Kids today, they just don’t understand the greatness of the “The Larry Sanders Show.” Now, to be fair, the biggest reason is that most of them have never seen it. The series went off the air in 1998, and, as a result, there’s an entire generation that thinks the history of comedy on HBO begins with “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and ends with “Entourage.” With all due respect to Larry David and Vince Chase, however, there’s little question in this writer’s mind that despite their unquestionable humor, they fall short of achieving the overall genius of “The Larry Sanders Show.” (To be fair, “Entourage” comes pretty close, given that it mines much of the same terrain).
“The Larry Sanders Show” came about, not coincidentally, at about the same time that Johnny Carson announced his retirement from “The Tonight Show,” and the Leno/Letterman late-night war began. Shandling and co-creator Dennis Klein saw the inherent comedy in taking a backstage look at the talk show world, and that look was more no-holds-barred than anyone might’ve anticipated. The lead character, of course, lends his name to the title, but it’s an ensemble show. It explores the intricacies of the show and host Larry Sanders (Shandling); the show’s producer, Arthur (Rip Torn); Larry’s co-host, Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor); and, really, everyone involved from writers to personal assistants all the way down to the cue-card guy. (That’d be Sid, if you didn’t recall.) It’s egos-a-go-go throughout virtually every episode, and it’s a big risk on the part of many of the celebrities who guest-starred on the show to poke fun at themselves and their reputations. Jim Carrey’s spot on the final episode is probably the perfect example. He provides a show-stopping performance for Larry’s last show, but as soon as they cut to commercial, he spews obscenities, says he only did it because it made for good publicity, and that he’s never forgiven Larry for snubbing him after he didn’t like “Ace Ventura.”
After putting out Season One of the series back in 2002, Sony Home Video wasn’t sufficiently ecstatic with the sales figures to launch any further full-season releases. But after much clamoring from the show’s fans, they did, at least, agree to produce a greatest-hits collection. It’s in no way a substitute for the full seasons, but you can’t complain about the end result. We’ll focus on the special features in the appropriate area, but as far as the episode selection, it’s one of those things that only the diehard fans will feel obliged to quibble about. Besides, all of the major classics are here: Larry dating Sharon Stone; Hank’s sex tape being leaked; Larry becoming convinced that David Duchovny has a crush on him (which is also the same episode where Hank buys a defective used car from Elvis Costello); Hank converting to Judaism; and Larry sleeping with Ellen DeGeneres right as she’s on the verge of “coming out” to the media on her sitcom. Additionally, virtually every episode from the final season is notable, as they follow the running subplot of Jon Stewart taking over the show.
Shandling has always had an eye for talent, as you can see by the alumni of the show. Jeremy Piven (“Entourage”); Mary Lynn Rajskub (“24”); and Sarah Silverman (“The Sarah Silverman Program,” and “Jesus is Magic”) all had major roles in the series. The hipness quotient is further increased by featuring folks from “Kids in the Hall” (Scott Thompson”) and “Mr. Show” (Bob Odenkirk). Shandling, Torn and Tambor are the core of the series – Shandling makes neuroticism into an art form, Torn barks profanity better than anyone you’ve ever heard, and the tightrope Tambor walks between total asshole and sympathetic schlub is thinner than dental floss. Even with the cast switching up slightly from season to season, the show’s ensemble as a whole remains rock-solid through the run of the series.
Put simply, it’s hard to imagine anyone entering this set without walking out a convert to the Cult of Larry.
Special Features: God bless Garry Shandling. When Sony decided that they’d rather release a “Larry Sanders” best-of collection than continue the full-season sets, Shandling decided to make the absolute best collection possible. Shandling leaped into the project with as much enthusiasm as his one-time collaborator, Judd Apatow, did with his “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared” sets. Shandling and a camera crew sat down for new “personal visits” with eight of the show’s most prominent guest stars, like Sharon Stone, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres and Jon Stewart. In Stone’s segment, she shows more personality than she has in probably her last dozen films combined. The best of the bunch is the one with Alec Baldwin, which takes place as he and Shandling go a few rounds in a boxing ring. There’s also a fantastic feature-length documentary about the making of the show, with new interviews with every member of the cast (there are also additional interviews scattered throughout the set), and it closes with the last filmed appearance by the late Bruno Kirby. (It is, as is only appropriate for a man of Kirby’s gifts, absolutely hilarious.) You’ll also find many deleted scenes, as well as a handful of audio commentaries. With all these fantastic extras, this’ll be at the top of the list when the Best TV DVDs of 2007 are compiled, guaranteed.