Retro Review: The Larry Sanders Show

The Larry Sanders Show aired for six seasons on HBO from 1992 to 1998, starring Gary Shandling as the title character, along with Rip Torn as Artie and Jeffrey Tambor as Hank Kingsley, along with a variety of other notable actors such as Jeremy Piven, Janeane Garofalo, Wallace Langham, Scott Thompson and Bob Odenkirk.

Revisiting The Larry Sanders Show was odd, as the show felt very familiar without having much, if any, previous exposure to it, and it occured to me the single-camera “behind the scenes” aspect of the show that was unique at the time has been copied by numerous television comedies in the 2000s after the multi-camera format dominated the 1970s and 80s. Even the aspect of having celebrities appear as versions of themselves has been replicated on shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Extras, both HBO shows.

Like Curb, The Larry Sanders show, albeit in lesser doses, worked the uncomfortable comedy angle throughout the series, often in Larry’s interactions with his staff and various celebrities, appearing as exaggerated versions of themselves, who guested on the show within the show. That’s part of what makes The Larry Sanders show so unique, is that in most cases, the fake movie that’s being made in movie, or book that is being written, are terrible. In the case of The Larry Sanders talk show, thanks to Gary Shandling’s own experience guest hosting The Tonight Show, the authenticity comes through in both the humor and subtle interactions between guests and show characters.

As is often the case, two of the support cast, in this case Rip Torn and Jeffrey Tambor, deliver some of the best lines and funniest moments of the show, whether it’s Torn’s Artie fearless and foully defending Larry and the show, or Tambor’s Hank utterly obnoxious self-important whining and scheming. Hank’s “Hey Now” catch phrase which extend beyond the show, becoming an oft-heard audio drop on the Howard Stern Show to this day.

While some of the mid-to-later season seemed to run into episodes or story arcs that ran out of steam quickly (like Larry marrying Roseanne Barr), the fresh and original behind-the-scenes take makes the show rewatchable to this day. Minus, of course, some of the dated fashion and cultural references, though points for dropping the name Afghan Whigs during a music discussion.