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From the DVD Shelf: The Larry Sanders Show: Season Two

August 12th, 2011

Last month I wrote about season one of Garry Shandling’s magnificent HBO series from the ’90s, The Larry Sanders Show.  Season one had been previously released on DVD, so I’d seen all of those episodes many times.  But NONE of the subsequent seasons had ever before been released on any home video format (except for a few episodes in the series-spanning best-of DVD collection from a few years ago, Not Just The Best of The Larry Sanders Show), and I didn’t start watching The Larry Sanders Show when it aired on HBO until around season four, so there were a TON of season two episodes that I’d never seen before.  So I was VERY EXCITED to finally have the chance to dive into this season!  The Larry Sanders Show is one of my favorite TV shows of all time, and suddenly having new episodes to watch that I’d never seen before was something of a small miracle for me.

Security Expert: “I’m just trying to give Mr. Sanders the cold, hard reality of the situation.”  Artie: “We don’t usually operate that way around here.”

And I was not disappointed!  Season two of The Larry Sanders Show is, I believe, the longest of the show’s six seasons.  It clocks in at seventeen episodes, and the season premiere is actually a double-length episode.  That’s an impressively-sized season for a cable show, and as with season one, there really isn’t a clunker in the bunch!  The hour-long first episode, “The Breakdown,” is a terrific way to kick off the season.  Larry’s wife is divorcing him, which sends Larry into a spiral of misery.  The only woman he finds himself able to connect with turns out being his first wife, Francine, much to Artie and Hank’s horror.  (In the next episode, “The List,” Artie remembers in shock how Francine once destroyed Larry’s People Choice award trophy.  Larry points out that this was only because she found out he’d cheated on her.  Artie’s response: “So you cheated.  Don’t take it out on your People’s Choice award!”)  That episode, “The List,” is one of my favorites of the season.  Larry and Francine decide to undertake the (foolhardy) plan of each creating a list, to share with one another, of all the people they’ve slept with since their divorce.  Needless to say, that doesn’t go well.

“The Hankerciser 200” blesses us with another great Hank Kingsley product endorsement — that of an exercise system that turns out to have the nasty habit of nearly crippling those who use it.  This is a great highlight in a season that features a year-long storyline about another crazy Hank scheme — the street-level revolving restaurant (“Hank’s Look-Around Cafe”) that he’s attempting to build.  (“The point is that you and your food are going on an adventure!”)

“Life Behind Larry” parallels CBS’ efforts to create a late-night talk show to follow David Letterman (who had recently defected from NBC).  In this episode, Larry attempts to find the perfect host for the late-night show that will follow his.  His edgy choice of Bobcat Goldthwait results in an incredibly funny sequence in which Bobcat tapes a staggeringly awful test-show for the network brass.  That would be enough gold for one episode of any other series, but this episode also contains the classic B-story in which Hank becomes enraged that someone has pranked him by inserting some foul language into his “Hank’s Memories” newsletter.  (“Someone has been tampering with Hank’s memories,” a morose Kingsley tells a bewildered Richard Lewis.)

There are a few cast changes for season two.  Megan Greenfield, who played Larry’s wife Jeannie in season one, is gone, replaced by Kathryn Harrold who plays Francine.  Janeane Garofalo gets a terrific spotlight episode (“Artie’s Gone”) about half-way through the season, but then mysteriously vanishes.  (Her absence is particularly notable in a later episode in which Larry frets about the show’s lame booking — and suddenly we see some new woman we’ve never seen before in Larry’s office, apparently as the show’s booker.)  Jeremy Piven, so great as beleaguered comedy writer Jerry, also departs the series mid-season (in the episode “Larry’s Birthday”).  That might be my least favorite episode of the season, mostly because I was so sorry to see Mr. Piven depart the show.  (Not sure if that was his choice or the producers’.)  It’s a pretty bleak installment, and I found myself wanting Larry to intervene and save Jerry’s job.

The season ends with a trio of strong episodes: In “Off-Camera,” Joshua Malina (a familiar face to fans of Aaron Sorkin’s TV shows) plays an Entertainment Weekly reporter who spends a day behind-the-scenes with the show.  In “The Grand Opening,” Hank’s restaurant finally opens.  And, in “New York or L.A.?” the network gets sold and Larry has to decide whether to jump to another network.  We end with the show’s first cliffhanger ending as Larry decides to ditch show-biz for good and move to a rural hut in Montana, only to get there and, to quote Job Bluth, realize that he’s made a terrible mistake.

Watching The Larry Sanders Show season two is to watch one of the greatest comedic TV shows of this generation firing on all cylinders.  Genius, brilliant television from start-to-finish.  I am so happy this series is finally available in its complete form!!  Bring on season three!

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