Not Just the Best of the Larry Sanders Show
May 3, 2007
Ken Kwapis, Todd Holland, Alan Myerson, Judd Apatow,
Starring: Garry Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor, Rip Torn, Janeane Garofalo, Megan Gallagher, Penny Johnson, Jeremy Piven, Linda Doucett, Wallace Langham, Scott Thompson,
The Larry Sanders Show was a brilliant satirical, behind-the-scenes look at a late night talk show and its vain, neurotic host (Shandling), his weasely sidekick Hank Kingsley (Tambor), the gruff, kiss-ass producer Arthur (Torn), and the other, long-suffering staff members. The show was notable for being one of the first sitcoms to push the envelope in terms of truly uncomfortable moments mixed with laughs. Of course, this practice is commonplace now with shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and the short-lived Starved. These uncomfortable moments, like snide asides between Hank and guests in between commercial breaks, have a ring of honesty to them and makes one wonder if that’s what it’s really like on these shows. Garry Shandling used to guest host for Johnny Carson, has appeared on all of the major late night talks shows and must’ve had plenty of experiences to draw from and it shows as there is a real insider authenticity to how a show like this operates.
Unfortunately, this new DVD set is not a collection of an entire season’s worth of episodes (Season 1 has already been released on DVD) but what Shandling has deemed the best 23 episodes of the entire series. And there are certainly several classics, like “Everybody Loves Larry” where Larry is afraid that the network is going to replace him with Jon Stewart and fends off what he thinks are romantic advances from David Duchovny. This episode playfully toys with the notion of whether he is gay or not which drives Larry crazy, of course. There is a funny bit where Larry asks Hank’s assistant (Thompson) if he thinks Duchovny is gay. The final scene that they have together is priceless as Duchovny keeps poor Larry constantly guessing and on edge.
In “Another List,” network executives give Larry some ideas on how he could improve the show, like a more energetic opening like Jay Leno, a new part in his hair and a new theme song – all of which he duly ignores in favour of trying to date Winona Ryder. Of course, by the end of the episode, he has incorporated some of these ideas because at the end of the day, self-preservation is Larry’s strongest instinct.
“The Interview” starts off with Hank insulting guest star Vince Vaughn when he fails to pick up on the actor simply messing with him. This episode poses the question, how does a celebrity do damage control? Larry cries during an interview for Extra! and Artie tries to get the interviewer to edit it out with little success. This episode underlines the often vain nature of celebrities. Their image lives or dies by how they are covered by the fickle media.
Larry and Artie have a funny, cantankerous relationship that sees the producer simultaneously appease and bust Larry’s balls. In many respects, Artie keeps Larry grounded is one of the few people he can be honest with. They bicker like an old married couple but one senses that they are friends. And then there is Hank who is a pathetic, sad sack character. And yet we never feel one iota of sympathy for him because he is his own worst enemy. He is obviously patterned after another famous show biz sidekick, Ed McMahon, swimming in Larry’s wake. Hank is petty and always trying to get out from under Larry’s shadow.
What really makes this DVD set worth getting is the wealth of bonus material, much of it assembled by Shandling himself. Spread out over the four discs are interviews with several of the regular cast members, including the likes of Penny Johnson, Jeremy Piven and Janeane Garofalo. They all talk about their characters, how they fit into the show and what it was like to work on it. Piven recounts a funny anecdote about a practical joke that Shandling played on him during the filming of a scene, while Garofalo tells a story about an encounter she had with Sharon Stone when she guest starred on the show.
Also spread out over the discs are more intimate interviews that Shandling conducted himself with some of the celebrities who guest starred on the show over the years. Some of these take place in rather odd settings, like with Alec Baldwin in Shandling’s gym while the two men go a few rounds in a boxing ring, or more conventional settings like at Sharon Stone’s house over breakfast. These interviews, like the show itself, are filled with funny, awkward and uncomfortable moments and provide all kinds of insight into Shandling.
Each disc also features several deleted scenes for several of the episodes.
On the first disc is an audio commentary on “What Have You Done For Me Lately” by Garry Shandling and screenwriter Peter Tolan. Shandling says that he hated writing opening monologue jokes for the show within a show segments and in later episodes had fewer of them. Tolan laughs at the comic timing of the cast and at Shandling’s deadpan comments on what they are watching. They also reminisce about their experiences on this episode.
The second disc has an audio commentary on “Hank’s Night in the Sun” by Shandling and director Todd Holland. This was the first episode that featured minimal screen time with Larry. Not surprisingly, Holland talks about camera movement, placement and other technical bits. He also talks about the sets and they worked on this informative track.
The third disc features a commentary on “Putting the ‘Gay’ Back in Litigation” by Shandling and director Judd Apatow. The director says that he was worried that none of the shots would match and remembers being very nervous because it was the first thing he had directed. Apatow says that he realized that he had to listen to the director of photography.
Disc four includes “The Making of The Larry Sanders Show,” a 70 minute retrospective documentary hosted by Greg Kinnear. It briefly traces Shandling’s career as sitcom writer in the late 1970s to stand-up comedy to his guest host gig on The Tonight Show. From there, the doc goes through the various stages of the show with interviews with everyone involved.
There is a commentary on “Flip” by Shandling and Tolan. This last episode was a tribute to Johnny Carson and his last show. They talk about how, once again, the show mirrored what was going on behind-the-scenes.
“The Writer’s Process: Judd Apatow and Garry Shandling” features a conversation between the two men. Apatow talks about how he had to cater his writing for Shandling’s sensibilities because it was his show after all. He seems to harp on a gag that Shandling didn’t like in a slightly awkward way.
Finally, there is “Rip and Jeffrey Visit with Garry in his Living Room,” a way too brief conversation between the three lead actors on the show for the first time since it ended. They reminisce about working on the show and with each other. There’s a little uneasiness between the three men that is interesting to watch.