Curb Your Enthusiasm is not only one of the funniest shows on TV – it’s also one of the most ballsy and innovative. Before Curb Your Enthusiasm, no one was shooting sitcoms with a handheld camera in a cinema verite style and improvising all their dialogue. Fans were worried that Larry David would leave them with eight seasons and never do another one, until last year, when he rose like a phoenix and came back with a vengeance to bless us with a ninth season, a full six years after the eighth one had aired. So, here are all nine seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm, ranked from worst to best.
9. Season 5
There are no bad seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but this one about Richard Lewis needing a kidney transplant and Larry hiring a private eye to find out if he is adopted is the weakest one, unfortunately. The main problem that season 5 suffered from is that was all too spiritual and surreal. It touches on all the big issues like death and the meaning of life and the afterlife. We watch Curb for Larry’s take on the petty minutiae of everyday life, not the wider and more philosophical aspects. Still, there are some great episodes that stand out. “The Larry David Sandwich” and “The Christ Nail” are classics. Larry David wearing a bra and getting caught on camera doing it will never not be funny. And the one where Larry befriends a sex offender and invites him over for dinner is really fun. “Kamikaze Bingo” is a good one, too, particularly the final scene with the kamikaze pilot coming at Larry in his wheelchair (complete with the sound effects of a plummeting fighter jet) and the scene where Larry enters the nursing home and hears a porno playing on full volume, only to find that his bumbling father is watching it with a gleeful look on his face. But overall, since it doesn’t really feel like Curb, this season is the weakest one.
8. Season 1
A show’s first season is never its best, especially if that show is trying out a completely new concept. With Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David was creating one of the first ever single camera comedy series on a cable network (of course, they’re ten a penny now), and the first ever where the only script they had was a rough story outline and all the dialogue is improvised by the actors. Of course this sort of thing would get better as they go along, since the camera crew and the directors would get used to it over time and the actors would get to know each other better and develop stronger relationships to play off of each other and make their improvised dialogue funnier. But as first seasons of entirely new and unique TV shows go, season 1 of Curb is pretty darn good. “Beloved Aunt” still ranks among the very best of the show. This season also has one of the most deliciously dark episodes of the whole show, even to this day, in which Larry attends an incest survivors’ group to emotionally support a friend and ends up having to make up a story about being molested by his uncle under the fake name Todd – and of course, his innocent uncle visits later and gets his ass kicked by one of the other members of the group.
7. Season 7
On paper, this season sounds like it should’ve been the show’s best. It sees Larry set out to do a Seinfeld reunion episode at NBC in a ploy to win Cheryl back. The season got Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Michael Richards back together – one of the greatest TV casts of all time – all playing exaggerated versions of themselves. Alexander becomes infamous for sticking pens in his bodily orifices when you lend him one for a table read, while Richards pokes fun at his controversial racial tirade at the Laugh Factory in a confrontation with Leon. All the stuff with Mocha Joe falls flat. Frankly, the best episodes of the season have nothing to do with the Seinfeld reunion. “Denise Disabled” and “Vehicular Fellatio” and all that stuff about trying to break up with someone after they’ve been diagnosed with cancer are funnier than any of the Seinfeld stuff. Still, it is a dream come true to see that cast back together in character on that iconic set. And the finished material from the reunion episode that we get to see has the feel of a genuinely classic Seinfeld episode. Plus, the episode ends with a great punchline as Larry finally gets Cheryl back and then confronts her about a ring stain on the coffee table and she leaves and he’s right back where he started.
6. Season 2
Season 2 was when Curb Your Enthusiasm started to find its groove. All the directors and actors and camera operators had spent a whole year figuring out the best way to do this brilliant and unique show. By the time the cameras rolled for the second time around, they knew just how to do it. “The Doll” may be the best Curb episode ever – it certainly has the most hilarious ending. The season arc of Larry working on a new sitcom was interesting as well, since it gave us an insight into his creative process. The “Shaq” episode is great. Not only is it always a joy to see Shaquille O’Neal poking fun at himself, but it’s a terrific play on perspective, too. Larry is at first upset by the fact that everybody hates him for tripping up one of the Lakers’ best players and putting him out of commission. But when he realizes that no one wants to spend time with him anymore and nothing is expected of him, he begins to love it. It gives him free reign to be a jerk! This feeling is perfectly encapsulated in the iconic coffee shop scene (“Some vanilla bulls**t thing”) – and there’s also that great motif with the car splashing Larry when his conscience is clean and leaving him dry when it’s not.
5. Season 6
There are some weak episodes later on in the sixth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, like “The Lefty Call” and “The Rat Dog,” which aren’t as substantial as the show’s best and don’t quite land with their central jokes, but the season opens with a very strong trio of episodes. The season premiere episode, “Meet the Blacks,” lampoons Hurricane Katrina and erotic bakeries and introduces us to the character of Leon. It also gave us the idea of showing up at someone’s house the day after a party, pretending you got the wrong day – and how it can easily blow up in your face. Then comes “The Anonymous Donor,” which satirizes anonymous charitable donations and how they actually get more fanfare than non-anonymous ones and clothes getting stolen from the dry cleaners. Plus, it gave us that classic scene in which Larry confronts Leon about a suspicious stain on his blanket. And then there’s “The Ida Funkhouser Roadside Memorial,” which sees Larry get into trouble with just about everybody in his life as he neglects the Blacks, steals flowers from his friend’s mother’s memorial, and can’t seem to get rid of a sweaty $50 bill. It’s not a perfect season, but it kicks off with three perfect episodes.
4. Season 3
The third season of Curb Your Enthusiasm is a classic. Larry invests in a restaurant and just about everything goes wrong. “The Corpse-Sniffing Dog” is absolutely perfect storytelling. It’s so tightly structured and it follows Larry as he tries to please everyone and ends up pleasing no one. It is the epitome of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Plus, “Chet’s Shirt” had a great rivalry between Larry and Ted Danson (the first of many), “Krazee-Eyez Killa” gave us an early template for Leon, and “The Benadryl Brownie” saw Larry and Richard Lewis team up to hysterical effect. The ending of the season is perfect, too. It ends on a very sweet and inspiring note, but in a very Curb way. It’s the day of the restaurant opening and the investors realize that they’ve hired a chef who has Tourette’s syndrome. Then Larry sees a bunch of kids who have shaved their heads to show their solidarity to another kid who has cancer, and he tells Jeff that he’d like to do something like that for someone one day. And alas, that night at the opening, he has his chance. The chef launches into a sweary tirade and the whole restaurant falls silent. Larry seizes his opportunity to show the chef some solidarity and he starts yelling out curse words, too! Then one by one, all of the other characters start doing it, and before too long, everyone’s yelling out swear words and having a great time. The season ends with the music coming up and the camera closing in on Larry’s proud, smiling face. Perfection.
3. Season 9
When Larry David finally announced the long awaited ninth season of Curb, there was a lot of pressure on it to live up to all the hilarious and groundbreaking television that had come before it. Luckily, aside from a few weak spots like episodes going on too long or the occasional bit that didn’t land, it did not disappoint. The fatwa storyline made for a fantastic season arc – and it gave us Larry’s hilarious disguise. There are so many hilarious comedy bits in season 9 that are instantly relatable. Larry goes after the tiny minutiae in daily life that you wouldn’t normally notice, but that as soon as he points them out to you, make complete sense – the thanks not matching how great the favor is, the concept of outfit tracking, figuring out the nuances of the horn on a new car etc. And since Larry has now reached a god-like status, he was able to top himself on the guest star front for the latest season. Guest stars playing themselves are only as good as their comical characterization, but Larry always knows the funniest ways to use them and they’re always willing to do it for him. Who else but Larry David could get Salman Rushdie to talk about “fatwa sex” or get Lin Manuel Miranda to take time out of his hectic post-Hamilton schedule to portray himself as such a jerk? And Larry has never taken so much glee in offending people before now, which only makes his antic more uncomfortably hilarious.
2. Season 4
God only knows where Larry comes up with his ideas for what is going to be the season arc every time he sits down to write this show, but it almost always works out. The time that he starred in The Producers on Broadway stands out as a particular stroke of genius. It was so ingenious because in the world of Curb, Mel Brooks has only decided to cast Larry David in the lead role of Max Bialystock because he wants the show to fail – just like Max Bialystock himself wants in the play! This season is just so funny, from the “There’s definitely a prick involved” back and forth that Larry has with his doctor to guest star Stephen Colbert putting a voodoo curse on Larry for not taking his picture to Larry butting heads with both Ben Stiller (that birthday party scene is perfection) and David Schwimmer. Plus, the side arc of Cheryl giving Larry one free pass to sleep with someone else as an anniversary present opened the show up to some great comedic potential as we saw Larry attempting to flirt, stuffing his face with spicy foods to impress a woman and ultimately revolting her, and rejecting a beautiful woman for being a Bush supporter. It’s such a great season.
1. Season 8
Often when shows take their characters to a new city (Friends going to London, for example), it can be a sign that the show is on the rails. That could not be less true of Curb Your Enthusiasm’s eighth season, which instead takes Larry back to his hometown of New York in order to unlock all kinds of new comedic potential. Plus, it showed us that Larry isn’t just Larry in Los Angeles. Larry will be Larry wherever you take him. And another thing with shows that take us to another city is that it can seem forced when they go, but that’s not the case for Curb either. Larry’s trip to New York was set up perfectly. Jeff and Susie were saying their goodbyes, ready to head out there for three months, and Larry met a guy who got him into all sorts of trouble with Susie. Meanwhile, Larry is pestered for a charity event that he wants to avoid at any costs and has a whole to-do with Richard Lewis about confirming plans to meet at a restaurant. Susie, furious with Larry tells him, “Oh, I am so glad we’re going to New York for three months and not gonna see your face!” Then Larry goes, “Eh…” Cut to Larry sitting on the plane to New York next to Jeff and Susie. There’s one visual punchline. That would do. But then there’s a second, as we cut to Richard Lewis, sitting in a restaurant, waiting alone. That’s just one example of how Larry had perfected his unique storytelling style by the eighth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is easily the show’s finest, with almost every episode a classic.