6 December 2002 | bregund
The Larry Sanders Show is one of the greatest television shows ever. The best description that I can come up with for TLSS is that it's a free-form pre-scripted reality show. The writing sparkles, the characterizations are wonderful, and the plotlines are engaging. TV Guide recently said that Seinfeld is the greatest tv show of all time; that might be true for a network program that you can skip for a few minutes while you yell at the kids or go make a sandwich, but TLSS requires your full attention.
Garry Shandling plays Larry Sanders in this mock-talk show. Larry is the neurotic straight-man surrounded by crazy characters and situations. Famous celebrities wander the offices, waiting in the green room or shagging in the prop room. Larry takes everything in stride, shooting off an acerbic remark for everything that doesn't go his way.
TLSS is shot on video for the talk show portions, the part that is "broadcast", while the behind-the-scenes reality parts are shot on film, giving you a line of demarcation for what's "real" and what's "the show".
Three actors make up the triumvirate of drama: Garry Shandling, Rip Torn, and Jeffrey Tambor. Torn is dead-perfect as the show's producer, Artie. With his weathered face, odd expressions, blustery voice, and bulldozer personality he barges into rooms like he owns the place. Torn's performances are brilliantly conceived.
Tambor plays Hank Kingsley, the insecure sidekick to Larry Sanders. With his subtle, simmering delivery and steel-eyed glare, no one but Tambor could play Hank. From show to show, you find yourself alternately loving and hating him. On one show, he guest-hosts TLSS and believes that it is a stepping-stone to his own program. He becomes a raving egomaniac and threatens to take over the show. On a consecutive night of hosting, however, he stumbles and falls on his face.
The writing crackles like lightning. When Artie tells Larry that he needs to throw anxious network honchos "a bone", Larry retorts "why don't you fake-throw and see if their heads move?" In another scene, Hank comes up to Larry and Artie, sits down, and begins to ask a question that Artie guesses even before it's out of Hank's mouth. "I'll bet you want to have your wedding on the show." When Hank says, "My God, how could you possibly know that?", Artie retorts "You should know by now that I can see...into...your...mind." I watched that scene five times.
The only flaw in TLSS is that in every episode there is a butt joke. Sure they're funny once in a great while, but if it comes to the point where you're anxiously waiting for it so you can get it out of the way, then something is wrong. I'm surprised that the writers would insert such childish, immature jokes into an otherwise brilliantly-written program.
Despite the show's above flaw, this series is a masterwork of humor and drama, a fly-on-the-wall view of the production of a talk show. This is television at its best.