The Best of the Set Pt. II: The Larry Sanders Show

larry sanders show

What sets HBO apart from most other networks is the station’s uncompromising dedication to quality, which is on full display in one of the networks first comedy hits, “The Larry Sander’s Show”.

Consistency is a difficult procedure in art and in life, but the creative team behind “The Larry Sander’s Show” not only promoted and inspired a high standard of craftsmanship but, as six seasons passed, consistently exceeded and outdid their previous years’ work by adding depth, humor, and heart to the cast of character’s and their array of misadventures.

And what is even more impressive now, almost twenty years after the start of the show, is to see the talent that emerged from Garry Shandling’s and Dennis Klein’s creation. With a cast that included seasoned actors Jeffrey Tambor and Rip Torn, to relative newcomers Janeanne Garafollo, Jeremy Piven and, in later seasons, Sarah Silverman, “The Larry Sander’s Show” had the raw and energetic talent needed to support the quick witted and hilariously cruel world the creators had established.

The show follows fictionalized talk show host Larry Sanders, played by co-creator and the awkwardly hilarious Gary Shandling, as he attempts to put together a worth-while show every night, while competing against talk show staples Jay Leno, David Letterman, and, at the time, Arsenio Hall. Alongside him are brass-balled but lovable producer Artie, played by the incomparable Rip Torn, and dim witted, catchphrase-spouting sidekick Hank Kingsley, played by the phenomenal Jeffrey Tambor.

The chemistry between the three leads lends the show its uncompromising heart; with Larry’s disinterest yet undeniable vulnerability for Hank providing moments of true sincerity that are quickly whisked away with a well earned laugh. Hank is a dope but a loveable one at that and Jeffrey Tambor’s gifts for creating well-rounded and relatable characters is on full display here.

Artie too is a joy to watch as he navigates his way through the zany crew, making sure the host’s many self-serving needs are met and everything is in order before going on air. Larry and Artie are partners, both interested in creating a genuinely funny show true to the nature of talk show idealism and their banter lands as some of the high points of the series.

And while the three leads are unbelievably spot-on in their respective roles, a lot of the joy comes from watching the never ending barrage of celebrity guests that play heightened and exaggerated versions of themselves, often to uncomfortable and hilarious avail.

Just about any actor you can think of that had a career in the 90’s has a spot on the show and never once does any exaggeration of their person falter. From Alex Baldwin, who had an affair with Larry’s ex-wife, to David Duchovny who has a man-crush on his favorite talk show host, some of the praise rightfully belongs to all the guests for having such a great sense of humor not only about themselves, but the business they are all a part of and serves as their livelihood.

The first season could be considered the most dated, but considering the pilot aired in 1992, it still holds up fantastically. They never offer introductions to the setting or characters but instead throw you into the middle of the action, allowing the audience to connect to the show in a very unique and urgent way (like the fictional talk show).

Each subsequent episode gets stronger and stronger and the writers never shy away from change within the character’s lives, something that a lesser show would have trouble balancing and finding the humor in, but here, only adding to the depth of humor. As the first season passes to the second, and the second to the third, we watch in a state of comedy-laden awe as the entire creative force behind the show gains its footing and the humor becomes more direct and fulfilling.

And what is even more impressive is this trend never lets up. Each and every episode builds upon the next and not only gets funnier, but becomes more round in its humor, mining comedy gold from every character, angle and situation possible. It is safe to assume that there is not a single episode in the entire run that falters, a lesson most currently running series could learn from.

This post is part two of a series, find the first article here The Best of the Set Pt. I, and the third one here The Best of the Set Pt. III.