You can’t blame Larry David for putting off saying goodbye to Curb Your Enthusiasm. For 12 seasons and 20-plus years — give or take a multi-year absence or two — he was able to riff with the likes of Richard Lewis and J.B. Smoove, spar with the wonderful Susie Essman, and amass one of TV’s most enviable rosters of guest stars. David’s “open-door” deal with HBO also meant he could change his mind at any point (which he did). Curb never really had to end (some of us still don’t think it has to).
There’s also the small matter of the last series closer he worked on, and the response it elicited. More than two decades after it first aired, Seinfeld’s “The Finale” is still divisive, to say the least. David recently copped to feeling some anxiety about bringing his HBO comedy to an end, telling Today’s Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie — after throttling Elmo on live TV — that “There was some to-do about the Seinfeld finale.”
But David slyly addresses “The Finale” in the Season 12 premiere. Like the Seinfeld closer, “Atlanta” begins with its lead riding a professional high. His Hulu comedy Young Larry was picked up for a second season, and Maria Sofia (Keyla Monterroso Mejia), the unhinged yet utterly delightful young woman he was blackmailed into casting, has become America’s sweetheart. He’s still in a fake relationship with councilwoman Irma (Tracey Ullman), though he’s now doing so to prevent her from falling off the wagon again (after driving her to drink again). And he’s on his way to Atlanta, where he’ll be paid some obscene sum for making an appearance at a wealthy businessman’s (Sharlto Copley) birthday party, with Leon and Maria Sofia in tow. Trade those first-class commercial airline tickets for James Kimbrough’s private jet, and you’ve got a pretty similar setup.
Nothing gold (or calm) can stay on Curb Your Enthusiasm, so it’s not long before Larry shoots himself in the foot. First, he upsets Leon’s Auntie Rae (Ellia English) when he tells her she has a giant head because she stretched out his glasses, then he offends the hotel housekeeper with his sloppiness. And he proves Jeff and Susie were right to wonder whether he knows how to be cordial.
Curb doesn’t really venture far afield with “Atlanta.” Once again, Larry takes umbrage with the arbitrary application of one social custom (when to call someone by their nickname) while grudgingly adhering to another (tipping a grieving worker well). While he still has the show (for now), he blows the deal with Michael Fouchay (Copley). There’s no telling which B-plot — his ruse with Irma, his newfound habit of butt-dialing — will become a season-long arc or otherwise come back to bite him in the ass, though we can be sure that we’re seeing the beginnings of another Rube Goldberg machine of karmic justice.*
What might be most instructive are the final moments of the premiere. On their way to the airport, Larry and Maria Sofia stop to return Auntie Rae’s glasses and say goodbye. Leon’s aunt is standing in line at the polls under a sweltering sun. Although he initially scoffed at Rae’s “Every Vote Counts” button, Larry claims to understand this is a pivotal election. He offers her water when she complains of the heat, the only thing he’s done all episode that isn’t self-motivated. Which, of course, means he gets arrested. A cop tells him he’s violated the Election Integrity Act, a real law passed in the state of Georgia, which prohibits anyone from handing out food or water to people standing in line to vote within 150 feet of the polling station. “I was just being cordial!” he screams as he’s dragged away.
We don’t know Larry’s fate at the end of “Atlanta” — he might just have to pay a fine or he could end up talking about shirt buttons for a year in a jail cell, thereby seriously shifting the vibe of the show for its final season. But the scene in “Atlanta” is the inverse of Jerry and the gang’s legal troubles in “The Finale.” Jerry, Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), George (Jason Alexander), and Kramer (Michael Richards) were convicted based on a willfully skewed reading of the Good Samaritan laws in Massachusetts; most such laws actually discourage people from helping someone in need, with the potential to be sued.
The Election Integrity Act, though, seems to be accurately depicted — critics of the law have also noted Black people are disproportionately affected by long wait times at the polls. In August 2023, a judge struck down part of the ban, allowing for some provisions to be handed out in something called a “supplemental zone” (within 25 feet of a polling place), but not in the broader “buffer zone.” David isn’t making some big political statement about unjust laws, of course, but he probably relished the opportunity to send up supplemental zones and buffers and relief activities: “You’re going to tell people it’s their civic duty to vote and then make it nearly impossible to fulfill that duty?!” (Maybe that’s just us.)
It’s hard to know if Larry’s mugshot at the end of the episode is setting up a longer story (we were only able to preview the premiere), even if it doesn’t rear its head until the end of the series. But despite his “no hugging, no learning” rule, David’s clearly ruminated on “The Finale,” and he’s using this latest opportunity to confront that missed one.
*(Jeff Schaffer just confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that Larry's legal woes are just beginning, so that's one question answered.)
New episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm air Sundays at 10:05 PM ET on HBO and stream on Max.
Danette Chavez is the Editor-in-Chief of Primetimer and its biggest fan of puns.