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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Various
Cast:
Garry Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor, Rip Torn, Wallace Langham, Penny Johnson, Janeane Garofalo, Scott Thompson
Writing Credits:
Various

Synopsis:
The Larry Sanders Show debuted on HBO August 1, 1992, and was ahead of its time, becoming an immediate critical and audience hit for its satirical, tongue-in-check look at Hollywood. The series that combined documentary-like camerawork with a clever blend of fact and fiction set the standard of quality for HBO and influenced the development of shows like Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office. Over the course of its six-year (1992-1998), 89-episode run, the series was nominated for 56 Emmy Awards (winning three: Outstanding Writing for Garry Shandling & Peter Tolan, Outstanding Directing for Todd Holland, and Outstanding Supporting Actor for Rip Torn). The show also won three Golden Globe nominations, two Peabody Awards, two TV Critics Awards and five CableACE Awards for Best Comedy Series. Unfortunately, the series never won an Oscar, a Tony or the Nobel Prize for Literature because the nominating committees received their DVD screeners late.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 577 min.
Price: $49.95
Release Date: 4/17/2007

Bonus:
• Four Audio Commentaries
• Deleted Scenes for Nine Episodes
• Nine Interview Segments
• Nine “A Visit With…” Segments
• “The Making of The Larry Sanders Show” Documentary
• Emmy Print Campaign
• “The Writers Process” Featurette
• “Rip and Jeffrey Visit with Garry in His Living Room” Featurette
• “The Journey Continues” Featurette


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


The Larry Sanders Show: Not Just The Best Of The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 26, 2007)

Back when HBO series The Larry Sanders Show debuted in 1992, high-quality cable programming was an extreme exception, not the rule. Much has changed over the last 15 years, but Sanders remains an important and influential piece of programming. Certainly, shows like Entourage and Extras owe a debt to Sanders, and it also helped establish premium cable as something other than a wasteland for never-ending reruns of bad movies.

A four-DVD package called Not Just the Best of The Larry Sanders Show offers a compilation view of the series. We find 23 of the 89 episodes that ran through 1998. I’ll discuss each one in the order presented in the set. The quick synopses come from the release’s insert.

DVD ONE:

What Have You Done For Me Lately? (Season 1): “To appease his show’s sponsors, Larry (Shandling) is forced to do a live commercial for the Garden Weasel.”

“Done” introduces us to the series as it sets up talk show host Larry – kind of a mix of Letterman and Carson - and the universe of his program. We get a good feel for the series’ premise and how it’ll work in this episode, and it also offers some nice off-kilter laughs. The emphasis on behind the scenes elements makes it more intriguing, and “Done” gets things off to a good start.

The Spiders Episode (S1): “Not to be upstaged by his guest Carol Burnett, Larry agrees to perform a stunt with two large tarantulas.”

Most of the episode’s humor comes from Larry’s basic fear of the spiders. We find plenty of laughs connected to that thread, and the presence of Burnett in a terrible sketch also entertains. Even Rip Torn’s reference to “rolliecoasters” amuses. Despite – or perhaps because of – the show’s simple focus, it works very well.

The Hey Now Episode (S1): “Larry becomes resentful when he learns commercial work is making Hank (Jeffrey Tambor) a fortune.”

While not quite as good as the prior pair of episodes, “Now” works due to the dynamic between Shandling and Tambor. It’s good to get a little more of a spotlight on the ever-amusing Hank, and their conflicts create comedic sparks. The show seems a bit short -–it kind of ends without much hoopla – but it still works.

The List (S2): “Larry becomes jealous when he discovers his ex-wife (Kathryn Harrold) has been sleeping with Alec Baldwin.”

One problem with compilation packages like this: abrupt changes in character issues. All of a sudden Larry has an ex-wife, though he was married without obvious problems during the DVD’s three Season One episodes. Nonetheless, the show’s very funny, especially given Baldwin’s terrific comedic timing.

In addition, I love the fact that Hank wants to open a revolving restaurant – at ground level. We also find another glimpse of Artie’s use of “rollie” for “roller” when he refers to a “rollie-disco party”; damn, if that doesn’t make me laugh! This is a terrific episode that rebounds well after the less stellar “Hey Now”.

The Hankerciser 200 (S2): “Hank’s endorsement of an exercise device creates trouble. Arthur (Rip Torn) conducts a behind-the-scenes tour of the show for his television class.”

Hank offers an awfully entertaining character, and his constant pursuit of easy bucks creates good moments. The problems with the absurd contraption that is the Hankerciser – and Hank’s reactions to these issues – make this into a fine show. Throw in disruptions from Artie’s nosy class to add even more life to the package.

Life Behind Larry (S2): “As executive producer of the new show that will follow his, Larry chooses Bobcat Goldthwait as its host.”

Some of the most interesting moments during Sanders come from our glimpses of TV network politics. Those elements offer a strength for “Life”, as it shows the complications involved in the selection of a host for the new series. In the B-story slot, Hank’s relentless quest to find the culprit who ruined his newsletter provides effective laughs.

The Mr. Sharon Stone Show (S3): “Larry becomes the talk of the town when he wrangles a dinner date with Sharon Stone.”

Another jump in continuity: when Larry discusses having been off the air for a while, as well as the end of his relationship with his ex. At least we get a quick piece of exposition that updates us on these issues, so the shift doesn’t become too abrupt. The rest of the show gives us an entertaining look at what it’s like for Larry to date a bigger star. “Stone” milks the subject well.

DVD TWO:

Hank’s Night in the Sun (S3): “When Larry is poisoned by bad frozen yogurt, an ego-crazed Hank takes over the show.”

One of my favorite SCTV episodes depicts the disaster that occurs when longtime second banana William B. Williams (John Candy) gets his own show. “Sun” takes the opposite direction, as Hank actually does well for himself – and promptly turns into a monster. Hank’s journey offers many great laughs along with interesting character moments. Tambor does so well in the role, as he plays Hank’s quivering fear and overwhelming egotism with equal aplomb.

Office Romance (S3): “Darlene’s (Linda Doucett) dates with Larry and Phil (Wallace Langham) wreak havoc upon the staff.”

With a babe like Darlene on the show, it seemed inevitable that she’d create some sexual tension among the staff. The episode follows the problems in a believable manner and delivers the requisite humor. It’s nice to see secondary characters like Darlene and Phil get some good screen time as well.

Hank’s Divorce (S3): “When his wife (Leah Lail) informs him that their marriage is over, Hank concludes she’s been sleeping with Larry.”

What makes Hank such a great character? Is it his general stupidity, his radical mood swings, or his natural lack of talent? Perhaps it’s all three – I don’t know, but he remains an awfully fun TV personality. The episode mines all of Hank’s foibles for another memorable program.

Hank’s Sex Tape (S4): “A videotape of Hank’s sexual escapades with two prostitutes makes its way through the show business underground.”

Though it meet seem like a gamble to run two Hank-centered shows back to back, “Tape” is too good for this to become a problem. It’s awfully fun to see Hank snap at Henry Winkler, and the snippets from the tape itself are amusing. It fizzles somewhat as it nears the end, but it’s still pretty good overall.

I Was a Teenage Lesbian (S4): “Ten years after they had a brief affair, Paula (Janeane Garofalo) and Brett Butler are reunited during a pre-show interview.”

Both of this episode’s threads walk a line that veers on bad taste. In addition to the lesbian story, we see how Hank pursues new representation when his ancient, longtime agent Sid looks close to death. That’s the more interesting of the two, as Hank’s fake grief competes with his greed. The part with Butler and Paula works less well, as it seems somewhat predictable and lacks great punch.

Larry’s New Love (S5): “Larry’s new girlfriend Alex (Melinda McGraw) uses their relationship to further her own career.”

“Love” takes a more dramatic path than normal, as Alex’s career machinations get under Larry’s skin and cause friction. It doesn’t work, mostly because it doesn’t fit with the established tone of the series. At least during the prior episodes in this set, Sanders never played any of its themes for anything but laughs, so this more serious turn feels out of place. I suppose I should admire the series for an attempt at something different, but the result isn’t very interesting.

Everybody Loves Larry (S5): “While trying to sabotage Jon Stewart’s chances of becoming his replacement, Larry also contends with what he perceives to be David Duchovny’s romantic advances.”

The laughs return during “Loves”. We find a hilarious cameo from Elvis Costello, great antics around Stewart’s presence, and Duchovny’s willingness to cast himself as Larry’s semi-gay suitor adds fine humor to the episode. Add to that Hank’s frustrations with his faulty used car and “Loves” succeeds.

My Name Is Asher Kingsley (S5): “Smitten with his new rabbi (Amy Aquino), Hank insists on wearing the yarmulke she gave him on-camera.”

Am I the only one who thinks Hank’s conversion feels a lot like the episode from Seinfeld’s fifth season when George became Latvian Orthodox to woo a woman? “Asher” doesn’t rip off that program, but it seems a little close for comfort. Nonetheless, the situations – especially given the sight of the terminally superficial Hank as he attempts to believe something sincerely – offer decent but not terrific amusement. I do really like the bizarre cameo from Tom Poston, though.

DVD THREE:

Ellen, Or Isn’t She? (S5): “When Larry tries to pressure Ellen DeGeneres into coming out on his show, they end up sleeping together.”

Since I work for a public school system, there’s no mystery among us about who makes how much money. That means I don’t have to suffer through all the office gossip that enlivens this episode’s B-story. As for the main plot thread, it works pretty well though it seems dated. It’s tied to Ellen’s big coming out in 1997, so 10 years later, it’s not exactly news. At least it’s funny, and it’s a clever twist on the issue.

Pilots and Pens Lost (S6): “Phil quits the show to write his own network series, only to discover his pilot is being reworked to suit Dave Chappelle.”

Though I like the emphasis on Phil, and it’s fun to see Chappelle along for the ride, the pilot thread tends to be a little too predictable. The subject of studios changing series ideas beyond recognition doesn’t seem all that creative, though the episode does manage to entertain. The “pens” part of the title relates to a device Artie misplaces; it’s the more interesting side of the show.

Another List (S6): “Ignoring the network’s ideas on how to improve his ratings, Larry devotes his time to getting a date with Winona Ryder instead.”

Once again, the B-story best occupies our attention. When Hank tries to claim “HEYNOW” on his license plate, he discovers a look-alike already has them. He encounters the man and needs to bribe him to get the plates for himself. It’s hilarious to see.

The main story loses a few points just because of the lack of context. We’re dropped into the series’ decline without a lot of preparation. Nonetheless, it’s amusing to watch Larry’s disinterest in his show and how this affects his performance.

The Beginning of the End (S6): “Realizing his hosting days are numbered, Larry announces he’s leaving the show.”

“End” definitely takes a darker tone than usual. It deals with the dog eat dog world of TV and doesn’t wildly embrace the laughs. That said, it provides reasonable amusement among the more dramatic elements and balances out well.

Adolf Hankler (S6): “With Larry going on vacation, guest host Jon Stewart alienates the staff by insisting on doing an Adolf Hitler sketch.”

Hank gets some of the best moments here as he desperately brown-noses Stewart in a desperate attempt to keep his job – and when he tries to act cool in front of the Wu Tang Clan. Those offer the best parts of “Hankler”, though Stewart’s attempts to make the show hipper also amuse, and it’s fun to meet Larry’s scheming brother Stan (Wayne Federman). Any program in which a host insists on a Hitler sketch has to merit our attention.

The Interview (S6): “Caught crying during an interview with Extra!, Larry tries to get the embarrassing moments edited out.”

“Interview” starts well, as we see sparring between Hank and guest Vince Vaughn, and that thread continues when Hank thinks the actor caused a dent in his car. I really like that side of things, especially when it mutates into other areas. Larry’s weeping isn’t quite as good, though, as it presents a predictable moment.

Putting the “Gay” Back in Litigation (S6): “Unable to put up with Phil’s gay jokes any longer, Brian (Scott Thompson) sues the show for sexual harassment.”

Perhaps more interesting than the sexual harassment thread is the revelation that Larry can’t stand to date bad guests. Here he woos Illeana Douglas but her overly chatty talk show presence causes problems in their relationship. The rest is good as well, especially as Brian tries his best to poof it up and provoke Phil.

DVD FOUR:

Flip – Parts I and II (S6): “With his final show as a talk show host about to begin, Larry takes the stage for the last time. In Part II, Larry’s final show nearly falls apart as his on-air guests either ignore, leave or embarrass him.”

For its grand finale, the series pulls out all the stops with big guest stars galore. While most shows would take the schmaltzy, sentimental path for a series conclusion, “Flip” instead goes the opposite way to mock those tendencies – and sabotage the big ending as much as possible. All the cameos really do benefit the program, and it finishes the series on a fine, funny note.


The DVD Grades: Picture D+/ Audio C/ Bonus B+

Not Just the Best of The Larry Sanders Show appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A mix of mediocre and bad, the shows usually looked problematic.

Sanders split its time between videotaped material from the eponymous talk show and the filmed elements from “behind the scenes”. The latter filled the majority of the series, and that often made the results quite ugly, as the filmed scenes tended to present really flawed visuals. Sharpness looked iffy at best. Most of the show presented edge enhancement, and that contributed to the soft, blurry look.

I thought the picture gave us a blocky, gauzy impression. I noticed shimmering and jagged edges as well, along with some source flaws like specks, hairs and marks. These scenes often appeared very grainy. Colors were murky while blacks looked inky and messy. Shadows came across as dense and thick. Matters improved to a moderate degree during the last couple of seasons, but they remained less than stellar.

The videotaped talk show bits had their own problems, though they looked stronger. Colors showed the biggest improvements, as they were still a bit messy but they came across as brighter and more vivid. They varied between decent definition and softness, with the latter more dominant. Blacks were somewhat muddy, and shadows a little thick, though those weren’t much of an issue on the brightly-lit set. Overall, the visuals tended to be problematic.

The Jekyll and Hyde nature of Sanders affected the Dolby Surround 2.0 audio of the series as well, though not as severely. Once again, the “behind the scenes” parts of the series worked the worst. These were often essentially monaural in terms of their soundfield. General ambience fleshed out the spectrum to a moderate degree but didn’t add much to the proceedings most of the time. Only a few sequences used the sides or rears to passable effect.

At least the talk show portions offered more activity, though still in a restricted manner. Music and audience elements created the most compelling aspects of the tracks. These opened up matters to a reasonable degree and brought some dimensionality to the proceedings.

Audio quality remained acceptable and not much better. Music only appeared during the talk show scenes, and those elements seemed reasonably dynamic and concise. They didn’t really impress, but they didn’t disappoint either. Speech could be a little edgy and dull, but the lines were intelligible and not terribly problematic. Effects played a background role, where they sounded clear and accurate within their scope. The audio of Sanders was average as a whole.

Quite a few extras pop up through this four-DVD set. Across the discs, we find four separate audio commentaries. These come with the following episodes:

What Have You Done For Me Lately? - Series creator/actor Garry Shandling and writer Peter Tolan. They tell us about story ideas and characters, sets and decoration, cast and characters, and a few production basics. Though I’d like more about the show’s origins, this track covers the episode fairly well. We get some nice notes and reflections on the series’ challenges.

Hank’s Night in the Sun - Shandling and director Todd Holland. They examine technical elements of the show, as we learn about camerawork, sets, logistics and budgetary concerns. We also get a few cast and story notes, with an emphasis on how the show changes when Shandling doesn’t appear much. Holland dominates this piece and provides a strong look at the technical side of things.

Putting the “Gay” Back in Litigation - Shandling and director Judd Apatow. Much of the chat looks at the challenges Apatow faced in his directorial debut. We get a few more general series and episode notes as well, and the track takes on a more jokey tone than usual. It’s not the most informative of the commentaries, but it’s the funniest and most entertaining.

Flip – Parts I and II - Shandling and Tolan. Since so much of “Flip” takes place on the talk show set, those elements dominate this chat. We hear a lot about the Johnny Carson influence and other decisions related to the end of the series. This means plenty of good notes about the guest stars and other aspects connected to the final episode in this solid discussion.

Deleted Scenes come along with nine episodes. We find them for “The Mr. Sharon Stone Show” (three scenes, 4:23), “The Hey Now Episode” (one scene, 1:38), “Hank’s Night in the Sun” (one scene, 2:26), “Hank’s Divorce” (two scenes, 5:14), “Larry’s New Love” (one scene, 0:56), “Ellen, Or Isn’t She” (three scenes, 14:51), “The Beginning of the End” (one scene, 1:19), “Putting the ‘Gay’ Back in Litigation” (two scenes, 7:16), and “Flip” (three scenes, 15:50).

Quite a lot of good material crops up here. We get the clips in raw form, so expect a little taste of what happens before and after the actual segments. Many of the scenes are entertaining, and some are truly great. The extended Jim Carrey sequence during “Flip” is absolutely wonderful. On the other hand, a long cut piece with David Duchovny from the same episode is a near-complete dud. Overall, though, there’s quite a lot of fine stuff to be found in this entertaining little package.

A few Interviews with various participants can be found across the discs. We get these with Jeremy Piven (Disc One, 6:00), Penny Johnson (Disc One, 10:02), Linda Doucett (Disc Two, 11:26), Janeane Garofalo (Disc Two, 7:30), Sarah Silverman (Disc Two, 9:01), Wallace Langham (Disc Three, 6:29), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Disc Three, 7:42), Scott Thompson (Disc Three, 8:51), and Bob Odenkirk (Disc Four, 4:52). In general, the subjects chat about character and performance choices as well as some episode specifics.

Across the board, these offer nice insights into the supporting actors and their roles. We get good thoughts about the series and their work along with career subjects like why Piven left Sanders. Doucett’s segment is particularly interesting given her former romantic relationship with Shandling, but all of the others offer good content as well. I’m not sure why Thompson does his segment from a bubble bath, but I still find a lot to enjoy here.

In an unusual vein, we discover looks at participants under the banner of Personal Visit With…. We encounter Shandling with Alec Baldwin (Disc One, 18:52), Sharon Stone (Disc One, 22:27), Linda Doucett (Disc Two, 11:26), David Duchovny (Disc Two, 9:54), Ellen DeGeneres (Disc Three, 4:38), Jon Stewart (Disc Three, 10:13), Jerry Seinfeld (Disc Four, 23:41), Carol Burnett (Disc Four, 15:39), and Tom Petty (Disc Four, 20:45). For these, Shandling visits the participants and often engages in a variety of activities. He boxes with Baldwin and takes breakfast with Stone. Shandling chats with DeGeneres on the set of her talk show, yaks on the phone with Stewart, and consults Doucett during the filming of another DVD extra. He plays basketball with Duchovny, walks around New York with Seinfeld, pals around at Petty’s house, and drops in on a photo shoot with Burnett.

These segments vary from light and funny to odd and confrontational. The Baldwin sequence is probably the most antagonistic and strangest of the bunch, as Alec seems to get more and more agitated as it goes. The portions with Stone and Doucett take on a more bittersweet feel, mainly because both actresses experienced romantic relationships with Shandling. These can be awkward and uncomfortable for the viewers given their personal nature.

The others tend to be looser and more entertaining. The DeGeneres segment acts mostly to set up a gag at the end, and Shandling essentially just discusses Burnett’s appearances with her; there’s not the same personal connection seen elsewhere. Stewart’s chat also focuses on jokes, while the pieces with Duchovny, Seinfeld and Petty mix fun and personal interactions. While rather unusual, the “Personal Visits” are a cool, quirky little extra.

On Disc Three, we get an Emmy Print Campaign. These stills cover 15 screens and shows ads created in attempts to garner awards for the series. They’re often quite creative, which makes them interesting to see.

Disc Four packs a few other components. The main component comes from a “feature-length documentary” called The Making of The Larry Sanders Show. Hosted by Greg Kinnear, this one-hour, 10-minute 53-second program mixes show clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from Shandling, Garofalo, Rajskub, Stewart, Thompson, Tolan, Johnson, Silverman, Langham, Holland, Apatow, Piven, Odenkirk, Burnett, Seinfeld, Tonight Show with Johnny Carson executive producer Peter Lassally, HBO chairman (1984-1995) Michael Fuchs, HBO chairman/CEO Chris Albrecht, Time Warner president/CEO Jeffrey Bewkes, director of photography Peter Smokler, writer/co-executive producer Maya Forbes, acting coach Roy London (in 1993), TV critic Ray Richmond, and actors Rip Torn, Jeffrey Tambor, and Gavin de Becker.

We start with a look at Shandling’s career and how this led him toward Sanders. From there we get into the series’ development, casting, characters, and performances. Next we learn about directors and technical elements, writing the shows and Shandling’s development as an actor, guest performers, and the effects of pressure on the series. We finish with the show’s end, the final episode, and retrospective thoughts on Sanders.

Uncommonly rich and informative, “Making” provides an excellent view of Sanders. It doesn’t give us a blow-by-blow account of the series’ run, but it doesn’t need that. Instead, the piece delves into the heart of Sanders as it presents an introspective examination of the series. Expect plenty of great archival footage as well; we see fascinating elements like seminal Shandling standup bits and some series auditions. It’s a fine documentary.

By the way, stick through the ending to find a funny coda with Bruno Kirby, as Shandling bumps him from the DVD. It acts as a nice tribute to Kirby himself, as the actor died only a few weeks after this shoot; it stands as his last performance, and it’s an amusing final turn for him.

More info from Shandling and Apatow comes up in The Writers Process. This eight-minute and 23-second featurette shows a chat between the pair as they discuss one particular disagreement about a gag from a Sanders episode. Intended to demonstrate how the writers interacted as they developed the programs, it works in that regard but also looks like a couple of guys who can’t let go of a particular bone. That antagonism makes it feel real – and entertaining.

Rip and Jeffrey Visit with Garry in His Living Room lasts 11 minutes, 30 seconds. Similar to Shandling’s “Personal Visits”, this one plops Shandling, Torn and Tambor together to reflect about the series. Given the prominence of the three participants, the content of “Room” doesn’t live up to its billing. It gives us a mix of reasonably interesting notes, but it comes out as a somewhat disappointing chat.

Finally, we find a short clip called The Journey Continues. In this two-minute and nine-second snippet, Shandling learns a little about Buddhist symbols. I’m not sure what point it serves on the DVD.

I never saw The Larry Sanders Show during its run on HBO, and I now regret that. Experienced in this compilation called Not Just the Best of the Larry Sanders Show, I missed an excellent series. The DVDs offer problematic picture and mediocre sound, but it’s clear that they represent the source material accurately. The set comes with a very nice collection of extras. I had a lot of fun with this package and definitely recommend it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4 Stars Number of Votes: 10
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main