REASON TO WATCH: None needed for fans, but the eighth season finally begins.
WHEN/WHERE: Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO
Larry's (Larry David) attempt in its past season to get estranged wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) back into his arms through an elaborate scheme tied to a "Seinfeld" reunion has apparently failed. The new season begins with the episode (not sent to critics) ominously titled "The Divorce" -- no, that doesn't sound good, does it? -- and later in the season, Larry ultimately drifts back to New York City. Reason? He's trying to avoid attending a charity event organized by the TV director Tessler (Michael McKean). In New York, Larry meets . . . Ricky Gervais, Michael J. Fox and others.
MY SAY Yup, what I've seen of the eighth season is brilliant, hilarious, and even unexpectedly inspirational -- for after eight seasons, how can anything still be brilliant and possibly as funny as any season that came before? "Curb" seems to be redefining or at least challenging the established law of TV gravity, stated as that which goes up must come down, to become an insufferable threadbare parody of itself.
The gestation for the eighth did take 20 months (the last original aired Nov. 22, 2009), but in Larry David time -- he's a notorious perfectionist -- that's like 20 weeks for everyone else. In fact, David and HBO have obviously thought long and hard about first impressions, which is probably why only three episodes were shipped out for review -- none in sequence, and not even the season premiere.
Instead, there's "The Palestinian Chicken" (July 24), "The Vow of Silence" (Aug. 7); and "Mister Softee" (Sept. 4). The first will become a series' classic -- deeply offensive to Jews and Arabs alike and one of the funniest 30 minutes of "Curb" ever put to film, while introducing the world to something called a "social assassin." (That's Larry, of course.) It's about a Palestinian restaurant that makes the best chicken in town, and which is deeply offensive to Larry's yarmulke-wearing pal Marty Funkhouser (Bob Einstein), who, since last we saw him, has "rededicated" himself to Judaism. But it's not offensive to Larry, and for reasons other than great chicken.
"The Vow" introduces yet another classic Davidism -- the "pig parker," or someone whose car takes up two spaces; and the third, "Mister Softee," uses a childhood trauma to restore the honor of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, who let Mookie Wilson's squib get through his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
What especially stands out in these three is the inspired use of cameos -- comics who need no introduction to other comics but are semi-anonymous craftsmen otherwise. This season the list includes Maggie Wheeler ("Archer"), who plays the "verbal-texting" wife with a partiality to the term "LOL"; "SNL's" Robert Smigel, who plays Yari, a psychopathic George Steinbrenner wannabe in "Softee," and Larry Miller, who plays David's two-timing golf partner in "Chicken." The "pig parker"? That's Brett Gelman, from Adult Swim's "Eagleheart." Add these to the series' regulars -- like Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman and Einstein -- and you've got the best comic cast on TV, by far.
BOTTOM LINE As twisted, and twistedly funny, as ever.