absolutely pitch-perfect. And the little Green girl’s exit line, in essence, serves as her true Bat Mitzvah moment. Marvelous!
What came of this episode? Well, I’ve spent much of the last hour trying to find out how to get chicken like the kind eaten in that episode. I’m an easy drive to New York City, and my politics are flexible if the food is good enough. To be clear, however: I’ll be bringing my wife. She actually laughs when she finds something funny.