Show: The Complete Series
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Reviewed by Will Harris
od bless Showtime: after almost two decades of sitting in HBO’s shadow, they’ve finally earned their appropriate recognition as a place for top-notch original series. It’s not like they hadn’t been putting out quality product; it’s just that they tended to require that their audience have a certain level of intelligence. (Remember: it was Showtime who dared to rescue the relatively-highbrow series, “The Paper Chase,” from its cancellation on CBS.) Looking back at the original series produced by premium cable in the ‘80s, it’s also amusing to note that quite a few of them could just as easily have aired on broadcast television, if only the networks would’ve dared to take a chance.
Granted, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” was a little off-kilter for middle America – which is kind of ironic, given that its origins can be found in an extremely popular series from the 1950s: “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show,” which found one of its stars – the one with the cigar – regularly chatting to the camera as if it were an actual person. Leave it to Shandling, however, to go several steps further and take the concept to a ridiculous extreme, offering both a parody of the sitcom and a four-season love letter to the format. Here, it’s not just a case of having him talking to the camera: Garry’s entire life is a sitcom, complete with a studio audience that occasionally gets rebellious and holds parties in his condo when he’s away and his very own theme song.
This is the theme to Garry’s show
The theme to Garry’s show
Garry called me up and asked if I would write his theme song
I’m almost halfway finished, how do you like it so far?
How do you like the theme to Garry’s show?
By mocking the conceits of the sitcom format and its tendency toward predictability, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” managed to be one of the most creative half-hour comedies of the 1980s. Those who had seen Shandling’s stand-up act were already familiar with his onscreen persona – a guy who’s perpetually concerned about his hair as he struggles through his personal life – but the show also introduced a supporting cast, including Garry’s platonic friend, Nancy (Molly Cheek), his best friend, Pete (Michael Tucci), and Pete’s family (his son Grant, played by Scott Nemes, and Bernadette Birkett as his wife, Jackie). We also see Garry’s mom on a regular basis (Barbara Cason), and there’s a great running gag with Leonard Smith (Paul Willson), the head of Garry’s condo, who knows that Garry’s life is a TV show and wants a bigger role.
The series was also prone to more guest stars than any series this side of “The Larry Sanders Show,” though it varied as far as whether or not they’d be playing themselves. Bruno Kirby, for instance, played Garry’s agent, Brad Brillnick (a name which should in no way be taken to resemblance Bernie Brillstein), but Tom Petty played…Tom Petty. Shandling clearly had an affinity for the old-school stars, bringing guys like Red Buttons, Norm Crosby, Steve Allen and Carl Reiner into the mix, but to keep his pop culture references hip, you’d also catch appearances from Chris Isaak, Chuck Woolery and Kurt Rambis. The most notable guest, however, was Gilda Radner, who made her final television appearance on “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” playing herself and, showing her inimitable sense of humor, made fun of the fact that she had been battling cancer.
It would be easy to suggest that “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” jumped the shark in its fourth and final season, when Garry got married to Phoebe (Jessica Harper) and Nancy got a boyfriend (Ian McFyfer, played by Ian Buchanan), but you’re talking about a series that played fast and loose with the rules of sitcoms from its first episode. In other words, if you think Garry didn’t know that’s how his nuptials would be perceived, you probably weren’t in on the joke to begin with. Although the series actually should’ve ended two episodes earlier – Garry dies in what was to be the farewell episode, but the president of Showtime shows up at the end and demands that Garry give them two more – there’s too much great comedy in the preceding episodes to complain very much about it.
In recent years, Shandling has come to be known predominantly for his work on “The Larry Sanders Show.” With any luck, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show: The Complete Series” will remind folks that he actually has two classic series under his belt.
Special Features: It’s another top-notch set from Shout! Factory, and you probably figured it was from them, anyway. Who else has the kind of business model that would allow them to skip the water-testing method of a Season One set and skip straight to releasing the complete series? Shandling and co-creator Alan Zweibel were heavily involved in this set, as were the other cast members, and it shows: there are 18 commentaries scattered throughout the eight discs, along with six featurettes (“Getting There: The Road to the Show,” “Being There: The Cast Remembers,” “Still There: The Writers and Crew Remember,” “Show and Tell with Tom and Max,” “The Shandlines: Backstage Newsletters,” and “Try to Remember: A Conversation with Garry and Alan”). Also included are original series promos, outtakes (they’re spread through the set in a recurring feature entitled “It Only Looks Easy”), and two segments from Michael Nesmith’s “Television Parts” which provide an embryonic look at what would evolve into “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.”