Monday, December 27, 2010
The Larry Sanders Show Season 2
By Edward Copeland
With the second season of The Larry Sanders Show, HBO knew they had something great on their hands, as did the industry. They were beginning to be able to lure even bigger names to appear on the show than they were in the first season and HBO, which routinely orders a mere 12 or 13 episodes per season for any series now, ordered an unprecedented 18 episodes. Compare that to their best comedy today, Curb Your Enthusiasm, where Larry David insists on only doing 10 shows a season to maintain quality. While some of the 18 were weaker than the others, for the most part all of them were pretty damn good. This also was the season that of the many talented behind-the-scenes talent who were already there, the show was joined by Judd Apatow.
The biggest change from season 1 was the exit of Megan Gallagher as Larry's wife Jeannie, who is offscreen, seeking a divorce, and the reappearance of Larry's ex-wife Francine (Kathryn Harrold) who Larry gets involved with once again. Also, though Janeane Garofalo gets her best episode so far as talent booker Paula, she's missing from most of the later episodes, presumably because at the time some fi;ms she was making interferred with the show's schedule.
Of course, I believe Jeffrey Tambor should have won multiple Emmys as Hank Kingsley but if any single season stands out as the one in which he most deserved the prize, this may be it with several superlative and classic Hank episodes, some involving the Hank Look-Around Cafe, others just his general neediness and power plays. Of course, the Emmy recognized this achievement by not nominating Tambor at all this season.
It's six months since the end of season one and things aren't going well for Larry personally or professionally as we see in this expanded season premiere. Jeannie has left him and returned to her parents in Chicago and efforts to save their marriage have consisted of nothing more than an endless series of phone calls where she berates Larry about everything he did wrong in the marriage. In one call, he admits that he made mistakes but he doesn't want to say what they were because he's afraid he'll mention something she hadn't thought of before.
On the work front, Larry's preoccupation with this fractured marriage has resulted in dropping ratings, further hampered by Letterman's move to CBS, affiliates dropping the show, some for Chevy Chase, and exclusion again from the Emmy nominations where he thought he had a real shot with Carson's retirement. The stress even leads to Larry having a "heart episode." His co-workers aren't much help. Hank sees it as an opportunity for the two to get closer as they did between Larry's first divorce and his marriage to Jeannie by catting around town. Artie keeps booking potential dates such as Kathy Ireland, Helen Hunt and Dana Delaney to try to get Larry back on the dating scene. "There's a very fine line between being a producer and a pimp," Larry tells Artie. "This show is the most highly advanced dating service in the world," Artie replies. Larry tells him he makes it sound like a horse race and Artie says it is in a way and that left to his own devices, Sanders seldom picks winners. "Jeannie pulled up lame and the crazy filly Francine should have been shot in the infield." Beverly tries to save him from Artie's constant actress matchups and, surprisingly, she and Larry end up in bed together.
There's the beginning of a running gag that will run throughout the show of Artie's son who always is in trouble with the law that he has to bail out of jams. Look for a small role by a pre-Sex and the City Kristin Davis as one of The Gap girls Hank drags Larry out on a double date with against his better judgment. The ending of the episode sets Artie and Hank on panic mode when Larry bumps into first wife Francine (Kathryn Harrold) at the office (she's a journalist) and they go out together again and end up in bed. Suddenly, Artie dreams that Jeannie never left.
The season's second episode, written by Maya Forbes and directed by Roy London, is the new year's first undisputed classic as it further cements the role Francine will play in the new season, deepens the laughs with a little darkness and begins the season's funniest storyline: Hank's plan to open his own restaurant, Hank's Look-Around Cafe. Hank's bit is just a minor subplot for now, but it will reap huge benefits as the season develops. One interesting note to show how long it has been since this episode aired is that it opens with a monologue joke about the "new military law" called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The ironic part isn't that we're talking about this as that regulation finally has died its deserved death but that it's a policy that would have made both Larry and Francine a lot happier as the episode develops.
During the first commercial break of that taping, Larry goes up to Artie and tells him that he did something and he wants Artie to tell him that he didn't make a mistake: He slept with Francine. At first, Artie seems open, telling him that there have been times when on a bender he's crawled back to an ex's bed. However, Artie's sympathy disappears when Larry admits it was an entire weekend and he was neither drunk nor on pills. Artie has to admit he thinks it was a mistake, because he thinks Francine is crazy: She broke his People's Choice Award. Larry says that was after she found out he cheated on her. "So you cheated. Don't take it out on your People's Choice Award," Artie roars. Whether Artie approves or not, Larry and Francine hook up again after that night's show and Francine hears on the TV Larry mention that one of the next night's guests will be Alec Baldwin. She tells him that she knows him. They both met him years ago at a fund-raiser for multiple sclerosis (Thank you for your support, guys) and that after she and Larry divorced, she dated him a few times. Larry tries to jokingly say that he's gay, but Francine says she knows better because they slept together.
At the office the next day, Darlene reads Hank a letter telling him that the business plan for his Look-Around Cafe doesn't sound feasible to his business manager and the designers can't see it opening before 1995. Hank says no. It's going to open on his birthday and they can't just push that back. Darlene says that his manager also thinks it's somewhat silly to build a revolving restaurant at street level. "The point is not the view," Kingsley tells her. "The point is that you and your food are going on an adventure." He tells Darlene to fax back to his business manager that he's a visionary and he can stick his opinion up his ass. She tries to talk him into dropping the revolving floor idea and just opening the cafe because his manager says he doesn't have the money to make it feasible. Hank insists that he has clout in L.A. and he can get investors and tells her to get Chuck Woolery on the phone. It's only the beginning of a hysterical season-long storyline for Hank.
Meanwhile, Artie comes into Larry's office and tells him that he's canceled Alec Baldwin. Larry asks him why and Artie spins some b.s. involving too many of his brothers being on other talk shows recently when Larry brings up that Baldwin dated Francine after the divorce and Artie demands to know who told him. Larry said Francine did, but is curious how Artie knew. Artie said he saw them together at a roller disco party (or, as it comes out in Artiespeak, "rolly disco"). Larry thinks it will make him look like an asshole, but Artie says no, it will make Paula look like an asshole. Larry decides to overrule Artie and be the bigger man and keep Baldwin booked, but Artie warns him that he'll come on and they'll be chatting amiably and suddenly all he'll be able to see is Alec and Francine going at it. Larry stands his ground. When Baldwin shows up (with Beverly, Paula and Darlene lurking outside his dressing room like groupies), Larry introduces himself and reminds him of their charity work and Francine. Alec seems to barely remember her, though he says he thought she was sort of flighty and he's with Kim Basinger now. Baldwin says it doesn't bother him, does it? "The phrase, 'Be my guest' comes to mind," Larry tells him, but he asks him not to bring it up on the show and Baldwin promises that he won't.
The first guest on the show is Ed Begley Jr., who agrees to stay for the whole show, and slides down a seat as Alec Baldwin arrives. Baldwin tells Larry that they have something in common, intending to bring up their charity work, but Sanders misinterprets and blurts to the world that Baldwin used to date Francine. He then calls for a quick commercial break. He hightails it to Artie and tells him that he was right, once he was out there, all he could see was Alec and Francine fucking — and Francine was on top. "That lazy bastard," Artie responds, "I'm going to get rid of him before this gets ugly." Larry stops him again and heads back where Hank is trying to talk Begley and Baldwin into investing in the cafe. When the break is over, Begley suddenly chimes in. "We have something in common too," he tells Larry. "I also used to date Francine." Larry tells Begley he's had his turn to which he responds, "I guess you could say I have."
Needless to say, this sparks a fight as Francine watches it with Larry at home, reminding him that her mother watches this while Larry is more overwhelmed that three people on the same show had all slept with her. She corrects him that she and Begley didn't have sex and then the idea comes about that each of them will make lists of all their sexual partners and deliver them the next day. When the moment comes, Larry can't bring himself to read her list and suggests ripping up both of them. Francine says she just can't believe it took him six years to find out about Alec Baldwin. When she was dating him and others, she was just trying to hurt Larry. Larry admits that he was hurt and says he guesses that makes them even, but Francine differs. She never cheated. She always was faithful to Larry, while he cannot make the same claim. They agree to take things slow to see if the reconciliation will work. While this final scene does have an inserted Hank gag and the episode ends on a punchline, it's really the less comic and more painful truth of Francine's words that give the episode its punch and makes it a standout.
Even when you get one of the weaker episodes of The Larry Sanders Show, such as "The Stalker," it still provides enough moments to make it worthwhile. It begins with Larry and Francine asleep in bed while the TV plays that night's show. Larry wakes up long enough to turn off the set, but then hears a noise. He looks behind the curtains and out the window, so that when Francine awakes all she sees is a shadow and she screams, not realizing it is Larry. He tries to get her to quiet down because he's convinced that there's someone on the roof. The next day at the office, he asks Beverly if he's been receiving any more threatening letters than usual and she's says no more than usual, but she thought he didn't want to know. As usual, he vacillates as she tries to give him the brochure for the security outfit who set up Sylvester Stallone's place. The brochure discusses how senseless tragedies such as John Lennon and Sharon Tate could have been prevented, and Larry doesn't want to hear anymore, since they are clearly preying on people's fears.
His paranoia gets stoked even more though when one of the guests on that night's show is the winner of the Larry Sanders look-a-like contest, who admits that he even likes to stay in the same room at the same hotel that Larry does when he vacations in Hawaii. As they exit the stage at the end, Artie recommends a 12-foot electrical fence. "Gaudy? Hell. Fry the motherfuckers." What's worse, when the show is over, Artie and Larry catch the man sniffing through the suits in Larry's office closet. Artie wrestles him to the couch and frisks him and finds that he also was trying to steal a framed photo of Francine. Hank bursts in and tries to stop Artie thinking it's Larry, even though the guy doesn't look that much like him and is about half as tall. When he gets home, he tells Francine that he's convinced that the man followed him home.
The next day, he does speak to the security expert who shows him how easy it is to get a copy of the blueprints to his house. Artie assures him the hard sell is unnecessary. "I'm just trying to give Mr. Sanders the hard cold reality of the situation," the security expert tells them. "We don't usually operate that way around here," Artie tells him. Darlene offers Larry some snacks which he tastes and he asks if her mom made them but she said a fan sent them to him and Hank and he spits them out. Beverly asks if he wants to hire a food taster. Larry insists that's not necessary, just give them to the weird intern first.
The guests that night, Corbin Bernsen and Phil Hartman, ask about the increased security and Larry tells them about his obsessed fan problem. Bernsen tells them he has a few of those and what he's done is have his manager contact them and arrange to spend a few minutes with them under the agreement they leave them alone the rest of the time. He says it seems to neutralize them. Larry can't tell if he's serious, but Hartman doesn't buy it, saying he gathers a bunch of his fans together, holds a slumber party, watches all his movies and then spends the rest of the time talking about him.
Later, Francine calls that the security detail apprehended someone breaking into the house, so Larry rushes home to try the Bernsen plan, explaining that he too is a fan and if he wants to, he can call Beverly to arrange a meeting sometime. It turns out that the man is an illegal immigrant from Guatemala who has only been in the U.S. for two weeks and has been burglarizing houses in Larry's neighborhood and has no idea who he is. The next day though, he does call Beverly at work anyway and Larry tells her to get Corbin Bernsen on the phone. It has its moments, but it's one of the season's weaker offerings.
The second season received a single Emmy nomination for outstanding writing in a comedy series and it was for this one, "Larry's Agent," a very funny episode but hardly the season's best in my opinion. It also had a slew of writers with a story credit by Victor Levin and a teleplay by Garry Shandling & Paul Simms and Maya Forbes & Drake Sather. As was usually the case during the run of this brilliant series, it lost. The award went to "The Good Son" episode of Frasier, which snagged another writing nomination for "The Show Where Lilith Comes Back." It was Frasier's premiere season and it essentially cock-blocked The Larry Sanders Show in most categories for all of its run. Part of the Emmy voting bias against non-network series that really has finally only started to thaw in the last few years. The other two writing nominations went to two episodes of Seinfeld: the classics "The Mango" and "The Puffy Shirt," both of which were superior to the Frasier offerings.
I digress because "Larry's Agent" does introduce us to one of its best recurring characters, superagent Stevie Grant as wonderfully played by Bob Odenkirk. Odenkirk now has the distinction of creating one of the best recurring characters on one of the greatest comedy series of all time in The Larry Sanders Show as well as doing the same feat 11 years later in what is proving to be one of the best dramatic series of all time, Breaking Bad, where he plays sleazy lawyer/meth consigliere Saul Goodman.
The episode opens with a strange bit where director Barry Levinson is a guest on the show, but doesn't want to discuss the new movie he is making. Backstage, they encounter uberagent Stevie Grant who has just signed Levinson and is there to hold his hand. He mentions that he knows that Larry is in contract negotiations with the network, but to remember he's got them by the balls. As Grant walks off, Grant grabs his crotch and tells Larry not to let go until he gets what he wants. Artie is annoyed because Stevie never shakes hands. Levinson appears backstage and asks if they've seen Grant and Larry again asks him if Levinson will tell him now, but the director still refuses. Sanders thought it was just a bit for the audience, but now he could tell him. "Out there, back here, what's the difference?"
As they are walking down the hall, Hank grabs Artie and asks if he could borrow the stage for some time this week. Artie fears that it's for an informercial, but he reassures him it's not. He's developing a one-man show. Artie translates: He needs some quick cash because he's sunk all his money into Hank's Look-Around Cafe and he's fucked. "100 percent fucked," Hank says. Artie asks what number he's opening with and he tells him "Spinning Wheel," but with a salsa beat. Artie tells him it sounds like a showstopper, but you never open with a showstopper.
Waiting in Larry's office is his longtime agent Leo (John Pleshette) who has the latest offer from the network, which he whispers into Larry's ear and Sanders is not pleased. What about getting Letterman money? Leo reminds him that Letterman had to switch networks for that to happen, is that something he's willing to consider? Leo whispers another possibility and Larry tells Leo just to pass and go in there and fight for him. Artie interjects, "It's not Leno money, is it? I hear he's getting fucked." Francine enters and shares a reunion with Leo and the four make plans for dinner at Larry's the next night. Leo says he'll try to talk to the network tonight or in the morning and he'll get back to him. When he leaves, Larry says he's seriously considering switching to Stevie Grant.
The next day, Larry hires Stevie who gets to work and, once again, bypasses the chance to shake Artie's hand. "I learned to shake a man's hand before I knew how to wipe my own ass," Artie complains. Larry tells him that Stevie just has a different style. "That kind of style got men fragged in the Corps." When Larry tells Artie that Stevie already has succeeded in getting them Bill Murray for Friday, Artie's tune begins to change.
At the dinner that night, Larry breaks the news to Leo that he's out and tries to explain that it's just business, but the agent just leaves devastated. The next day, Larry sees Doc Severinsen who is playing on the show that night and asks how Leo is doing. Doc says he's destroyed, but he can't blame Larry. Doc only keeps him as his agent because he goes on the road with him. "He hasn't done shit for my career." Doc then runs into Hank who corrals him into watching one of his rehearsals which Tommy Newsom is conducting. Every time Hank wants to add an instrument, Newsom shows him the cost, and Hank changes his mind.
Larry encounters the network president (James Karen) in the elevator and learns that Stevie shows no fear in these negotiations and he can't believe he'd consider leaving them for New York. It's the first Larry's heard of it and he confronts Stevie about it, but Grant says it's just for leverage. Later, Stevie brings up New York again, saying King World likes New York and if the network can't deliver the numbers, screw 'em. Larry wants to know when exactly it became a "screw 'em" situation. Then Stevie asks if he's seen Hank's act and how awful it is a few moments before Kingsley approaches. Grant tells him he's a quadruple threat, "He's a singer, a dancer, a raconteur and a singer again because he's just that good." Because of Grant's b.s., Hank fires his agent. Larry tells Artie he can't deal with someone that two-faced. Artie suggests letting Stevie take his commission and going back to Leo or someone else.
Stevie arrives with the network's latest offer and Larry is prepared to cut him loose until he opens the paper and reads what's on it. He shows Stevie the door to his office and tells him it was a pleasure doing business with him. Stevie then turns and asks if they were going to the ballgame Thursday or Friday. Larry tells him Friday. Artie is confused until Larry shows him the new offer. "See you Friday, Stevie."
The brilliant season of Hank Kingsley continues in this episode written by John Riggi, who will turn up on screen in a few episodes in the role of Mike the new writer. The episode begins, as many have, with Francine and Larry lounging in bed. Larry wants to re-watch Burt Reynolds tell a Dom DeLuise story, but Francine wrestles the remote to get to a home shopping channel in hopes of snagging some earrings they are peddling, but she's too late. However, what appears next catches both of their attention: It's the familiar face of Hank Kingsley, bedecked in a sweatsuit and accompanied by Darlene, hawking a new exercise product he's pleased to put his name on, The Hankerciser 200, which is basically a system of pulleys you attach to a doorknob.
The next day at the office, Artie is leading a class of UCLA students on a tour of a typical day on the Larry Sanders Show so they can see what a TV producer actually does and "not that bullshit they teach you in college." His group is quickly shanghaied by Hank, who insists on giving all the students autographed Hankercisers. He only loses his focus when he spots Francine and tries to convince her that the product would make a great story for her. Francine is skeptical, not only because of the ethics of the situation but because it's not the type of story she usually writes. She relents though, and takes one home. When Larry arrives, he sees Francine working out strenuously on the device. She thinks it might actually work, until Larry hears a shriek and the doorknob has come off leaving her with a horrible bruise and lots of pain and a determination to write a story about the danger of the product.
As Artie and Larry show the students the next day a tape of affiliate promos that Larry and Hank made (Artie brought them back, still seeking a typical day), Hank comes into the crowded office and paces anxiously in a small space, mumbling that he needs to speak to Larry alone. Artie jokes that he shouldn't let them bother him, prompting Hank to shout, "ALONE GODDAMMIT!" Artie takes that as his cue to free the class, telling them that this is something they don't need to see since they are in their late teens. Hank tells Larry that the shopping channel is concerned because it's received inquiries about the safety of the Hankerciser and wants Larry to see if Francine can check to see if she knows who is behind it. Larry tells him that Francine is making the inquiries because she got hurt. Hank gets livid, saying he knew it and calls her a Judas before going on a rant about how the sun must always shine on the great Larry Sanders, but nothing for Hank Kingsley. Larry reminds him that the issue is that Francine got hurt and Hank spits out as he's leaving, "And now I have to pay that you're back together with that cunt." He immediately can't believe what he called her and tries to blame it on hay fever medication.
As Hank takes the long walk back to his office, he notices that Darlene is wearing a neckbrace. He asks her if she got rear-ended, but Darlene apologizes and says no, she got hurt while using the Hankerciser. Francine arrives just then and asks to see Hank in his office. She tells him about the huge size of the bruise she has on her ass and asks if he even checked on its safety. Hank falls apart, especially when Francine mentions all the money he could lose in lawsuits if someone gets seriously hurt, maimed or killed, but she reassures him that she's not going to write the article as long as he stops selling them. He thanks her and begs her not to tell Larry he caved so quickly, which of course she does. She tells Larry she thinks she's going to go back to work on another story about the possible dangers posed by cellular phones. Later, Hank comes in and tells Larry that he and Francine worked everything out, but he has a new product, but not to worry, it's proven technology — cell phones. Larry begins to tell him. Outside the office, Artie once again tells the class they are about to see a typical day on The Larry Sanders Show as Hank comes barrelling through yelling, "Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittttttttttttt!"
Todd Holland, who directed most of the series' episodes, earned its only Emmy nomination for directing this season for this very funny episode written by Peter Tolan (and I'm not just saying that because Tolan's a Facebook friend). Of course, veteran sitcom director James Burrows won for Frasier. "Life Behind Larry" was another one of those episodes that if the series had been created by Dick Wolf would include a promo touting "Ripped From The Headlines." The time slot after Larry is open and he's going to be the executive producer of a new late night talk show whose only competition at that point is some unknown named Conan O'Brien. David Letterman still has made no announcement about who will be following him on CBS.
Larry and Artie have a meeting with Melanie and another network suit named Dennis (Doug Ballard) not only to rattle off the names of potential hosts that the affiliates have approved of but also to give Larry a boost about his chances at that night's American Television Awards. The first names off the exec's lips are Bob Saget and Dave Coulier, sounding to Larry as if they are just raiding the cast of Full House and prompting him to ask if The Olsen Twins would be available. Larry has his own idea: wildman comic Bobcat Goldthwait, a name the affiliates already have turned down. Larry stands his ground and agrees to Melanie's demand that Bobcat do some kind of presentation first.
It doesn't take long for the scuttlebutt to hit the front page of Variety with a story saying that Saget is among the possibilities. More annoyingly, everyone starts haranguing Larry about how they'd be a good choice, from Kevin Nealon cornering him in the elevator and phone messages from the likes of Gilbert Gottfried and Sinbad. David Brenner sends him a basket of brownies. Deadpan comic Steven Wright shows up in person and when Larry insists that the network wants Bobcat, Wright says that Goldthwait has "a weird energy."
Artie helps Larry get dressed for the awards show as they speculate what the statue for the American Television Award looks like. Artie guesses that it's a man with his head up another man's ass. Suddenly, Hank bursts into the office in a rage. It seems that someone has toyed with his fan newsletter, replacing the end of a story in the section called "Hank's Memories" with Hank's mother repeating the phrase, "penis vagina penis vagina penis vagina." Artie finds himself more upset that Hank still is using office equipment to manufacture the newsletter, especially when Hank tells him that 4,000 have been mailed. "Four thousand on our Xerox?" Artie yells. "Paper doesn't grow on trees you know, Hank."
Richard Lewis appears on the show and during the break, Larry accuses him of trying to lobby for the talk show gig too and Lewis says he can't believe what he's been hearing is true. After all, who in their right mind would want to be a talk show host? Larry leaves the set so Lewis asks Hank how he has been and he says, "Awful. Someone has been tampering with Hank's memories."
At the awards, despite the network's boosting that they think Larry has a real shot, David Letterman wins the prize and makes a cameo, meeting with Sanders backstage. Larry tells him how much trouble he is having filling the slot after his and tries to get Letterman to tell him who he is going to pick, but Letterman won't tell him. Then, he finally relents and though Sanders isn't certain he's telling the truth, Letterman tells him he's going with Tom Snyder. (Of course, the real irony is that Snyder is the first host that Letterman picked to follow him for real on CBS.)
The next day, Bobcat gets his big tryout for the network and select affiliates and it's as big a disaster as you would suspect. He tells of plans for bean bag chairs, nights wear no one wears pants and hitting guests such as Donna Mills with Nerf bats for no good reason. Artie asks Larry if this is really what he wants, but Larry sees it as a fight between him and the network, though Artie corrects him that this isn't him versus the network, it's him versus the most powerful people in the industry: the affiliates. Three weeks of Bobcat, he tells him, and they'll both be gone and replaced with reruns of "McMillan and Wife and Hawaii Five-Zilch."
The next night, before he is to make his announcement on the air, Darlene pulls Artie aside and admits to him that she is the one who put "penis vagina" in Hank's newsletter because Hank just gets her so mad sometimes. Artie oompliments her saying he does that to everyone and there may be a place for her in this industry after all.
The taping begins and Larry ends the speculation by revealing that, yes, his choice is Tom Snyder. He's stolen him away from Letterman. Snyder says it's high time late night got back to covering things that matter. (RIP Tom, if only that were the case.) Melanie tells Artie it better work because the network spent a fortune to woo him away from CBS. At the commercial break, Artie asks Larry if he's positive that Letterman wasn't kidding when he said Snyder because when he asked Snyder if he'd had any contact with Letterman's people, he said he'd never heard from them.
With each episode of season 2 that I see again, it becomes a larger outrage that Jeffrey Tambor failed to receive an Emmy nomination, let alone the win, for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series for that year, but his always magnificent work which is on display in "Artie's Gone" is just one piece of this great episode's package. Director Todd Holland may have snagged a directing nomination for the previous episode, "Life Behind Larry," but his work proves even more impressive here with an episode that not only has the usual high standard of comedy and satire (courtesy of a brilliant Paul Simms script) but at times moves as if it's an action thriller. Finally, at least for me, it's something I had long waited for: Janeane Garofalo's breakout episode as the focus is squarely on Paula who is forced to produce the show for Artie who is stuck in a traffic jam caused by rains that have pushed a house into the middle of the highway in Malibu. With Tambor as her main sparring partner, Garofalo is more than up to the task.
Paula arrives at the office soaking wet complaining about how L.A. stops when it rains and receives the news from Beverly that Ted Danson has bailed as lead guest, citing illness. Then, she gets the call from Artie from his car with his very specific instructions about what to do since he's running late. No. 1 priority: Don't let Larry know Artie isn't there. If he asks, tell him he's in editing. When he learns of the Danson news, he tells her of specially marked names in his Rolodex to start calling as possible replacements. He also warns her that Bruno Kirby is booked for the following night and they must not let Darlene know or she'll be a wreck. Paula reasonably asks if they didn't break up two years ago but Artie tells her that two years amounts to two days in Darlene time.
Hank ominously enters the writer's room to tell Phil and Jerry that Artie is gone for the night and they've lost Ted Danson, but he's going to get Ray Combs on the phone and he has his card tricks ready when Paula enters and tells him that Artie has placed her in charge until he can get there. Hank cooly laughs at the "gallows humor" but Jerry confirms that it's true. Hank can't believe that the show's fate has been placed in the hands of a 28-year-old, but Paula corrects him that she's 26.
Then the calamities start occurring. Sid, the cue-card guy, calls in sick, but Paula keeps missing the point of his name because the compressor in the studio's air conditioner has gone out and the repairman won't accept anyone's signature but Artie's to sign for a new one. Artie checks in by phone and says he doesn't know if he'll make it at all, but Paula is getting frazzled by this time and says she's not sure she can do it. He reassures her, reminding her to make sure Larry gets makeup on both of his hands and that she always stand at the monitor with a glass of wine. When she tells him she's not much of a drinker, Artie tells her she doesn't have to, it's to put the audience at ease. She tells him that the way she looks right now, seeing her with a bottle of wine isn't going to reassure anyone. He also reminds her to keep the weird intern away from the guests.
In the hallway, she greets Steven Wright and thanks him for filling in on such short notice. He asks her if he's first guest when Bruno Kirby pops out of another room and says that Hank told him that he was going on first. Paula tells Bruno he was supposed to be on the next night and then asks to talk to Hank in his dressing room. Wright and Kirby discuss what a messed-up show it is. "This would never happen on Letterman," Wright says. "It's amateur night in Dixie," Kirby adds. The late Kirby would go on to become one of the series' best recurring guest stars, especially in the running gag as the guest who always gets bumped.
Paula starts laying into Hank and tells him he has to go tell Bruno he made a mistake and send him home. Hank tells her not to take that tone with him and, "If I were you, I'd be more concerned that it's 105 degrees in the studio. Then again, maybe it's just a dry heat and I'm an old fuck." It's one of Hank's straight-out meanest moments ever because he thinks he's facing off against someone who actually is weaker than he is.
When the taping begins, Larry wants to know where Artie is, asking if he even gives a damn anymore and Paula tells him he's sick, but he's up in the booth watching and waving and saying he's doing great. Larry says he can't see him, but waves anyway as Paula drinks more and more of the wine. Bruno Kirby and Steven Wright both end up coming out at the same time. Later, Porno for Pyros plays and Larry loves them and asks who booked them. Hank grunts, "Paula." Larry commends her, even though he can't believe Artie approved. Soon, just a couple of minutes remain on the show and Paula passes the couch saying, "Steven, excellent. Bruno, the best. Hank, fuck you" before sitting down and spilling the beans to Larry that she produced the show and Artie was never there. Of course, Larry goes panic stricken. At that moment, Artie comes down the hallway asking how much time is left and how it's going and Beverly tells him it's about two minutes and Hank's about to do card tricks. He yells, "Shit" and high-tails it to the set. The sight of Artie immediately calms Larry down and when Hank pulls the card out of his shoe, Artie nods and Larry says that was his card, but once the show is over he tells him, "My card was the four of diamonds, asshole."
In one of the box set extras, when Garry Shandling and Jerry Seinfeld talk, Shandling discusses what a chore it was coming up with 18 episodes for this season and they talk about Larry David's insistence on only doing 10 episodes in each season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. These shorter seasons that cable shows produce go a long way in explaining why their product is so much consistently better than that produced by the networks, which still insist on the 22 or more a year episode run. It's at this point in the second season, where The Larry Sanders Show hits a bit of a sag, beginning with this episode written by Judd Apatow.
Ironically, the episode's theme seems to reflect this as it focuses on Larry becoming bored with his own show, feeling as if he is doing the same thing every night and he begins a flirtation with writing a screenplay and making movies. Artie and Hank want to blame Francine for Larry's ennui, but it really has nothing to do with her. As in any episode, there are scattered laughs, but for the most part, it's one of the series's most forgettable episodes.
I'm a fan of Eric Bogosian but this episode by Drake Sather pushes the show's boundaries into darkness in a way that's just more unpleasant than anything else. He plays Larry's former standup comedy partner Stan who Larry hasn't seen in 15 years who suddenly shows up and tries to insinuate himself into the show. The problem is he still suffers from the alcoholism that caused Larry to break up the act to begin with, but which Larry never confronted him about.
We do get our first mention of Hank's Look-Around Cafe in awhile and there is a silent cameo by John Riggi looking like Mike the writer a few episodes before his character actually gets introduced. Other than that, it's an almost depressing outing. At least Artie gets a good line as he trails Larry through the halls, trying to get him to try to fire Stan, even standing point outside the bathroom where he says he'll "hang here by the door like a crapper gargoyle."
With this Molly Newman-scripted episode, the slump starts to lift a little. It also crosses into real life. Hugh Hefner is a guest on the show and during a break, Hank comes on strong trying to get an invitation to party at the Playboy Mansion. Hef does his best to ignore him until Darlene brings him water and Hef catches sight of her. Hank sees it as a golden opportunity to get himself into the magazine by getting Darlene to pose as the sidekick's sidekick and thus promoting the cafe.
In real life, Linda Doucett (who was dating Shandling off screen) posed for a real pictorial around the same time, really blurring fact and fiction. The episode's other storyline about Larry's house being featured in Architectural Digest and Francine's reluctance to be in photos with him in it doesn't quite work as well. There are more than enough funny moments, mostly provided by Torn and Tambor as usual, to make it watchable, but it's still a weaker showing. Thankfully, with the next episode, the slump really seems to be at an end as it really rises toward a rousing end to the season.
It used to be written that when a cast member on The Sopranos received a new script, one of the first things they checked was whether or not their character got killed off in that episode. While no one got whacked on The Larry Sanders Show, this Maya Forbes-scripted episode reflected the reality of the workplace to explain Jeremy Piven's departure from the show: His character Jerry gets fired.
Phil and Jerry realize something is up when they see the writer Mike Patterson (John Riggi finally arrives for real) and both have options coming up soon. They ask Artie why Mike has come to the show and Artie says that Larry has wanted him for a long time, but Patterson didn't want to move to L.A. "What convinced him? The quality of our riots?" Phil asks. It's all coming as the staff plans a surprise birthday party for Larry. Larry doesn't want to make a decision and wants to throw the three writers in the tank together and see who survives.
Jerry still is convinced that Phil's head is the one on the chopping block, so he tries to 86 Mike right away, but Artie decides to end it there. He reminds Jerry that he's been consistently unprofessional, showing up late, taking naps in his office and fucking interns, one behind Larry's desk. "You have to be a genius to get away with that kind of thing," Artie tells him. He reassures him that it's a good deal. Since he's getting fired, he'll get paid for a month.
Jerry goes into denial and shows up to work anyway and then makes a drunken scene at the party. The episode boasts the perfect mixture of humor and pathos.
Having lost the regular bandleader to a Gospel tour, the show has hired a substitute bandleader, a funny British musician named Jake Woodward (Gary Kemp) who immediately brings a lively energy to the show as well as awakens Hank's natural territorialism. Jake couldn't please Larry and Artie more, who are ready to give him the permanent gig. Hank though is determined to knock heads with the Brit.
After the show, Larry, Artie and Hank all congratulate Jake on his performance, but once Larry and Artie exit, Hank pulls Jake aside and warns him, "Don't mess with me, music man." Jake pushes back and Hank starts mocking his accent.
On the homefront, Larry gets pissed off because he came home early to meet Francine and she's not there because her sister Dora (Talia Balsam) unexpectedly arrives and she has to get her at the airport. It leads to a whole subplot about whether Larry considers his life more important than hers, especially when she refuses to go to a San Francisco gig with him because she's working on a story. He asks Artie for advice. Artie admits his first wife was working 12-hour days when they first got married. Larry asks how that was resolved. "I fired her. She was my secretary."
During the audience warmup, the Hank-Jake feud gets uglier with the repartee including Hank asking Jake if those charges of sex with minors have been dropped. Afterward, Artie and Larry harangue him, asking if he's lost his mind. Hank insists that the audience knew he was joking, but Larry argues that the audience comes in on a bus and half the time they don't know when he's joking. Francine arrives with a dinner picnic to make amends, but Larry keeps getting dragged back into the Jake-Hank conflict. Jake finally quits. When Larry finally makes it to his office, he finds Phil eating the dinner and learns that Francine left 20 minutes ago. He asks Phil if she seemed upset. Phil asks him what he thinks and Larry decides maybe he'll stay and finish that wine with Phil.
After George Segal makes yet another appearance, Larry calls a meeting to say that he's tired of the same old guests and urges them to seek out people others wouldn't have. The answer comes with controversial gay performance artist Tim Miller who performs his act which consists of his interpretation of his arduous path to fertilization. During the taping, despite some audience boos, Larry defends free expression, but after the show he goes to Artie scared to death that there is no way they could air him, could they? He said butt plugs three times. To their surprise, when they send the transcript to the network, Melanie says they are fine with airing it, so it is Artie and Larry who pull the plug and tell Tim it was the network's decision.
Unfortunately, the network hangs Larry out to die in print, saying it wasn't their decision prompting Miller to call Larry "the Jesse Helms of late night television." Roseanne appears on another night and berates him for cutting Miller, telling him that "If you're going to be so square, I might as well go on Leno." Ironically, Tim Miller does get to do his act on Leno along with the story of the dumping by Sanders. Larry's booker tells him she has the answer and who should return: George Segal promoting a new movie that he says has a great part in it for this comic he saw on Leno named Tim Miller and suggests Larry have him on.
This otherwise great episode starts painfully with Adam Sandler singing one of his whiny, annoying songs as a guest (Yes, Apatow was a co-writer), but then it springs the surprise with Hank's on-air proposal to a woman named Margaret. No one knows about her but when they meet Margaret (Leah Lail) she turns out to be half Hank's age, he's only known her two weeks and works for someone called The Sausage King. Larry smells golddigger.
Hank approaches Artie and Larry to ask them something but before he can say anything, Artie guesses that Hank wants to get married on the show. Hank can't believe that Artie guessed that but he reminds the sidekick that he can see into his soul. Artie is all for it. Larry isn't. Artie reminds him of Tiny Tim.
LARRY: That was a freak show.
ARTIE: But a highly rated freak show.
LARRY: If we want ratings, why not do "Who shot Hank Kingsley?"
At the bachelor party, Ed McMahon even comes by to wish Hank well, but though Larry is set to be Hank's best man, he can't hold his tongue and tells Hank his suspicions. Hank says Margaret can't be after his money because he doesn't have any; he sunk it all into the restaurant. Larry reminds him that he advised him against the cafe too. Hank returns to his refrain that only the great Larry Sanders is allowed to be happy and tells him to fuck off.
Artie finally gets them to reconcile, imparting advice he learned a long time ago: Honesty is the worst policy. The wedding goes on as planned with Alex Trebek performing the ceremony and then Margaret's father arrives and it becomes clear what attracted her to Hank: He's a dead ringer for dear old dad.
In a long season full of keepers, "Off Camera" turns out to be one of the flat-out funniest — and Larry is practically a bystander for most of the proceedings. The premise (a very loose one) has a reporter from Entertainment Weekly (played by Joshua Malina, who would return in a later season playing a network executive) spendng a day on the set of the show for a cover story for the magazine. As far as Larry can tell, everything is peachy, backstage nothing can be further from the truth.
One of the first "crises" involves an urgent appeal from Elizabeth Ashley that she must see Artie in the dressing room immediately. He complies, but that's just her cover to have her way with him despite his pleas that he's a married man. Of course, the reporter isn't too far off. Darlene brings a stray dog into the office with her — and he's a biter, with his first victim being Phil, who lets out a scream so loud even Larry hears it during taping. Meanwhile, during what is the highlight of the episode written by Peter Tolan is a standoff between the late film critic Gene Siskel and the late actor John Ritter. Both are guests on the show and they run in to each other in the hallway and Siskel tries to be friendly and introduce himself, but Ritter starts going off about how he's never that nice to him on his TV show and says he doesn't read reviews when Siskel makes a reference to Skin Deep and then Ritter quotes Siskel's words back to him verbatim. Later, as they sit tensely in the green room, waiting for their time to go on the show, Artie runs in after he's heard a ruckus with Ritter's agent (played by Tolan himself) accusing Siskel of assaulting Ritter though Ritter corrects him that he's yet another victim of Darlene's stray dog. The agent keeps attacking Siskel and Artie, who took an instant dislike to the man earlier, warns him, "If you don't shut up, I will kick you in the nuts so hard, your dentist will have to work around them at your next cleaning."
As a result, they have to reorder the guests as Ritter gets some rest and medical treatment. Phil wanders backstage emptying Artie's whiskey bottle. As Siskel finishes his segment, Hank tells him he has a bone to pick with him. He saw the film The Crying Game and Siskel said it had a big twist, but he didn't see it. Siskel explains it to him, but Hank still doesn't believe him, though he finally asks, "Was she hung?" before Larry rescues Siskel. With Ritter still convalescing, they move up musical guest Warren Zevon who gets Artie not to ask him to play "Werewolves of London" because everyone does. Artie agrees and Zevon plays another song. Unfortunately, Larry wasn't in on the conversation so when he finishes, he asks if there is time for another song and requests "Werewolves of London" which Zevon reluctantly plays while a now conscious Ritter stands behind the curtain realizing he's getting bumped. Phil appears and wants to sing with Zevon and Artie has to wrestle him to the ground. Ritter says he's never coming back and tells the reporter he's got a story if he wants to hear it.
The show ends a few weeks later with an Entertainment Weekly cover of Larry titled "Who Is Running the Show?" He asks Artie if it's all true and he sort of shrugs. It's one of the funniest episodes, though it is sort of eerie that of the four guests on Larry's show that night, Siskel, Ritter and Zevon all have left us.
It's the moment everyone has been waiting for — actually, really only Hank. Everybody else just wants the damn thing over with. The damn thing, of course, would be the grand opening of Hank's Look-Around Cafe, the world's only revolving restaurant on a ground floor. Of course, if Hank Kingsley is involved, things certainly can't be going well and they aren't in this hysterical script by Paul Simms, who would go on to create NewsRadio. He's basically bankrupted himself and one mishap after another has meant this is the umpteenth time he's announced The Grand Opening, so most people have made other plans. His new wife isn't even planning on showing up because of "a death in the family."
When the writers say they can't be there, Hank's reaction is predictably hostile, "Like I've never laughed at your lame monologue jokes EVEN WHEN I DIDN'T GET THEM." Artie also has his hands full trying to get Hank to stop mentioning the restaurant on the show which is to no avail because, to make matters worse, Larry's on vacation (the second episode in a row where Larry's a minor player) that week so Hank's also engaging in his usual territorial warfare with the guest host, or should I say guest hosts. He treats the first one, Martin Mull, so abysmally after Mull makes light of the restaurant that Mull quits and a rush is on to find a replacement. Larry happens to see neighbor Burt Reynolds in his backyard and talks him into it, but Hank thinks Reynolds is mocking him when he isn't and starts making fun of his movies. Artie succeeds in talking Reynolds back but at the precise moment he gets off the elevator, he can hear Hank having a meltdown in his office with Artie and he simply turns around and gets back on the elevator. Luckily for Artie, Jerry Seinfeld is taping next door and he talks him into doing it. Seinfeld gets off easy. As Hank is giving the audience warmup, he starts into the restaurant spiel again and Artie comes up and covers the mic and tells him to stop. Hank simply smiles and then tells the audience that he's "gonna take a long fuckin' walk" and drops the microphone. Seinfeld, behind the curtain, wonders what the hell is going on and the writer Mike (John Riggi) picks this occasion to try to pitch a Seinfeld script, but Jerry tries to emphasize it's not the best time.
The night of the big opening arrives and Larry, Francine, Darlene and Artie actually show. Unfortunately, no one has any idea where Hank is. The site of the revolving seats is a hoot since the device doesn't work well and had lots of bumps that tends to spill food and drink. Artie is so pissed off that he declares that he's going to take an ice sculpture at the restaurant and shove it up Hank's ass. Larry is more seriously concerned. When Hank gets this way, it never lasts this long, so he and Artie decide to try to find their errant sidekick. They've heard of sightings at the lot and finally get word from Jerry Seinfeld that his show's weird intern (Larry: You have one, too? How is he weird? Jerry: I don't know. He's just weird.) found someone on the set and there lay Hank unconscious on the couch on the set of Jerry's apartment. They awaken Hank and remind him of the opening and suddenly he's up and ask them what time it is. They say 8:30, so he assumes he's not that late until they open the studio door and he sees the sun. They'd been searching all night. It's morning. He missed his grand opening. He begs them to make time go back. It's another Tambor tour-de-force.
For the final episode of its sophomore season, The Larry Sanders Show ends on a cliffhanger. It begins with Larry trying to reassure the staff that the network has not been sold, even though the news has been reported on the CBS News with Dan and Connie and is expected to be in the next day's Wall Street Journal. Larry tells them that if it were happening, he would have heard and then beats a hasty retreat to his office with Artie. He asks if he thought they believed him and Artie says, "Of course not." He also advises him that when you cover your mouth when your talking, it's a tell that you're lying. He learned that from Jack Webb. Hank bursts in with his own worries: He's afraid the Hollywood Madam's black book will turn up with his name in it. He asks Larry and Artie if either of them is in there and both cover their mouths and say no.
Once the news is officially announced that a British beermaker (David Warner) is purchasing the network and he seems to have little interest in late night comedy talk shows such as everyone else has, Larry gets Stevie Grant to work and makes plans to bolt to ABC — with the proviso that he move the show to New York. The staff isn't thrilled about that idea, especially a move and a higher cost of living and, in Artie's case, a mysterious past that he says prevents him from ever setting foot in New York again. Larry doesn't know that he wants to move either and the British beermaker reminds him of the years remaining on his contract and if he tries to leave, there would be years of legal problems.
The final straw comes when Francine tells him that she thinks a move to New York would be good for Larry, but that she doesn't mean she plans to go with him. In fact, she thinks they should try some time apart. She hits him with this right before show time so as taping winds down, all the show's employees await an announcement. Will it be New York or L.A.? Instead, Larry announces that they've just witnessed the final episode of The Larry Sanders Show and he's decided to move to Montana. Everyone is shocked and begins packing or looking for lifeboats. Hank grabs him in an on-camera hug and whispers in his ear that he's a "miserable fucker."
We next see Larry outside a rural, lakeside cabin talking with a fisherman, muttering to himself about what a horrible mistake he has made and wondering what he can do to fix this.