19. "The Doll," Curb Your Enthusiasm (2001)
Welcome to the “100 Best Sitcom Episodes of All Time,” a countdown for 2012. Each episode will get a separate blog post, counting backward toward No. 1. A list of the programs revealed so far is here (and on Pinterest), and an introduction to the project is here.
In our last episode, we looked at a sitcom protagonist, Mary Richards, who hates to be the center of attention. Today, we deal with a character who can't keep his mouth shut (though a character who's arguably worse on this score is yet to come on this list).
Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David (Larry David) has a definite idea about how people should behave — that is, like himself. In the episode "Trick or Treat," after Larry rants about the appropriate age for going door-to-door in costume, wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) responds, "You know what? Not everybody knows your rules, Larry. You've got your own set of rules and you think everyone is going to adhere to them, but they're not, because nobody knows them."
Cheryl is right, but she's also missing the point. If Larry only enforces rules that everyone knows about, he'll get fewer opportunities to play the outraged ethicist.
Early in "The Doll," Larry gets into one of these battles with someone who's just as much an etiquette vigilante as he is. Indeed, I wonder if the actress (Merrin Dungey) was directed to act just like him.
Larry: (to woman who had prevented him from taking a bottle of water into a movie theater) Excuse me. Do you work here?
Larry: How come you told me to get rid of the water, then?
Woman: I saw you come in with water. There's no water. That's the rules.
Larry: I don't see how it's your concern. You don't work here.
Woman: It's the rules! The sign says, "No food or drink in the theater." I'm sure we'd all like to have water.
Larry: Oh, yeah, we're all dying of thirst. What are you, the hallway monitor here?
Woman: Who are you that the rules don't apply?
Larry: I'm applying the Golden Rule. Are you?
Woman: I don't think the Golden Rule applies here.
Larry: If you had water, would you like it if I told you not to bring it in? I don't think so!
Woman: How about common courtesy, buddy?
Larry: That doesn't supersede the Golden Rule!
Curb Your Enthusiasm is largely improvised (David writes the plots but little dialogue), and, as usually happens when you give comedians free rein, it goes to some dark places — from Larry saying "I'm your nigga" to a rap singer in "Krazee-Eyez Killa" to his fetish for anti-Semetic pillow talk in "Palestinian Chicken." In "The Doll," the big punchline involves child molestation (as it will in a later episode, "The Table Read"), and the main plot involves Larry stuffing a doll's head down his pants. It's one of the show's most tightly constructed episodes, in part because it revolves around such a simple and silly object.
The trouble starts when Larry is at the home of an ABC executive who's about to greenlight a new sitcom for Larry and Seinfeld alumnus Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Looking for a bathroom (the downstairs one doesn't have a lock — sheesh), he comes across the executive's eight-ish daughter playing with a doll. Larry always mistakenly believes that he has a special rapport with kids, and when the daughter asks him to give the doll a haircut, he takes out his Swiss army knife and hacks away (while making references to Cary Grant and Dorothy Hamill, as if the little girl knows what he's talking about). Naturally, the daughter has second thoughts about the short hair and freaks out, so Larry has to find a replacement — which leads to him snatching a head from the doll collection of Sammi Green, the daughter of his agent, Jeff (Jeff Garlin).
Which leads to Jeff's ex-wife, Susie (Susie Essman), having one of her first great tirades toward Larry. Ironically, the scene probably helped get Jeff and Susie back together, since it showed how essential Essman is to the series.
Susie: (to Larry and Jeff) The kid is at home, hysterical, because her doll Judy has been de-cap-t-tat-ed! Because you two sickos took the head for God knows what reason! Some voodoo shit you're doing! Where is it? Stop scratching your balls and tell me where it is! All right, just get me the fucking head, all right? Get me the fucking head, all right? Both of you, because I've had it! You four-eyed fuck and you fat piece of shit, get me the head!!!
"The Doll" also features one of Larry's most insincere apologies, as he keeps insisting that "Judy" looked better in short hair anyway and implying that there's something mentally wrong with a girl who thinks dolls' hair is real.
Mother: She's highly gifted.
Larry: (nodding) It's a shame she didn't know that the hair wasn't going to grow back. I mean, because she's a bright girl.
Mother: (offended) She has a vivid imagination.
Larry: No, I'm sure she does...
Then there's the last line of the episode: "Mommy, Mommy, that bald man's in the bathroom, and there's something hard in his pants!" One of the most memorable endings to any sitcom episode, and not something that TV comedy pioneer Lucille Ball could have ever foreseen — or approved of.
• "The Doll" is the Curb episode that Uncle Junior is watching when he thinks he sees himself on TV in the Sopranos episode "Where's Johnny?"