Once again, we're tackling another show in TV Blend's weekly series "___'s Best Episode." Each week a different writer will pick out a different episode of a TV show and argue why it is definitively, absolutely the best thing the show ever did. Arguments will be started, tears may be shed, but we're here to start some conversations and make some arguments for really, really good TV. This week Jesse makes a case for Curb Your Enthusiasm’s “The Baptism.” Read below, argue with us in the comments.
It’s extremely rare for the best of a series to fall within the first few seasons since shows almost always have a pubescent stage, struggling through an initial awkward voice until everything hopefully falls into place. However, those so-called growing pains were nonexistent for Curb Your Enthusiasm, partly because we were already well versed in its style, tone and characterization thanks to Larry David’s influence on Seinfeld. Right from the first episode of Curb, the more profane show about nothing’s gut busting, cringe inducing brilliance was instantly apparent, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that the best of the series comes quite early in its run. “The Baptism” is the best episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm because it’s impeccably structured, it contains the best supporting character (in one of the more memorable sequences) and, it’s just hilarious.
The first few seasons of Curb feel far more organic, authentic and ultimately rewarding than the later years. An episode like “The Baptism,” highlights how Larry David is operating on a different storytelling plane than most sitcoms that rely on formulaic narratives and jokes as well as extravagant gags. Curb at its best is simply watching a destructive life unfold as we pay no attention to (are almost unaware of) the plot machinations unfolding behind the curtain. However, once the seasons start adding up and ideas wear thin, the situations fall farther away from the day to day because of a need to find more stories as well as ‘top itself’ with bigger laughs (competitive shark jumping). As the show grows older, we’ve been gradually losing the sense of Curb as merely tragicomic record of Larry David’s life.
One of the main reasons that “The Baptism” stands apart is exactly because it plays like a (real time) documentary of Larry and Cheryl’s misadventures before, during and after the titular family event (a Davids home video). The Davids are travelling for Cheryl’s sister’s wedding but unfortunately for Becky, her groom-to-be is a Jew and she, well, doesn’t want that. Hence the baptism. After a series of unfortunate events, or life for Larry David, the travelling couple manage to lose their plane tickets, miss the flight, have to catch another and rent a car to get to the baptismal locale just in time for Larry to foil the whole thing. One side calls him a hero and the other a villain but one thing’s for sure, there will be no more dunks and the wedding is not going to happen. “You happy Larry?”
Overall a seemingly simple story but one that is not only very funny and immediately quotable but is also impeccably written and structured. Unlike a lot of the scripts for Curb, “The Baptism” doesn’t rely on the Seinfeld-ian triptych formula where three storylines eventually converge and payoff at episode’s end, but instead uses a tight causal chain. It begins with Cheryl disliking Larry’s old maroon jacket, and Larry then giving it to Goodwill. He goes to the office where ‘the guy’ apparently spies his security code. Inside, he has a chat with Richard Lewis (more on this in a second), which forces him to change and effectively screw up his voicemail. Then the Davids cannot find the tickets and must go through the aforementioned trials just to get to the wedding that doesn’t happen because Larry crashes the Baptism.
Of course, the tickets were in the jacket but the homeless guy couldn’t leave a message to warn them because the voicemail was shot thanks to Lewis. Forget Paris! Starting right with the jacket, the events (including unmentioned minor links in the causal chain) work brilliantly to set up the big payoff all while making the episode seem effortless. It plays like a stream-of-consciousness novel, not the meticulously planned, multi-tiered joke that it really is. And it’s no secret that David and Seinfeld’s sitcom writing success largely came from their ability to write jokes and, more importantly, understand how and why a joke works. At its most basic, it’s like any storytelling, you need set-ups and payoffs. “The Baptism” is a bunch of them disguised as a story about religious misunderstandings and change of heart.
You cannot have a best of Curb and not have Richard Lewis. Lewis is the best supporting character on a show chock full of amazing recurring and guest stars. I mean, Leon! But even with my favorite member of the Blacks, Lewis will always be king for me on Curb and “The Baptism” finds Larry and Lewis in a very similar situation, at each other’s throats arguing about something completely inconsequential. The two are are caught debating a trivial issue (as always) as they both believe that they came up with the joke for their identical outgoing answering machine message.
Even though they both lay claim to ownership, Larry allows Lewis the victory because his friend doesn’t have a wife and his parents are dead. The rage and volume levels hit the usual rollercoaster highs and lows of all the Larry and Lewis arguments and our protagonist’s delivery of “I didn't steal your message... Asshole!” is may be my favorite of all time. I could watch these two go at it for hours. Wait, gross.
Finally, “The Baptism” is the premier example of Curb because it’s also funny as hell. We not only get the fight between Larry and Lewis to basically kick start the show, but also several other truly memorable moments. I love Larry’s rant about how Jews don’t convert (“You guys come to our side, we don't go to your side”) and the lobster analogy, the two scuffles he gets into at the airport (“If this were yours, it would say Fucking Douchebag” and ”Go Fuck Yourself”), Larry’s gibberish song followed by another rant, this time about grapes and the continental U.S., the actual baptism rescue, Becky (It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Dee) yelling about him not losing his religion (“I don’t care if I lose Jews, take ‘em all, I don’t need them”), a little scuffle between the two of the oldest religions in the world and a nice drive home. “It’s good to be home.” Oh, and the homeless man with the tickets and how he tried to call. Oops.
Every season of HBO’s Curb could be its last because of Larry David's interesting agreement with the network; if and when the creator wants to do another season of Curb, HBO says yes please! Fingers crossed for a ninth season but if another doesn't come, at least I can be confident in my selection of "The Baptism" as the best episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I’m not pushing it on you like lobster, or anything but I’d say it’s pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.