By Edward Copeland
The 17 episodes of the second season of "It's Garry Shandling's Show." began on Oct. 25, 1987 and ran through March 18, 1988 on Showtime. As it turns out, 1988 proved to be a big year for the show. In March, Fox began airing reruns of the show from the beginning, eventually catching up with Showtime's schedule. More importantly, not just for this show but for all of cable, the TV Academy finally decided to allow cable programs to compete for Emmys and "It's Garry Shandling's Show." earned four of the first nominations ever given to a cable series. I'll mention them as the episodes involved come along. It would be the only nominations the show ever received. They didn't get any for the third season, which I'll also cover here, or the disastrous fourth, which is part of the final post. If you missed reading about season one, click here.
The second season premieres with "Who's Poppa?" and finds Jackie Schumaker with child — but Pete, computing her menstrual cycle and the days they had sex, suspects he might not be the father. The conception coincides with the time Jackie went to her high school reunion and Pete suspects an old flame. Garry tells Nancy about Pete's fears and she also remembers that the reunion coincided with Jackie's fertile period, making Garry ask if he's the only person unaware of Jackie's cycle. He decides to fly to Chicago to confront Jackie's high school friend and we learn that Garry has his own plane — complete with stewardess. The show also launches the Name the Schumaker Baby Contest.
The second episode belongs in the pantheon of the top two or three episodes ever of "It's Garry Shandling's Show." This episode received two of those four Emmy nominations: outstanding writing in a comedy series for Shandling and Alan Zweibel and outstanding direction in a comedy series for Alan Rafkin. As with the opening monologues of many episodes, Garry tells the audience what the night's show is going to be about, though it seldom turns out that way. In "No Baby, No Show," this has created quite a dilemma for Garry as he has invited Pete and Jackie Schumaker over so she can have the baby during the broadcast but so far there have been no signs of labor and the three just sit around waiting. Eventually, Leonard drops by and joins the waiting party. Garry begins to express his frustration with the Schumakers for not delivering on time and ruining his show when there is a knock on the door. We meet another resident of Happy Pilgrim Estates we weren't aware lived there — rock star Tom Petty (who for some reason happens to be carrying his guitar). Petty wanted to return Garry's hedge clippers to him. Anxious for anything to fill air time, Garry talks Petty into performing a song for them, which he does, selecting what really would be the only appropriate choice: "The Waiting." Now, don't stop to question why there's a standup microphone at the ready near Garry's bumper pool table or why they were prepared with special lighting for Petty — just go with the flow. When Petty finishes, he takes his place on the couch, with everyone sliding one spot to the right, and Garry places a table in front of his chair and brings out a copy of Petty's latest album to promote. Yes, the living room has been transformed into a talk show. On the commentary track for this episode, Shandling said he got this idea after hosting The Tonight Show for a week. This episode particularly cracks me up because in my high school years, some of my friends and I would occasionally sit on various porches that had chairs and pretend that we were doing talk shows — and that was before this episode and long before Kramer re-created The Merv Griffin Show set in his apartment on Seinfeld. On a brief sidenote, on the DVD, Shandling also mentions that after the show got to be so overwhelming, he decided he had to give up his gig as one of the permanent guest hosts on The Tonight Show. When he called Johnny Carson and told him that he had to quit for the other show, at first Carson feared Shandling was pulling a Joan Rivers and starting his own talk show against him until he explained that it was the sitcom and it wouldn't air opposite The Tonight Show. Back to the "No Baby, No Show" episode: Nancy comes rushing in because she mistook some of Tom Petty's singing as Jackie going into labor. She takes the first seat on the couch and everyone slides down again, which keeps getting funnier since they have to keep lifting the very pregnant Jackie to accomplish this. After briefly asking Nancy what's she's been up to, a strangely clothed Grant wanders in. It seems he's debuting that night as Tevye in his school's production of Fiddler on the Roof. Grant takes the guest No. 1 spot and discusses the musical with Garry, who tries to name Tevye's daughters only to be corrected by Tom Petty who names the five. "Tzeitel, Hotel, Chava, Shprintze and Bielke," the rocker lists. Grant then performs a brief excerpt of "If I Were a Rich Man" before leaving to head to the school. Periodically, Garry glances over his left shoulder and makes references to "Doc," as if Carson's bandleader Doc Severinsen is off camera somewhere. So far, though the living room and episode have been transformed into a talk show, all the guests have logical reasons to be there, even Petty, since they say he lives in Happy Pilgrim Estates, but all pretense disappears with the next guest who walks in the door to take her place on the couch — Susan Anton. Anton doesn't get to say much because Jackie finally goes into labor. As Jackie is moved to the floor, surrounded by everyone in the living room to help her, Garry calls for Doc to help as well and, sure enough, Severinsen crosses the living room carrying his trumpet. After some pushing on Jackie's part, the camera assumes the baby's point-of-view and the first face Baby Boy Schumaker sees (remember, there's a contest to give the baby a name, so he won't have one for most of the season) is Doc Severinsen. It's one of the very best episodes, and it shows, as Shandling attests to on the DVD, how funny Tom Petty can be, as he will make more appearances before the series' end, and on The Larry Sanders Show as well.
OTHER SEASON TWO HIGHLIGHTS
"The Schumakers Go to Hollywood": Another trippy scenario. Grant wins a poetry contest and the prize is a trip to Hollywood, so he and his father travel from Sherman Oaks to Hollywood and go to a taping of "It's Garry Shandling's Show." — which is of course the show on which they appear. Unfortunately, during the taping, Grant watches as Garry, in the boy's room to feed his fish, reads a poem Grant wrote to a girl he has a crush on, causing the embarrassed adolescent to run off. We also get a Florence Henderson cameo and the introduction of The Garry Shandling Dancers.
"Angelica": This two-part episode begins with Garry going on The Love Connection. Picking between the three women is pretty easy since the first two are obvious flakes, so he picks Angelica (Jennifer Tilly) and they really hit it off — so much so that Garry pulls the rope that signals a bell indicating to his friends that he may have finally found THE ONE (it also releases a Quasimodo-like hunchback). His friends and family like her and Garry asks her to move in. In part two, which earned an Emmy nomination for comedy writing for Tom Gammill, Max Pross and Sam Simon, Angelica tries to get used to life on TV. She accidentally drives Garry's car off the pier. Chuck Woolery eventually drops by to try to help them with their problems, and Angelica admits that one of hers is the audience: "They're always there." At the end of the credits, we see Grant reading Boys Life with a cover story on their breakup.
"Killer Routine": Garry considers quitting comedy when his biggest fan laughs so hard at his jokes that he drops dead in the audience. Carl Reiner tries to talk sense to him, explaining that it is "one of the grim realities of our business." "On Your Show of Shows, Sid Caesar was responsible for two or three fatalities a week," Reiner tells him.
"Mr. Sparks": One thing everyone repeated many times in interviews and commentaries in the DVD box set is that with some ideas, Alan Zweibel and Garry Shandling insisted that there needed to be a story reason to justify it — Zweibel and Shandling admit this themselves. Thus, the slim story thread of Garry's never-mentioned neighbor Mr. Sparks (the late Dick O'Neill) who gets along with everyone in Happy Pilgrim Estates except Garry. When Grant puts a hole in the wall between Garry and Mr. Sparks' condos while trying to help Garry install a stereo VCR, the neighbor comes over to complain. Later, Grant makes Garry fulfill a promise he owes him, and what Grant wants is a trip to Shandlingland. Yes, Garry has an amusement park based on his life and show. Mr. Sparks, Pete and Nancy decide to tag along. Among the attractions: a parade of the characters with huge heads, Garry's Hall of Allergies, Garry's Haunted Bedroom, a merry-go-round where you sit in what look like beauty parlor hair dryers, and a new addition that Nancy is curious about, Nancy's Dream House. Nancy thinks the attraction is ridiculous, but it makes both Garry and Mr. Sparks cry, and they resolve their differences and become friends.
"The Soccer Show": In a first, the show films outside footage as Garry coaches Grant's soccer team. Also, we learn Garry's bathroom includes a fully-stocked library with a librarian.
"Save the Planet": Garry, Nancy and Pete anticipate a visit from their old hippie professor from the '60s (Kurtwood Smith). To mark the occasion, Flo and Eddie of The Turtles perform the show's theme song. Garry gets upset when he realizes that the professor hopes to revive the spirit of the '60s in environmental issues by publishing old photos he has which include one of Garry's mom Ruth topless, sitting on Abbie Hoffman's shoulders.
"The Grant Shuffle": The winner of the Name the Schumaker Baby Contest is finally announced and despite Pete and Jackie's grumblings, they agree to call their new son Blue Suede Schumaker. Meanwhile, a jealous Grant turns to comedy for attention and actually gets to perform at the famous Mr. Peck's Comedy Club, only it turns out he's stolen his material from another comic.
"Go Go Goldblum": Garry has an invitation for dinner at the Schumakers the same night as he has an invite to a party at Jeff Goldblum's house. Nancy talks him into going to both, so he ducks out of the Schumakers when they pull out Win, Lose or Draw (his ears literally start burning, so he knows the Schumakers are talking about him) only to arrive at Goldblum's to find that they are playing the game there — with the late Bert Convy actually hosting. Since Garry had told the Schumakers where he was going and Grant had said Goldblum was one of his favorite actors, Garry and Jeff decide to surprise Grant the next day by bringing Goldblum to Grant's birthday party. Unfortunately, Goldblum's cook who was supposed to make treats for a charity event falls ill, so Jeff has to make them himself and he cancels, but Garry goes over to help speed up the process. While there, Garry accidentally traps himself and Goldblum in Jeff's walk-in freezer. The two are rescued when Goldblum's then-wife Geena Davis (though she doesn't appear) opens the freezer looking for microwave pancakes. Goldblum and Garry go to Grant's, wake him up and explain why they missed his party.
"Garry Falls Down a Hole": The title makes it pretty self explanatory as Garry spends most of the show stuck in a hole at construction site at the condos while the media watches and his mom and friends worry.
The final episode of the second season is well known as it marked Gilda Radner's return to television for the first time in several years following her diagnosis with cancer. What isn't remembered as well is that the show's title was "Mr. Smith Goes to Nam" and concerned Leonard's flashbacks to his war experiences, when he meets Gilda's nurse Blake (comic Blake Clark again), who was a member of his unit in Vietnam that got captured, and who spent nine months in a POW camp while Leonard escaped. The plot really was extraneous, though — Radner's return was the highlight. Alan Zweibel was her writing partner when both worked on Saturday Night Live, and while she was going through treatments, he and Shandling sent her tapes of the show. She said they helped her get through the treatments. When she went into remission, she decided she wanted to return to television and thought of "It's Garry Shandling's Show." As she told Zweibel, referring to the cancer, "My comedy is my only weapon against this fucker." The audience's applause at her appearance — which was a surprise since her visit wasn't announced ahead of time — really inspired her to go back to work. She developed with Zweibel and Shandling and was in talks with HBO for a series where she would be the star of a variety show, but would also show her home life. Unfortunately, the cancer returned before the show could get off the ground and she died in May 1989. Her appearance in this episode did earn her an Emmy nomination as guest actress in a comedy, the series' fourth Emmy nomination.
The third season of the show had many funny things in it but even the episode that I recalled most fondly doesn't play as well now, making it understandable why Zweibel and Shandling believed the show had fallen into a rut. However, their solution — suddenly adding a major new character in the fourth season, Garry's girlfriend-eventually-wife — actually made the situation worse. The best thing to come in the third season was the addition of Ian Buchanan as Nancy's odd Scottish boyfriend Ian, a role he was playing during the same time that he was a daytime heartthrob as Duke Lavery on the soap opera General Hospital. Buchanan would later appear on several soaps, a hysterical first season episode of Larry Sanders as a friend of Larry's filling in for Artie (Rip Torn) and trying to steal his job as producer, and play Dick Tremayne in the second season of Twin Peaks.
THIRD SEASON HIGHLIGHTS
"Goin' Places": Returning after the real-life writers' strike, it turns out Garry had to take a job at the same travel agency where Nancy works, but her job's in trouble because she's distracted by her new boyfriend Ian. "I know he looks like that guy on the soap opera, but he's not," Garry insists.
"Pete's Got a Secret": Pete has been ill-tempered with everyone of late and won't say why. Since the judge lifted the injunction, Garry places his dream hat on Pete and learns that Pete secretly wants to become a lawyer. Garry promises that Pete will be a lawyer soon because he was on The Paper Chase TV show for three years and those credits carry over.
"What's Happening to Me?": This was the episode I remembered most fondly, but it doesn't play as well now. That so many shows have done this now (and better) may be part of the problem, but this might have been the first to do it. L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley is in the audience and Garry worries that he only likes musicals, so the episode is done as a musical — a musical about Grant going through puberty. The singing plumbers still are funny though: "And there's hair where there wasn't hair before."
"Live Election Show": Funnier as an idea than in execution. For the only time, the show actually aired live with supposed special election prediction equipment and Don Cornelius of Soul Train fame as an analyst to monitor the 1988 presidential election between Bush and Dukakis. Cornelius would fill in the map however he pleased, or so it seems (Dukakis took Oklahoma and Texas?), just so Garry could insist that everyone else was wrong and that Dukakis was the next president.
"The Natural": It's a funny spoof of the movie The Natural (though it reminds me of when Paula tells Phil on Larry Sanders that he's written a sketch about The Piano way after it was relevant), only instead of baseball, Garry is a Ping-Pong phenom who must save Happy Pilgrim Estates in their match against Trugman Towers.
"Vegas": A two-part episode about everyone flying to Las Vegas where widower Leonard is going to marry a magician's assistant. I probably wouldn't include it except for the hysterical performance of Tom Petty who, when Leonard is haunted by the ghost of his late wife (Joy Behar), tells of visions he used to have in the 1960s and, best of all, tries to comfort Grant, who says his father is busy all the time working to become a lawyer. "Twelve years ago, I was an unhappy shoe salesman for Thom McAnn," Petty tells Grant. "It's not Hush Puppies, but the same principle applies. Then I decided to go to rock star school, and without the support of my family, friends and my roadies" he wouldn't have made it.
"Save Mr. Peck's": They follow a two-part episode with a THREE-PART episode which has lots of guest stars and sprinkles a few moments here and there worth mentioning. It seems that entrepreneur Alan Trugman (named after the show's costume designer) now owns the lease on the legendary comedy club and is going to tear it down. Garry spearheads a benefit to save the club. It introduces Bruno Kirby as Garry's manager Brad Brillnick (a combination of Brad Grey and Bernie Brillstein). The main goal is to reunite Mr. Peck (Danny Dayton) and Red Buttons, who had a falling out in the 1960s when Peck briefly fell under the spell of Satanists and called Buttons the antichrist. The highlights: Garry gets Buttons to the club by chloroforming him and kidnapping him with the help of Father Guido Sarducci. The best line goes to the late Steve Allen who says on stage, "Here is a little song I wrote while I was playing that last one."
"Ruth's Place": Every Tuesday, Garry's mom Ruth comes over for lunch and to watch General Hospital. As Garry is having a date with a woman named Christine (a young Marcia Cross), Ruth drops by to give a live ad for her pet shop. It inspires Leonard to do the same and he interrupts to plug Leonard Smith Cigarettes. When Garry asks his mom not to do that anymore, Ruth stops talking to him. When he turns on General Hospital one day, he sees she's invaded their set to plug her shop on their show. He rushes to the soap's set with Christine and Nancy to talk with Ruth when the soap's Dr. Tom Hardy (David Wallace) starts hitting on Christine, though she chooses Garry. As Garry, Christine, Nancy and Ruth leave, they pass Duke Lavery (played on the soap by Ian Buchanan) and Anna Devane (Finola Hughes). Garry asks Nancy if that guy was Ian, but she says it didn't look like him. In the hospital, Anna asks Duke if that man was Garry Shandling. "I would hope he looked better than that in real life," Duke replies.
"Garry Acts Like a Moron": After failing the written portion of his driving test, Garry wonders if he's getting stupider so he employs his brain X-ray to see what things look like, and discovers his brain (Stuart Pankin) is asleep on a hammock. He also meets his voicebox (Dave Coulier).
"Going, Going, Gone": Garry prepares to go whale-watching with Sheena Easton when Marshall, the kid he became a Big Brother to in the previous episode, drops by and wants to play baseball, but his mom insists he practice violin instead since he has no one to help him with the sport. Garry decides to cancel the trip with Sheena and help the boy. The entire studio audience, who had come to see the pop singer, leaves. Easton shows up and agrees to play catch with Marshall while Garry tracks down his audience who, it turns out, all live together in one apartment in riser-type seating.
"Worry Wart": The season finale has some of the oddest touches amidst a fairly normal storyline. A viewer writes in claiming to see a large growth on the back of Garry's neck that he should check out. He goes over to Nancy's to ask her to water his plants while he's in the hospital and catches her in bed with their old college friend Sal DeMarco (Sal Viscuso, Father Tim on Soap). In the hospital, his doctor looks exactly like Pete and gives him pain medication that makes him wacky — so wacky that when Ian drops by to visit and give him a good luck ring, and announces his intention to propose to Nancy, Garry blurts out what he saw. "I walked in. She was swinging him over her head like a circus act," the spaced-out Garry says. Pete drops by and, for some reason, brings Garry the gift of a lot of bananas. When he gets home, Garry resolves the situation and Ian and Nancy get engaged. Then, his doctor (who, again, looks exactly like Pete) drops by with his results. Grant shows up, but sees no resemblance. The doctor asks to use the bathroom. Then Pete arrives looking for Grant and asks to borrow the bathroom, and he and Pete have an offscreen conversation. This is followed by an endless series of people who resemble Pete showing up at the door to use the bathroom.
TO READ ABOUT SEASON FOUR AND WHO WORKED ON THE SHOW, CLICK HERE
Labels: 80s, Awards, C. Reiner, Carson, Geena Davis, Jeff Goldblum, Larry Sanders, Seinfeld, Shandling, Sid Caesar, TV Tribute