BluRay/DVD Reviews

NOT JUST THE BEST OF THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW

By • Apr 17th, 2007 •

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(SONY Pictures Home Entertainment). Episodes from seasons 1-6. Approx 577 mins. Full screen.

In what is one of the most ingenious, complex packagings of TV series material, the creators of NJTBOTLSS have given us what amounts to the DVD TV collection to beat in ’07. A selection of seasonal shows is presented over the course of the four discs. Whether or not they are random is a judgment that does not fall within my abilities to call. They’re certainly representative of the evolution of the show: three from Season One, three from Season Two, four from Season Three, two from Season Four (not a favorite season of Shandling’s, I guess…), four from Season Five, and seven from Season Six, unless you choose to see the two-part series finale as separate installments, in which case there are eight from that season.

LARRY SANDERS was an irreverent HBO comedy concept whose distant ancestor was BUFFALO BILL (‘83/’84 – on DVD from Lion’s Gate), a black comedy network series starring Dabney Coleman that was too far ahead of its times to survive, and quickly vanished from the airwaves, if not from our consciousnesses. What they had in common was enjoyably unlikeable characters getting caught up in politically incorrect scenarios. The current LARRY DAVID series is more of the same, with its own spin. LARRY SANDERS was a phenomenon of the 90s, and very on the edge of its time.

And it still holds up in these selections from a six season run. Something odd happens, though, in almost every episode: someone is either referenced, or appears, who is now either dead, or whose career is in disarray. Let’s take three episodes in a row. In “Everybody Loves Larry” (Season 5), there is some lead-off dialogue about having Imus on the show. How current is that!?
The episode then pits painfully obnoxious co-host Hank (Jeffrey Tambor) against Elvis Costello (maybe it’s just the glasses, but I always thought Buddy Holly would have evolved into Elvis Costello if he’d lived…) over a defective car that the rock star has sold him. Tambor’s great line is: “Tallyho, fuck-face!” And though the salutation may seem vulgar as I’m presenting it to you here, it’s really a superb piece of writing in context. Also of note, as a stylistic touch throughout the seasons, is: a) flat, dour lighting around the office, contrasted sharply with b) the lighting used to illustrate the broadcast show-within-the-show during each episode, which uses stronger colors, and greater contrast. This gives the behind-the-scenes high jinks a documentary feel, increasing the sense of unease as all the characters clash and embarrass themselves.
This was also the infamous episode where David Duchovny seems to be coming on to Larry. When Duchovny puts his hand on Larry’s face near the end, the X-Files star suddenly looks like J. Carrol Naish (it wasn’t intentional – just strange.)
After having watched the episode, we’re given an updated supplement wherein Shandling and Duchovny play basketball on Shandling’s private court, reminiscing about the episode for about 10 minutes. These little mini-docs have structure, too, not as plotted as the shows did, but Shandling is still going for some of the old mixture of warmth and unease.

“My Name is Asher Kingsley” (Season 5) starts with Tom Poston strolling in, telling a joke, and walking off. Poston died this week. As if that isn’t enough, there’s a Boris Yeltzin joke! I mean, is this collection psychically timing its release with these occurrences, or causing them?
The episode plays hob with religion, as Hank insists on wearing a yarmulke during the show, alienating the sponsors and all his co-workers. A supplement which accompanies this episode is a straight interview with Sarah Silverman, who is not in the episode, and who is now the star of her own politically incorrect and impressively-written Comedy Channel show. She talks about playing basketball with Shandling, but we don’t see it. And the interview is only sporadically interesting, though she works her charms with a myriad of expressions that freeze for a moment on her sweetly plastic face.

In ’95, “Ellen, or Isn’t She” was broadcast. In keeping with this collection’s bizarre connection with today’s headlines, Rip Torn says, early on, that they’ll do the show “from between Anna Nicole Smith’s titties.” How many more of these ‘co-incidences’ do there have to be before we begin to wonder if this 4-disc release is trying to tell us something…?
This was around the time Ellen Degeneres ‘came out’ on her show, and the PR machine was abuzz with rumors. She agreed to have fun with the idea on Shandling’s irreverent series, and while I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen the episode, her emotional range is smooth and wide, ranging from funny to uneasy to downright angry. And, lest I forget: sexy.
In ’07 she and Shandling sat down on some steps on the set of her TV show (he’d appeared on her show the day of this interview) to recall the episode, of which she has remained fond. Ms. Degeneres appears older and more serious, probably from being a bit pooped after the drain of doing her show, but is sporting enough to take on the supplement. And, cleverly, it circles back to a kiss they shared on a couch in his apartment all those years ago.
Then come a series of ‘deleted scenes,’ which are as revealing about the ‘biz’ as they are about the specific show. Larry Miller does an entire, witty guest segment, which ended up on the cutting room floor. Ellen improvs a long take with a non-speaking extra who can only listen to her banter and nod.
Another supplement accompanying this episode features writer/consulting Producer John Marcus. He tells a Hollywood party story (on DVD shoot # 70, we’re apprised) describing how Ellen initially became involved. It’s not a rip-roarer, but it’s enlightening.

And then there’s the episode with Alec Baldwin…

What we come away with from all these episodes and their assembled supplements is an audio-visual mosaic that illuminates the soul of the show. It creeps up on us and surrounds us with information, not always dynamic, but never failing to shed new light on the series’ inner life. And the piece de resistance is the three-part documentary on Disc Four, hosted, more or less, by Greg Kinnear, who claims to have kissed Shandling’s butt till he made it onto the final episode. The meat of the doc – the dissection of the film’s unique style – is as revealing as UNKNOWN CHAPLIN (Kevin Brownlow’s great documentary of 1983) was in exposing Chaplin’s techniques. Being in three parts seemed odd at first, but then UNKNOWN CHAPLIN was in three parts as well.
“Celebrity is an American illness, and this was the show that lanced the boil.” So declares Michael Fuchs, former HBO Chairman, who really moved HBO forward with groundbreaking series’ like this, but didn’t get the proper credit at the time. He finally does, here.
In the documentary, we learn how close to Shandling the character of Larry really was, and how vulnerable he must have been in front of the camera. Rip Torn is well explored: I’ve grown to like him a lot more than I did when I originally watched the show. One by one the other players are examined in depth, as the doc’s approach joyfully violates the documentary form. It’s a subversive feature-length work, much in keeping with the spirit of the show itself. And I suspect as much work and thought went into its creation, and into the creation of the entire four disc collection, as went into the original TV series.


Special Features:
Cast & Guest Star interviews.
Personal mini-docs with Gary Shandling and some of his guests.
Feature-length doc “The Making of the Larry Sanders Show”.
Deleted scenes.
Audio Commentaries.

Features: Gary Shandling, Rip Torn, Jeffrey Tambor, Alec Baldwin, Sharon Stone, David Duchovny, Jerry Seinfeld, Elvis Costello, Sarah Silverman, Janeane Garofalo, Ellen Degeneres, Carol Burnett, and many others.

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