The Larry Sanders Show (****) (TV)

Posted on December 18th, 2002 in Television by EngineerBoy

Bravo has started showing The Larry Sanders Show in rerun. I used to watch it sporadically during its inital run on HBO, and really liked it, but was not a regular viewer.

Bravo shows it twice a night, and with TiVo I am now a regular viewer, and I have to say that this show is one of the best pieces of entertainment it has been my pleasure to experience. Just for kicks I checked it out at IMDB and found that The Larry Sanders Show was nominated for over 50 Emmy’s during its six year run! And most people I talk to have never even heard of it, much less seen it.

For those unfamiliar, the star of the show is Garry Shandling, and he plays a character named Larry Sanders. In the show, Larry Sanders has a talk show that competes with Leno and Letterman, complete with real guests playing themselves as if they were on a talk show. For example, on the final show of the series, the following people appeared as themselves: Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Clint Black, Tim Allen, Warren Beatty, Carol Burnett, David Duchovny, Greg Kinnear, Jon Stewart, Bruno Kirby, Sean Penn, and Tom Petty.

I’ve also seen episodes that included segments taped by Jay Leno, as if doing the Tonight Show, where he refers to ‘The Larry Sanders Show’. Also, the guest stars are not treated with kid gloves, and are not always portrayed sympathetically. Some of them even gamely play into the most unappealing aspects of their own public personas.

All of this has the effect of blurring the lines of reality. I mean, at some points in the show, you’re watching Larry doing his show (the show within the show), and then other times you are watching the backstage/offstage stuff. And sometimes you’re seeing a view from offstage of the show as it’s being taped. They even shoot the show-within-a-show on tape, and the backstage/offstage stuff on film, so the distinction is always very clear, further enhancing the effect.

But all of the guest stars and filming techniques are simply the gravy…the meat and potatoes are the excellent writing and acting by the ensemble cast. Both the show and the show-within-a-show are well-written, funny, and engaging.

One note about content…since this was originally a cable series, the characters (when offstage) use profanity and make sexual innuendos, and Bravo only bleeps (not cuts) the very worst parts (they bleep the eff word, but not the ess word, for example). If you’re offended by profanity, even in context, you may want to skip this show altogether.

That being said, I highly recommend ‘The Larry Sanders Show’. Tune in for a couple of episodes to get a feel for the characters and the situation, and I think you’ll be hooked. Seeing this show also makes me wonder why nobody is syndicating Garry Shandling’s first series, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”, which had similar reality-blurring situations (and also had one of the catchiest theme songs in television history…my wife and daughter have never seen the show, but know all the words, and we often sing it spontaneously, that’s how good it is).

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