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2012/09/30

The Larry Sanders Show

By Dave Best

Like music, comedy is often a highly personal and divisive subject. Who amongst us hasn’t felt the sting of embarrassment when you show somebody a clip or show which you find pant-wettingly hilarious only to have them dismiss it and look at you like the pant-wetting freak you apparently are (damn you, Tim and Eric!). Nor are ratings necessarily a reliable barometer for quality in comedy as demonstrated admirably by Two and Half Men or - on the other side of the coin - Arrested Development; two shows whose ratio of viewers to quality is seriously out of whack. There is, however, one indisputable factor, which regardless of personal taste or popularity, marks a comedy out as special; its legacy, and H.B.O’s The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998) has a legacy which is still influencing TV comedy to this day.

L-R: Rip Torn, Garry Shandling, and Jeffrey Tambor
T.L.S.S stars Garry Shandling as the titular Sanders, the host of a fictional late night talk show. Shandling was inspired to create the show after his experiences guest hosting on The Tonight Show and although we are now swamped with comedy shows set in the entertainment industry, this was one of the first and remains one of the best. Each episode follows the cast and crew as they attempt to put the show together despite the various personal and professional obstacles which arise. The twist to this simple format is that in addition to all of the behind-the-scenes segments the show also features excerpts from the fictional show-within-the-show which are filmed in front of a live studio audience and often feature plenty of improvisation. This blend of single and multi-camera content might sound a bit odd, but it all comes together to produce a unique and, for its time, ground breaking show.

Yes, that is Kasidy Yates from Deep Space Nine and yes, you are a nerd.
Sanders is a neurotic, whiny man-child who, although very capable at his job, struggles to feed and dress himself each day without the help of the unappreciated staff that surround him. Shandling manages to give the character just enough charm and humour for him to remain likeable, but this is an ensemble show and the real stars are the supporting cast, chiefly Rip Torn as the show’s manic producer, Artie, and Jeffrey Tambor as Sanders’ on-screen sidekick and perennial loser, Hank.  Torn and Tambor are each on career-best form and steal pretty much every scene they are in.  Indeed, some of the greatest episodes across all six series are those which are centred around Artie or Hank (see S3E06 ‘Hank’s Night in the Sun’ or S4E03 ‘Arthur after Hours’). The show was also a proving ground for newer talent (both on and off camera) who would go on to become headline comedy names themselves, such as Janeane Garafolo, Jeremy Piven, Bob Odenkirk and Judd Apatow.

If this picture makes you feel warm inside then definitely check out The Larry Sanders Show
In addition to the regular cast, T.L.S.S also features a multitude of celebrities playing themselves as guests on the fictional chat show. More often than not the writers have fun playing with the public perception of the celebs and draw a lot of laughs from this, a comic device which is still regularly used to this day (see Curb your Enthusiasm, Entourage, Extras) but which at the time was a fresh and - for the celebrities themselves - fairly risky idea. Not only is this a great source of comedy but, watching it now in 2012, there is the added feeling of nostalgia and warmth which comes with watching the 90’s icons and events on screen. To an extent, it has become comfort TV for people of a certain age....and even if you don’t get the nostalgia angle, it’s bloody funny. Honest.

The Larry Sanders Show is available now on DVD. Alternatively Netflix have all 6 seasons available for streaming.

Suggested further viewing: Its Garry Shandling's Show, Arrested Development, 30 Rock

For further information visit The Larry Sanders Show's IMDB page: www.imdb.com/title/tt0103466

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