The best cameo on Curb Your Enthusiasm this season, so far, is not Carrie Brownstein's perma-constipated assistant, delightful as she is. It's Larry David's terrible wig, the one he thinks will save him from the fatwa declared on his bald head.
Whether it's to define a character or to advance a ridiculous plotline, wigs are all over TV at the moment. And when it comes to prime-time wigs, the more outlandish the better. But why, given the sophistication of TV makeup today (just look at the zombies trudging across the screen), are kitschy hairpieces the look right now? Maybe blame it on our appetites for camp (thanks, Ryan Murphy) and true crime from eras with bad hair (Sarah Paulson's Marcia Clark wig being the wig that started it all).
Not all wigs are created equal, of course. Some turn up with little fanfare, while others take on a life of their own, their very existence defining an entire series. Here are our prime-time wig power rankings.
6. Mandy Moore’s grandma wig, This Is Us
Turning gorgeous, 33-year-old Mandy Moore into a (still gorgeous) grandmother in her 60s for generation-spanning tearjerker This Is Us is no easy task. In fact, it takes three-and-a-half hours in makeup (including the use of 12 prosthetics) to prepare Moore’s Rebecca for a visit with the grandkids. But the pièce de résistance is the wig—a gray-flecked bob with unfortunate bangs that’s totally fitting for a chic, suburban grandma. While it’s obvious that Moore is wearing a wig (otherwise, how would she age 30 years and back again in a single episode?), the entire look remains impressively realistic. This is great news for the show’s head of hairstyling, Michael Reitz, but bad news when it comes our wig power rankings. A predictable, realistic look does not a powerful wig make.
5. Taraji P. Henson’s comeback wig, Empire
While Empire has, sadly, lost a lot of its mojo, Taraji P. Henson’s Cookie Lyon continues to dominate, specifically in the hair and wardrobe department. When we first met Cookie, she was the physical embodiment of ghetto fabulous, with her inappropriately wild outfits and ever-changing wigs. But by season two, Cookie had put a high fashion spin on her wardrobe, trading in skin-tight, low-cut dresses for matchy-matchy Moschino. Last season, she dated a senator, which meant rising necklines and power suits (gold or animal print power suits, of course) and sleeker, subdued hairdos. But in the season 4 premiere, we saw a return to O.G. Cookie, who appeared on the arm of Lucious wearing a zebra print dress with outrageous thigh slits and a blonde wig, complete with two-inch roots. This is the DGAF Cookie we know and love.
4. Larry David’s disguise, Curb Your Enthusiasm
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Larry David, famous bald, don a wig on Curb Your Enthusiasm (remember when TV Larry appeared in a Martin Scorsese gangster flick back in season 3, or when he briefly ascended to heaven in the season 5 finale). This season’s wig, however, is by far the most ridiculous, both aesthetically and plotwise. Attempting to escape a fatwa (which has been placed on his head in the wake of a TV appearance to promote his musical, Fatwa!), Larry wears a shoulder-length grsy wig (which looks a little Jeff Bridges-esque) and bushy mustache whenever he goes outside. Larry’s uncomfortable social interactions sound even more ridiculous when he’s incognito, most notably in episode 2, when he suggests that a prostitute shop at Saks in order to attract higher-end clients. While the fatwa storyline isn’t Curb’s best, this wig definitely is.
3. Viola Davis’s (mostly) ever-present wig, How To Get Away With Murder
While Viola Davis's powerhouse lawyer Annalise Keating, of How To Get Away With Murder boasts the most unassuming wigs on this list, they assert a quiet sense of power that ranks them relatively high. The lasting impact of Ms. Keating’s various wigs (which range from a chic bob to a “can I see your manager” mom cut) is derived from the few times she’s taken them off. Anyone who watches the show can vividly remember the season 1 scene in which Annalise, preparing for bed, removes her wig and makeup (this iconic moment was Davis’s own idea). Last season, the wig came off again, when Annalise spent a brief stint in prison. Now she’s back in the courtroom and better than ever, wigs perfectly coifed, dresses immaculately tailored. Still, every time we see Annalise we’re also seeing the damaged woman beneath the power wigs. Without this wig-centered dichotomy (and, in turn, without Viola Davis), she would not be one of the most powerful characters on TV.
2. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s hooker wig, The Deuce
If you’re not watching HBO’s 70's sex-trade drama The Deuce, you should be, if only for Maggie Gyllenhaal and her fabulous coif. Gyllenhaal plays Candy, the wig-wearing world-weary hooker that’s street smart enough to survive without the help (and hindrance) of a pimp. Like Annalise Keating’s wig, Candy’s wig ranks so high because it occasionally comes off. Partway through episode 1, we learn that Candy only dons her wig while she’s “working.” As we get to know the brunette beneath the wig, and as Candy's job and her private life bleed together, she grows more complex and compelling. That, and the wig itself is just incredible.
1. Edie Falco’s perfect perm, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders
On rare occasions, the wig makes the show. Exhibit A: Edie Falco’s wig in Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders. Falco plays defense attorney Leslie Abramson, a woman whose hair needs to be seen to be believed. In a fictionalized series, we’d never see a lawyer with such a coif—it would be far too distracting, but in this over-the-top depiction of the brutal scandal, Falco’s blonde perm is the most true-to-life element. In fact, this is the perfect intersection of period piece and camp, so it’s unsurprising that this wig nabs the top spot. I can’t be the only viewer who tuned in only because of the promo images of Falco in that wig. It really deserves its own IMDb credit.
Taraji P. Henson gets down to "I Will Survive":