Like Larry Sanders, Judge Ryan Keefer always asks his assistant for her opinions about his ass. But not for size, for accuracy, whatever that means.
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?
Facts of the Case
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)
"The Spiders Episode" (Season One)
"The Hey Now Episode" (Season One)
"The List" (Season Two)
"The Hankerciser 200" (Season Two)
"Life Behind Larry" (Season Two)
"The Mr. Sharon Stone Show" (Season Three)
"Hank's Night in the Sun" (Season Three)
"Office Romance" (Season Three)
"Hank's Divorce" (Season Three)
"Hank's Sex Tape" (Season Four)
"I Was a Teenage Lesbian" (Season Four)
"Larry's New Love" (Season Five)
"Everybody Loves Larry" (Season Five)
"My Name is Asher Kingsley" (Season Five)
"Ellen, or Isn't She?" (Season Five)
"Pilots and Pens Lost" (Season Six)
"Another List" (Season Six)
"The Beginning of the End" (Season Six)
"Adolf Hankler" (Season Six)
"The Interview" (Season Six)
"Putting the 'Gay' Back in Litigation" (Season Six)
"Flip" (Season Six)
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.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
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.
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Scales of Justice
• Selected Episode Commentaries
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