Larry David and Cheryl Hines
At face value, Curb's "The Baptism" is about getting to a Baptism. Dig a little deeper and you'll see it's an episode paying homage to film genres from the Road Trip movie to the Buddy Cop film and peppered with devices that would make Alfred Hitchcock proud. But it's really about a Baptism as that IS the ultimate destination of our favorite dysfunctional couple. Like any good journey though, the real adventure is in getting there...
This episode is gold. GOLD, I tell you! So much great stuff I hardly know where to begin. Let's try the beginning. "The Baptism" opens with another 'outfit approval' and outright 'denial' by Cheryl. Larry strolls in for a cup of coffee wearing a maroon sport coat and Cheryl's first words to him are, "Larry, no." No discussion. Judge, jury and executioner. Bam. "Larry, no."
Larry tries to defend it, but it goes something like this:
Larry: "I've had this jacket since Seinfeld!"
Cheryl: "Yeah! I believe you!"
This must be a uniquely GUY thing. I've done this. The 'not having enough fashion sense to realize that wearing something cool from the previous decade is no longer cool now'—THING. Time passes. Fashion changes. Men? We have no idea. Is Cheryl wearing giant shoulder pads? No. No she's not. Reason? She knows what year it is. Would I still be wearing a Members Only jacket and a zebra Swatch if I didn't have a significant other to say "No?" Probably.
So later at Larry's office, Richard Lewis storms in to confront him about stealing (allegedly) his answering machine message. Richard makes a good point to Larry that, as stand-up comedians, they HATE it when someone steals their jokes. Now here's Larry stealing (allegedly) Richard's message. Larry, of course, denies it but makes a grand gesture to change it right in front of Richard to show that he's the bigger man (allegedly).
Now here's the brilliance of Larry David: WE NEVER GET TO HEAR THE MESSAGE. Which is fine because nothing he could have written could have lived up to the expectations of the entire audience that the message was so funny it was worth stealing. So why write it at all? We all assume it was super funny. Like the statue in The Maltese Falcon, the briefcase in Pulp Fiction and the Rabbit's Foot in Mission Impossible III the answering machine message has become the MacGuffin of the episode. Brilliant.
From Abbott & Costello, to Martin & Lewis to David Spade & Chris Farley, the 'road trip' storyline is something that every comedy duo eventually encounters. Why not Larry and Cheryl? I didn't think I'd ever see the day that Larry David did a road trip episode, but here we are. It begins with Larry and Cheryl packing for their trip. Again, this hits a little close to home for me as Larry has to ask Cheryl how many changes of clothes he needs to pack. She needs to list them off for him: something for the baptism, something for the wedding, something for the next day. It makes Larry sound incompetent (the man is worth $450 million... can't he dress himself?) but Cheryl knows (as many women do) that men would wear the same outfit every day (like, say, a maroon sport coat) if they could.
The next day and they're ready to go except: Larry can't find the tickets. Of course he can't. We need this plot device to put them in the car (hey, it worked in John Hughes' Planes, Trains and Automobiles). Speaking of that film I can't help but think of the scene when Steve Martin uses a barrage of F-bombs at the rental counter woman and when he tells her he lost his ticket the woman at the counter tells Steve Martin that he's F-bombed. When Larry and Cheryl pick up their rental car and Cheryl insists on driving, it evokes memories of Riggs and Murtaugh arguing over who's going to take the new family station wagon to the car chase in the Lethal Weapon movies.
Larry is singing a nonsense song in the car as Cheryl drives, stern faced. It's almost like the scene in the road trip/Jim Carey vehicle Dumb and Dumber when Carey asks, "You want to hear the most annoying sound in the world? ...... EHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!"
Larry's other maddening musings aloud in the car:
"I've never had a fresh grape."
"Did we really need Alaska and Hawaii?"
"Are we 'settled down' you think? We own a house."
But unlike most other duos that eventually yell, or slap their counterpart in the face, or break into song, Cheryl is a rock. Not cracking in the slightest. Jaw firmly set.
They get to the Baptism location and as they're trying to find it, Larry spies —what looks to him like—a man trying to drown another man. He shouts at him to stop which makes the baptizer drop the baptisee and he starts floating down stream. Umm... let's see... film reference... maybe Moses being put in the basket in the river from The Ten Commandments? Or wait, no, I got it! It's an homage to the Meryl Streep/Kevin Bacon water-rafting thriller The River Wild! Yep. That's it. Totally.
Back at the house, with everyone rescued and safe, Larry is pulled aside by the Jewish side of the family and thanked for what he did. It's a subtle nod to The Godfather as Larry, the previously called "self-loathing Jew" is welcomed into the 'family.'
When Cheryl's sister's fiancée gets cold feet and says he doesn't want to go through with finishing the Baptism after all, the two sides begin yelling at each other wielding their beliefs as weapons. If one side was blue, you could argue it was the Na'vi versus the Marines from Avatar except the only Pandora present is the Pandora's Box that Larry opened by being there in the first place...