In the past weeks, my lovely wife Tara and I have watched every single episode (89 total over six series) of The Larry Sanders Show. What a masterpiece of comedy. It’s awe-inspiring, a tremendous artistic triumph. One that was sustained at a very, very high level for many years. The final two years were the best of all. It truly went out on a high when it left the air in 1998
The Larry Sanders Show features one of the greatest ensemble casts in the history of television comedy: Garry Shandling in the title role, Rip Torn as Artie the show’s producer, Jeffrey Tambor as “Hey now!” Hank Kingsley, Janeane Garofalo and Penny Johnson, understated but so brilliant as Larry’s personal assistant, Beverly. Scott Thompson was also fantastic in later seasons as Hank’s assistant, Brian.
The celebrity cameos the show was so famous for came from the likes of a then up-and-coming Jon Stewart, Carol Burnett, Sharon Stone, Mimi Rogers, Billy Crystal, Alec Baldwin, Elvis Costello, Ryan O’Neal… real celebrities playing often awful fictionalized versions of themselves (a neat trope Ricky Gervais, a huge fan of Sanders, availed himself of for Extras). I thought Ellen DeGeneres, Lori Loughlin and especially David Duchovny were standouts guests. Even The Butthole Surfers (who actually sang about Garry Shandling in one of their songs) were musical guests on the series (Larry acts like he wants to hang out with them, in a really insincere way and they sneer at him).
The Larry Sanders Show is simply one of the best things I’ve ever seen and it has aged like a fine, fine wine. I got the same kind of high watching Sanders as I get from listening to great classical music. Every element of the show is orchestrated perfectly. It’s a marvel to behold.
When the show actually aired, I didn’t have cable, and so I was never really exposed to more than an episode or two. Viewing all 89 episodes compressed into a matter of a few weeks like this (we’d watch 4 or 5 of them a night) was an especially good way to appreciate the perfection that each and every episode represents. There really is no end to the superlatives I could heap onto onto the production. It’s comedy cut like a multifaceted diamond. There’s not a single bad episode in the bunch and even the “worst” one would still be a 9/10.
Garry Shandling is a comedy god to me. He’s in the pantheon of the greatest greats in my book. There’s no wonder that he’s kept a relatively low profile in the years after Larry Sanders: How the hell do you top something this great? Why squander that kind of cultural capital? Writer/producer Judd Apatow went on to his own numerous successes, of course.
In any case, The Larry Sanders Show, wow. I may be a little late to the party on this—13 years, in fact—but chances are that some of you reading this, some of you like me, who spent the 90s doing anything but watching TV, might have missed it, too. Fear not, for you can watch the entire series on Netflix and I noticed that the 17 DVD set of the entire series of The Larry Sanders Show is on sale at Amazon.
Jeffrey Tambor is a genius: