I’ve recently made habit of quickly digesting whole seasons of shows on Netflix – which is the most satisfying means of TV viewing I’ve ever had – and came across an oldie that will get a kick out of any Gen Y’er.
The Larry Sanders Show, one of HBO’s first comedies, centers on a fictional late-night talk show host and misanthrope extraordinaire Larry Sanders (played by Garry Shandling pretty much playing himself) and the behind the scenes antics of his show, staff, and personal life he can’t seem to keep separate. It’s 30 Rock meets Curb re-meeting Seinfeld. The show was a pioneer in television meta-comedy, as each episode begins with the intro to the fictional talk show, which also serves as intro to the show itself. And as Larry’s personal life and office drama affects the performance of his hosting duties, The Larry Sanders Show fluidly alternates from the point-of-view of show to show-within-show. Upon watching, you’ll instantly recognize the similar tone of current docu-style comedies with its overlapping improvisational and broken dialogue – none of which you’d expect to find on TV in ’92.
You’ll also have a fun time with its impressive “Holy Shit, it’s ______, Look How Young They Are!” cast including Jeremy Piven, a pre-Arrested Development era Jeffrey Tambor as Sanders’s hapless and over-eager sidekick/announcer, Rip “I drink my urine cause it’s sterile and I like the taste!” Torn, Penny Johnson aka Almost 1st Lady Sherry Palmer, and, or course, no 90’s show would be complete without Janeane Garofalo!
Garry Shandling- who, in reality, was a frequent guest host for The Tonight Show and once-front runner for Carson’s replacement was an iconic comedian of the 1980’s, perfecting the anxiety-saddled, neurotic everyman that would become a hallmark of 90’s leading men. As Larry he’s an affable cynic, masking those nagging neuroses and contempt for the people around him with his used-car salesmen grin and deadpan retorts. He looks like a Gary Larson cartoon; a chipmunk-cheeked, middle-aged Milton Berle with a Jerry Seinfeld quaff. But he’s so charming and self-deprecating – even during his nightly monologues (before Conan and Stewart made it a staple of hosting) – that you root for the guy as he deals with each egotistical and surly celeb guest that he must placate nightly. And if you love the celebrites-playing-asshole-versions-of-themselves trend as much as I do, you’ll get a kick out of the retro roster of once-relevant stars sending themselves up each episode, including: David Spade, Dana Carvey (plugging Wayne’s World 2!), Robin Williams sporting a nauseating pea soup green suit and Owen Wilson surfer-blonde hairdo, Michael Richards, Peter Falk, Queen-of-Comedy Carol Burnett and… motherfuck, it’s Richard Simmons.
Admittedly, The Larry Sanders Show will feel dated at times and the plot doesn’t always pay off. But if nothing else, it’s an always fun-spirited piece of nostalgia. A relic of lighter, pre- 9/11 Dilbertesque inter-office satire. For 22-minutes (and a manageable 13 ep season) you’ll laugh at the culture and style of early 1990’s America. You won’t be able to resist giggling and sighing fondly at the hair, the boxy, gargantuan TV sets, a mention of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation tour here, a still very gangster Ice-T there, Dan Quayle’s “potatos”, Clinton jokes and man-oh-man the JEANS everybody’s wearing.
Don’t get me wrong, this R-rated comedy that was once cutting edge for HBO will feel tame but the show’s goods haven’t spoiled over time, and it’s inventive and finely detailed. And as a parent and to one of of the greatest comedies television has produced, it deserves a revisit.