Sony // 1992 // 577 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // April 17th, 2007
Live on tape from Hollywood, it's not just eight hours of newly produced material, but also 23 of the best episodes of the series.
The Larry Sanders Show remains at or near the top of critics' lists of the funniest television shows of the '90s. That it originally aired on HBO should not be a detriment, as many of the moments transcended mere self-parody and went into truly inspired territory. With the release of this set, does it feel like more than a cash grab (like its earlier release), or is there some meat on them bones?
For the uninitiated, The Larry Sanders Show is a HBO comedy series developed by Garry Shandling (What Planet Are You From?), in which he plays a talk show host named Larry Sanders. The show follows Sanders on and off the set, documenting his run-ins with some of the celebrities he interviews and his interactions with staff members. The main team comprises his Ed McMahon-like sidekick Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development) and show producer Arthur (Rip Torn, Men in Black). But there's also the booker, Paula (Janeane Garofalo, Reality Bites), Larry's assistant, Beverly (Penny Johnson, What's Love Got to Do With It), Larry's head writer Phil, (Wallace Langham, Little Miss Sunshine) and Hank's assistants, the most predominant of whom was Brian (Scott Thompson, The Kids in the Hall).
The episodes in this set are pulled from all six seasons of the show and are spread out over four discs. The episodes (and the seasons they came from) are:
"What Have You Done For Me Lately?" (Season One)
Where it all started; Larry bows to network pressures and hosts a live commercial for the infamous 'Garden Weasel' device.
"The Spiders Episode" (Season One)
Larry gets his wish and appears in a sketch with Carol Burnett on his show, but the bit is interrupted by large spiders (provided by the preceding guest, an animal handler). Meanwhile, Larry's wife Jeannie starts to grow weary of Larry's life as a talk show host; this introduces a season-long storyline, but you're in this to watch the hilarious culmination.
"The Hey Now Episode" (Season One)
Larry is jealous, maybe even envious, of the amount of commercial work Hank is doing, and when the sidekick is caught sleeping on the couch during a taping, that appears to be the final straw. Definitely a place setter for future Sanders-Kingsley relations.
"The List" (Season Two)
Larry decides to sleep with his first wife (Kathryn Harrold, Raw Deal), but starts to think about the relationship differently when he finds out she slept with Alec Baldwin (The Shadow). Things are further complicated when Baldwin is booked on the show. Later, Larry and his ex share lists of the people they â ve slept with, sending Larry deeper into nutland.
"The Hankerciser 200" (Season Two)
To everyone's surprise, Hank has endorsed an exercise product on late night TV. And when Larry's ex Francine gets hurt while using it, things come to a head between the host and his sidekick.
"Life Behind Larry" (Season Two)
Larry screens candidates for a host to follow-up Larry's 12:30 slot. While the network throws the male leads of Full House out there, Larry's suggestion of Bobcat Goldthwait is met with skepticism and stress on Larry from every comic who wants to be a part of it. Hank's fan club newsletter is punk'd in a big way. Another hilarious installment.
"The Mr. Sharon Stone Show" (Season Three)
Larry dates Sharon Stone and starts to feel jealous and inferior when he has to play second fiddle in the relationship. Julianne Phillips (Mrs. Bruce Springsteen) appears in a sly cameo spot.
"Hank's Night in the Sun" (Season Three)
After Larry is felled by a bout with food poisoning, Hank is thrust into the position of hosting the show (Artie foretells that he is opening "a box worse than Pandora's"). If there was an episode that crystallized Hank's place in the pecking order, this is it.
"Office Romance" (Season Three)
The office is thrown into a tailspin when Darlene (Linda Doucett) starts seeing Larry, trampling on the heart of Phil the writer, who was seeing her beforehand. Considering her previous relevance of the show, it seems like an excuse for Shanding to give his girlfriend some face time (he was dating Doucett at the time), but it's not too horrid.
"Hank's Divorce" (Season Three)
Hank's most recent marriage is on the rocks, and naturally it's not his fault, so he blames Larry for the disintegration, though he has some twisted sense of loyalty to him. Oh, did I say the marriage occurred on air, with Alex Trebek as the minister?
"Hank's Sex Tape" (Season Four)
Phil and another writer (a young Jon Favreau from Swingers!) discover a tape in Hank's office while looking for some snacks to curb the munchies. It's all the more nerve-wracking as Hank's attempting to secure a commercial deal with a regional orange juice producer. Henry Winkler gets 'line of the show' honors upon hearing the news.
"I Was a Teenage Lesbian" (Season Four)
Paula runs into old flame Brett Butler (Grace Under Fire), but she has more important personal news to be worried about. Cue Artie and his introduction to the non-tropical citizens of the world for making papaya a wondrous fruit.
"Larry's New Love" (Season Five)
Larry's new girlfriend may be using him to advance her career aspirations. People forget the show was fully functioning, as Paul Westerberg starts the show with a song. But in other issues, it's nice to see Larry address the rumors around favoritism in previous seasons with previous girlfriends, and start the process of wrapping up the series.
"Everybody Loves Larry" (Season Five)
This is one of the episodes the show is remembered for. David Duchovny (The X-Files) appears as a friend of Larry's who wishes to be something a little bit more. In what was a recurring theme during the season, Larry is threatened with being replaced by Jon Stewart. Look for Hank and Elvis Costello in a hilarious story involving an automobile lemon. Top-notch stuff.
"My Name is Asher Kingsley" (Season Five)
After going to a synagogue with an attractive female rabbi, Hank converts to Judaism and imposes his religion onto the staff members. If for nothing else, the show is made watchable by the joke that Tom Poston (Newhart) tells at the beginning.
"Ellen, or Isn't She?" (Season Five)
During the run-up and clamoring for Ellen DeGeneres to come out, Larry pushes her to come out on his show, but winds up sleeping with her instead. This episode is perhaps most remarkable for making Ellen funny, which is almost unheard of.
"Pilots and Pens Lost" (Season Six)
Phil decides to leave the show for a development deal with the network. However, when it starts to get retooled, he has second thoughts about leaving. In the secondary story, Artie loses a pen that Larry gave him as a gift (and Larry actually bought this, he didn â t have an assistant do it for him).
"Another List" (Season Six)
Jon Stewart fills in as guest host for Larry, and the network is so impressed by his performance that they suggest some improvements to increase ratings. Only Artie could compare Winona Ryder to a McRib sandwich and make it funny.
"The Beginning of the End" (Season Six)
In his quest for better ratings, Larry tweaks the show to the point where it's no longer recognizable, all the while being strung along by the network during contract negotiations. And as negotiations come to a head, he decides to call it quits after a decade on the air.
"Adolf Hankler" (Season Six)
While Larry is on vacation tending to his older brother Stan and his crazy business ideas, guest host Jon Stewart ruffles a few network feathers when Hank is enlisted to play Hitler in a sketch. Comic gold ensues when you mix Hank Kingsley with the Wu-Tang Clan.
"The Interview" (Season Six)
Hank insults Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers) during the show, which escalates into an even bigger brouhaha. While on an interview with Extra co-host Maureen O'Boyle, Larry cries and wants the interview footage pulled; Artie tries to use his charms with "MoMo" to get the tape back.
"Putting the 'Gay' Back in Litigation" (Season Six)
Brian has had enough of Phil's gay jokes, and decides to sue Phil and the show for sexual harassment. About a minute and a half in, look over Hank's left shoulder for a funny picture on Hank's wall of fame.
"Flip" (Season Six)
This hour-long episode is the series finale, as Larry says goodbye with help from Jim Carrey (The Truman Show), Tim Allen (Home Improvement), David Duchovny, Sean Penn (Mystic River), singer Clint Black, and comic legend Carol Burnett. And those are the ones that did appear! A worthy finish to a great show.
If there was anyone who would know the ins and outs of a talk show host, it was Garry Shandling. The one-time guest host for Johnny Carson was wooed to be his replacement at one point, but remained on the periphery of the talk show wars of the early '90s. So why not use this, and the nuances that talk show guests/Hollywood stars bring, to create a series of his own? The result is wickedly funny satire, featuring some of the best comedic minds not named Seinfeld.
As far as the characters themselves, Shandling plays Sanders as a guy whose sincerity is wholly transparent. He's a guy who cannot relate to anyone if his life depended on it; and if anyone does somehow manage to make a connection, they have to realize that the show still takes precedence over anything "real." Sanders is also an incredibly vain individual. When he's in an argument with Hank, he stops to get makeup on his hands so they won't contrast with his face. And he's got an unhealthy obsession with his ass, which everyone already knows. Tambor takes Kingsley and makes him the sidekick in real life, one who rides the coattails of fame that the show has given him, but when it comes to crunch time, can't stay afloat in the deep end of the pool. Holding them all up is Arthur, the producer who looks out for his star (and thus, the talent), with an encyclopedic knowledge of television history and a perverse love of alcohol that can expose a dark side. Torn takes the character into many different areas, but ultimately you can't screw with the man, or he'll burn you.
Fans clamored for a release of this show on DVD, and were initially served by a lackluster package of the show's first season several years back. Part of the delay seemed to be due to legal wrangling between Shandling and ex-manager Brad Grey. Now that the dust has settled, not only are you getting one quarter of the shows on this four-disc set, but the supplemental material features plenty of contributions by Shandling and other cast members and guest stars. The menus are even fun. Want to select the "I don't really want to watch this DVD" option on Disc One? Go ahead. Apologies for lack of extras on episodes are given. Shandling's handwriting portrays the interviews as more of "intimate, personal, indulgent visits with my friends." There are deleted scenes on nine of the set's twenty-three episodes (including fifteen minutes worth of footage on "Flip). There are commentaries on four of the episodes, featuring Shandling and various members of the crew. Shandling (and whomever joins him on the commentaries) recall how they were able to land some of the stars for the episodes, along with the creative processes that Garry went through on the show. You get interviews with most every valuable member of the cast: Johnson, Entourage's Jeremy Piven (who briefly played the show's writer Jerry), Sarah Silverman (who also played a writer on the show near its end), Bob Odenkirk (who played Larry's agent) and Garofalo, to name a few. One of the most interesting interviews is with Linda Doucett. She played Hank's first assistant and was Shandling's real-life fiance at one point; the awkwardness and emotion between the two is palatable. The interviews are totally interesting, as Johnson (who's a Christian) discusses her off-set discussions with Thompson (who's gay). The conversations with Shandling and his guest stars/friends are also pretty good. For example, Shandling and Duchovny shoot hoops while discussing Duchovny's story arc on the show. Witness Shandling and Jerry Seinfeld spend five minutes tracking down a jacket Seinfeld lost before heading out to Central Park and getting into an interesting discussion on the differences between stand-up comedy and the acting profession. Look at Shandling and Baldwin talk before boxing at Shandling's gym (no, seriously!). The most intimate and funniest exchange appears to be with Shandling and Tom Petty (who had been a guest on the show). The two appear to be very close friends, and Shandling opens up with Petty the most, revealing his larger thoughts on life to some degree.
Disc Four has most of the stuff, starting with a three-part, hour-long documentary on the making of the show, hosted by Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets). Cast and crew recall the show, HBO talking heads discuss its impact on the network, and fans (like Ricky Gervais) discuss what they liked about the series. It even serves as a timeline to Shandling's career before the show, including footage of him on the Johnny Carson show, and later as a guest host. Audition footage of some of the cast members is included, and they appear to discuss their own recollections of how they got their parts. There's a fair amount of on-set footage, how shots came together, with some outtakes mixed in too, along with the cast's thoughts on the process (Shandling spends the bulk of that time discussing how he works). It's an interesting look for fans of Shandling, as they get unique insight into his philosophy and comic sensibilities. In a poignant moment, the late Bruno Kirby (in his last filmed appearance) appears at the end of the piece, only to get "bumped from the DVD." Next is a piece entitled "The Writer's Process," in which Shandling and writer Judd Apatow (recently of The 40 Year Old Virgin) discuss, well, the writing process. After that, Shandling, Tambor and Torn reunite to discuss the show, eight years after its wrap. They recall their collaboration and their process as a group and as individuals. The last bit is entitled "The Journey Continues," with Shandling and a Buddhist monk discussing a statue Shandling bought.
I know what the title says and all, but like many others, I loved, loved, loved Torn as Artie. He was given the greatest lines in the show, and I feel like Sony could have thrown him a bone in this compilation for some of the more hard-core fans. He did a line about Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch that is both funny and the greatest endorsement for anything you could ever think of. But hey, this is the Larry Sanders show, so I'll move on.
All good things to those who wait, right? Well, we get a greatest-hits compilation that contains very little argument on the selected episodes, and bonus material featuring lots of participation from the people responsible for the success of one of the funnier shows of the last decade and a half. Fans of the show should snap this up post haste. Those of you who haven't seen the show should get this sooner, because either way you look at it, this set is a keeper.
Larry, Hank, Artie and the gang are free to go with extreme prejudice.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 577 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Selected Episode Commentaries
* Deleted Scenes
* New interviews between Garry Shandling and Alec Baldwin, Sharon Stone, David Duchovny, Tom Petty, Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld and Carol Burnett
* "The Making of The Larry Sanders Show"
* Cast and Guest Star Interviews
* Official Site
* Season One Review