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Returning series review: Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)

Larry and pal Jeff Garlin caught in a rare display of all-out levity.

Premiering: Sunday night, Sept. 9, at 9 (central) on HBO
Starring: Larry David, Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman, Bob Einstein, Vivica A. Fox, Tia Carrere, Richard Lewis
Created by: Larry David

Forever fated to take it in the shorts, sourball Larry David is back on track in 10 new and welcome episodes of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm.

This time events conspire both on-and off-camera. In the country's No. 1 and 5 TV markets, Curb will be competing with the Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants game on opening night of NBC's Sunday Night Football.

Also off-camera, he's being divorced by environmental activist wife Laurie David, who wants half his considerable spoils.

David otherwise is in fine comedic shape. Sunday night's sixth season opener, "Meet the Blacks," is a gem from start to finish. Two subsequent episodes sent for review aren't as finely tuned, but still get high passing grades.

Larry begins the new season asleep in bed with TV wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines). A loud, beeping sound sends them in search of a battery-drained smoke alarm, which he smashes to smithereens. This of course will have consequences down the road.

Cheryl otherwise is nudging Larry to take a family made homeless by a recent hurricane. He balks, of course, but she later has the hammer after an impromptu playing of The Newlywed Game leaves him locked out of the bedroom.

Guest stars Richard Lewis, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, all of whom play themselves, also are served by the twist-laced, somewhat twisted storyline. More importantly, though, Larry and Cheryl pick up evacuees Loretta Black (Vivica A. Fox), her two children and Auntie Rae. Imagine a black family with the surname Black. Larry's ham-handedly amazed.

"That's like if my last name was Jew," he says. "Like Larry Jew."

As noted, events keep conspiring before Larry again winds up a Sad Sack. It's a perfectly orchestrated comeuppance that sets a high bar for following episodes. Next Sunday's No. 2 has its moments, but doesn't do enough with this season's Blacks and white premise.

Loretta's brother, Leon, also moves in and immediately is accused of leaving a little stain on a guest bedsheet. Meanwhile, the "law of the dry cleaners" leaves Larry without his treasured No. 25 Joe Pepitone Yankees jersey. But everything doesn't come out in the wash this time, leaving Curb with a limp ending.

Episode 3 returns to the living, even as high-strung pal Marty Funkhouser (Bob Einstein) grieves over the loss of his mother. There's also a "sample abuser" at an ice cream shop. Larry browbeats her until learning that he'll have to quickly suck up. Purloined flowers and perfume then come into play, with Larry again ending up neck-deep in predicaments of his own making.

David has made the usual 10 episodes and of course is coy on whether he'll ever make another one. Curb does, however, help to pay the rent, even if the star already is beyond wealthy with residuals from Seinfeld.

Estranged wife Laurie will be taking a big slice of that, though. So if Larry eventually commits to another season, will it further reflect his real-life situation? TV wife Cheryl is as curious as anyone.

Overall Grade: A-minus