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The Larry Sanders show was the best, nastiest, and funniest comedy program
on either side of the Atlantic during the 1990s. Filmed without a laughter
track, it features Garry Shandling as TV talk show host Larry Sanders
(motto: "No flipping!"), who we follow on and off camera.
On camera, the Larry Sanders Show is slick, professional, and vacant, as celebrities appear pretending to be best of friends with Larry and delighted to be on the show when all they're really doing is plugging their latest product and when everyone in the paranoid entertainment industry actively hates everybody else. Exactly like real talk shows, in fact. As a parody, Larry Sanders is extremely subtle, aided by the fact that many A-list celebs from real life appear, showing a surprising willingness to send themselves up (David Duchovny, for example, features in one episode where the main storyline centres on his crush on Larry!). It's bad, but not obviously: you can really imagine it on air (in sharp contrast to Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge, who in real life would never make it even to hospital radio).
But the funniest material comes backstage. The leading characters (Larry, his loser sidekick Hank, and his alternately tough-talking and sycophantic producer Artie) are all so horrible, the main joke is basically that everyone continually behaves in a manner both in character, and yet also worse than you could possibly expect. The sheer unpleasantness of these individuals is jaw-dropping... you continually wonder "did he really just say that?" Hank, for example, after his agent has been hospitalised and he hasn't been allowed to visit, comments: "It's so unfair! I mean so much to him!" then immediately starts phoning potential successors. The character of Hank is perhaps the best of all, his role on the show is to appear talentless and genial alongside Larry, a role he fulfills with partial success because he is naturally talentless but not in the least genial! But all the cast (including many regulars) are wonderfully portrayed, Shandling is great but at the end of each brief episode you almost wish you had seen more of the others... in fact this is probably just another sign of the show's strength, instead of wheeling out our favourites each week for a familiar laugh, this show is always looking for fresh ways to make us uncomfortable.
In some ways this is a very un-American program (there's not an ounce of sentiment, or a hint of redemption for its characters). In the UK, Peter Kay's "Phoenix Nights" is perhaps the closest thing to a successor. But the Larry Sanders show remains a major loss from the late-night schedules.
For years we've all heard the stories of behind the scenes powerplays, ego,
contracts, manipulation etc. among the late night hosts and networks. Ever
since Johnny "clicked" with American TV audiences on NBC we have watched a
steady stream of after 11pm hosts of variety type shows. Post-Carson we have
seen Jay, Dave, Conan, Arsenio, Pat Sajak, Chevy Chase, Craig Kilborn, Bob
Costas, etc. vie for the late night dollars. A movie entitled "The Late
Night Shift" was made depicting the infighting between Jay Leno's people and
David Letterman's group to take over The Tonight Show when Johnny
Now Gary Shandling and HBO have devised a character and show to weave between reality and fiction all in the form of Shandling's alter-ego Larry Sanders. Much like Billy Crystal's creation, Buddy Young Jr., Sanders has taken on a personna of his own. However, what Shandling and HBO have done takes it to new heights of excellence. The stories are witty, funny, provocative, and probably lend more truth to insights into show business then even the most skeptical of us could have imagined.
With an absolutely great supporting cast this show embodies the idea that comedy can be intellectual, cutting edge, and somewhat bitter sharp without excluding portions of the audience. Of special note the performance of Rip Torn, as Larry's veteran producer (Artie), is shear greatness. Torn has fashioned his character after Fred DeCordova who was Johnny Carson's Executive Producer.Artie "knows when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em". He knows when to f__k with the network and when not to and he insulates Larry from anything that would compromise Larry's ability to be on the edge for a great show. He loves Larry like a brother and loathes him for his insecurities, childishness, ego and all that Larry can be that's infuriating.
Jeffrey Tambor is terrific as Larry's Ed McMahon sidekick Hank Kingsley. A sniveling, insecure, limited talent based guy Kingsley is well paid and likes to throw around power. Trouble is his power base is Larry and those staffers that work on the show only do for Hank what they absolutely have to. Tambor plays this character to a tee!
With real celebrity guests poking fun at celebrity, TV, movies, and themselves at times the program almost seems to allow the entertainment industry to safely poke fun at itself in a somewhat scathing manner.
The show ended it's run about a year and a half ago but it replays on the HBO channels each week and is well worth the time to view.
The Larry Sanders Show is one of the greatest television shows ever. The
best description that I can come up with for TLSS is that it's a free-form
pre-scripted reality show. The writing sparkles, the characterizations are
wonderful, and the plotlines are engaging. TV Guide recently said that
Seinfeld is the greatest tv show of all time; that might be true for a
network program that you can skip for a few minutes while you yell at the
kids or go make a sandwich, but TLSS requires your full
Garry Shandling plays Larry Sanders in this mock-talk show. Larry is the neurotic straight-man surrounded by crazy characters and situations. Famous celebrities wander the offices, waiting in the green room or shagging in the prop room. Larry takes everything in stride, shooting off an acerbic remark for everything that doesn't go his way.
TLSS is shot on video for the talk show portions, the part that is "broadcast", while the behind-the-scenes reality parts are shot on film, giving you a line of demarcation for what's "real" and what's "the show".
Three actors make up the triumvirate of drama: Garry Shandling, Rip Torn, and Jeffrey Tambor. Torn is dead-perfect as the show's producer, Artie. With his weathered face, odd expressions, blustery voice, and bulldozer personality he barges into rooms like he owns the place. Torn's performances are brilliantly conceived.
Tambor plays Hank Kingsley, the insecure sidekick to Larry Sanders. With his subtle, simmering delivery and steel-eyed glare, no one but Tambor could play Hank. From show to show, you find yourself alternately loving and hating him. On one show, he guest-hosts TLSS and believes that it is a stepping-stone to his own program. He becomes a raving egomaniac and threatens to take over the show. On a consecutive night of hosting, however, he stumbles and falls on his face.
The writing crackles like lightning. When Artie tells Larry that he needs to throw anxious network honchos "a bone", Larry retorts "why don't you fake-throw and see if their heads move?" In another scene, Hank comes up to Larry and Artie, sits down, and begins to ask a question that Artie guesses even before it's out of Hank's mouth. "I'll bet you want to have your wedding on the show." When Hank says, "My God, how could you possibly know that?", Artie retorts "You should know by now that I can see...into...your...mind." I watched that scene five times.
The only flaw in TLSS is that in every episode there is a butt joke. Sure they're funny once in a great while, but if it comes to the point where you're anxiously waiting for it so you can get it out of the way, then something is wrong. I'm surprised that the writers would insert such childish, immature jokes into an otherwise brilliantly-written program.
Despite the show's above flaw, this series is a masterwork of humor and drama, a fly-on-the-wall view of the production of a talk show. This is television at its best.
The award winning Larry Sanders show is subtle genius. Brilliantly
written, superbly acted and hilarious, it took the documentary style
comedy of Spinal Tap and re-tuned it to define a new sitcom style that
inspired many other shows including Brit comedy The Office.
It ran alongside Sienfeld during the 90s but seems to have been overlooked by the mainstream and is in danger of slipping into obscurity.
The series follows the days in the lives of everybody involved in the production of a popular late night American talk show. The action centers around the three main characters, Larry Sanders the star and host of the show, Rip Torn's hilarious producer, Artie and the wonderful Hank Kingsley, Larry's sidekick.
The action is split into two styles, the behind the scenes docu-drama and the actual broadcast talk show. The two formats cleverly cut to tell the story of the characters. I don't know how they do it but the show is subtle and understated but at the same time fast moving and in your face.
I haven't seen the American version of The Office yet, but I strongly suggest that you don't even bother with it - just watch this instead. There are at least 7 or 8 series of it and you have to watch them in sequence too, because the stories cleverly develop and come to almost apocalyptic climaxes.
Larry Sanders has a broad range of humor. When on camera, the humor
comes from how unfunny these characters actually are in front of the
camera and how funny the audience finds it. Anyone who watches late
night talk shows can relate to the "mock show" portion of each show.
The behind the scenes, which makes up most of each episode relies on
the situations as well as the dialogue which is usually very funny and
well written, like something that would actually be said.
The characters were all very different and well written. Larry Sanders, played subtly and brilliantly by Gary Shandling. Larry is always smiling, whether he's happy or not. He's self centered, but not too much of a jerk. His manager Artie (Rip Torn) is more over the top rude and loud, but he's not an unbelievable character. Then there's Hank (Jeffrey Tambor) who plays second banana to Larry and the talk show, but on this show, often steals the episodes, taking many of the main plot lines, and he is hilarious as the alternate universe Ed MacMahon. Along with these three, there are many other less important characters, all very funny.
Overall, Larry Sanders was usually hysterical, but when not, it was still one of the most brilliant shows on television.
Hands down - this is my favorite television program, ever. For me, it
replaced "Columbo" (especially the earlier ones) in this regard. Built
around Garry Shandling's delightfully diverse character - the
extremely-talented on-air Larry, who is equally-neurotic in his
personal life, it presents everything one could want from any piece of
entertainment. With Jeffrey Tambor and Rip Torn perfectly-cast in their
sidekick and producer roles - there is a legion of talented others in
terms of supporting cast, and a horde of A-list celebrities appearing
as themselves, both as guests on the fictional show and in Larry's
Whatever the assigned characteristics the writers have provided the supporting cast and guests - sneaky, smarmy, confrontational, naive, insincere, unpredictable, etc,, etc. - it seems that everything, every characterization, every situation is carried-off without fault and is thoroughly amusing. Where the situation or drama had more serious elements, these were also well-done, without detracting from the show's overall humor.
A major affirmation of this show's appeal, for me (if I needed one) is that even where a guest appeared who was far from a favorite of mine (Rosanne would be the best example) even that person was engaging in the role within the program.
This program also was one where the "salty" language, which occurred in abundance, always added to the quality of the programming and stories, never seeming at all gratuitous. And another confirmation of the quality of this series is that in its subsequent re-runs, especially on local outlets, where many words are "bleeped," the programs are still completely entertaining.
Certainly everyone will have certain favorite episodes. However, this is a show which one can enjoy whenever seeing it again, whatever episode(s) are viewed, and irrespective of how many times they may have been seen before.
I know the participants have gone on to other separate endeavors. But I, for one, would love to see, say, a mini-series where HBO would present "the network" luring Larry, Artie and Hank "out of retirement," and having them do a series of retrospective "Larry Sanders Shows" as part of celebration of some sort of network milestone.
One of my local stations used to run two episodes late each Saturday night. I was able to see a few when aired, but made certain I taped all of them to see within the following few days. I'm surprised that I haven't already bought all of the series available on VHS or DVD, but intend to do so in the near future. These shows are the type which, even after multiple viewings, are more entertaining to see again than most alternatives available for the first time
Sufficiently skewers the late-night circuit. The most important names in 21st century comedy were on this show. Forget Seinfeld, this was the funniest show on TV of its time, because it felt so real. Can Garry Shandling ever do another show after this? He may have shot his career in the foot after exposing the true demons that run in entertainment circles. Devastatingly funny and will be influential to many. One of a kind. "I hate you, I hate my audience, I hate this network, I hate this job, I hate myself. So, your show is on Tuesdays at 8:30 on ABC, right? We'll be right back. Stay tuned."
The Larry Sanders show may be the finest American television show. The
comedy always has the perfect precision and they take such great care
to small details. In one episode, Larry visits Hank's office, which he
rarely does, and Hank puts his jacket on to try to look his best,
that's the level of detail you don't see in most crap sitcoms. No
American show since has held no punches and has been so bitterly
cynical yet hilarious.
The three main actors really make the show. Garry Shandling as the good natured but selfish and cowardly Larry Sanders really plays the perfect vain talk show host. Jeffrey Tambor as Hank Kingsley really fleshes out the talentless asshole sidekick who you still root for, similar to George Costanza. Rip Torn masterfully portrays the over the top obsequious producer with a dark streak. The simple pleasure of seeing these three men interact is entertaining enough on its own.
The show is actually based on talk shows, you see all the politics and show biz phoniness unvarnished. The ugliness and hypocrisy in Hollywood will really surprise the uninitiated viewer. One wonders how much of Larry was in Johnny Carson and how much of Hank was in Ed McMahon.
This show is a true gem that is not nearly as popular as it should be since it doesn't pander. Any fan of intelligent programming owes it to himself to watch this.
Yes, late-night talk shows really are that calculated. They actually plan out the jokes that seem spur of the moment. It was interesting to learn these things in a documentary about talk shows recently, but more fun to see this reality skewered on the Larry Sanders show. Unfortunately, although it mocks late-night talk shows, it also falls into a few of their conventions. The show usually stops short for about a minute or so while the 'musical guest' on the show-within-a-show performs a song, and sometimes we have to sit through the lame monologues as well. Usually it's in the name of satire, sometimes it's puzzling. Anyway, this was much better than Seinfeld - to which it bears comparison for the similar reality base- because it was allowed to be more real and was definitely more engrossing, never relying on shtick. Plus, Gary Shandling REALLY knew when to quit - way before there was any drop-off in quality. By the time Seinfeld signed off just about everything that had made that show what it was had already faded away. Catch it on HBO Comedy if you get that channel, where it airs nightly.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A few fast points off the top. Talk shows were "discovered" by the suits in the late 50s, but it was not until the 60s, when an accountant accidentally found that one single show, the Carson talk show, was covering almost all the expenses of the network, that talk shows became sacred cows. This show was created to kill those sacred cows and it did so masterfully. It was steady and reliable and fun. Satire so subtle you almost though you were watching a real talk show. Rip Torn was great. Shandling (who more recently played the tortoise in OVER THE HEDGE) was superb. It was a one of kind show and had a loyal following. Rumor is that the show was not so much cancelled as it suicided. Shandling made a request for more money which, the rumour went, was so outrageous that it veritably drove a stake into the heart of the production.
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