Friday, June 08, 2012
The Larry Sanders Show Season 3 Ep. 11: Larry Loses a Friend
By Edward Copeland
This episode doesn't belong on the top shelf of episodes of The Larry Sanders Show, but even its weakest installments outshine some of the strongest episodes of what the commercial networks passed off as comedies in the two decades since Sanders debuted. We've passed the midpoint of the 17-episode order the series had for its third season, a more difficult burden than HBO demands of any of its shows now, which merely produce 10-13 installments at most a season. This outing, written by John Riggi (who also played Mike Patterson, one of Sanders staff writers who got canned earlier this season in the "Headwriter" episode), begins with Beverly (Penny Johnson) admiring a large bouquet of flowers on Darlene's desk — flowers that don't seem to please Darlene (Linda Doucett), especially because of the diamond bracelet that came with it. Beverly guesses the jewelry must be worth at least $2,000. The entire package arrived courtesy of one of the guests on Larry's show that night, Jon Lovitz. Darlene wishes Lovitz would stop. He does this every time he's on the show.
Beverly expresses shock when Darlene reveals this, inquiring if Lovitz gives her a new piece of jewelry every time. Darlene shakes her head no and explains that at first, he just sent flowers. The next time, the flowers came with a Dottie West CD. Then accompanying the bouquet were Hummel figurines. The last time he appeared on the show, Darlene received flowers and a pasta maker, Now, Lovitz has upped the ante to a diamond bracelet. As Beverly remains transfixed by the bracelet and Darlene sits looking glum, Hank steps out of his office and reminds Darlene to double-check with Artie that they're still on for the Dodger game that night — then Hank notices the flowers and asks who sent them. Before anyone answers, he reads the card aloud, "Looking forward to seeing you again. As always, Jon." the always self-centered Kingsley smiles. "You see, I think it's courageous for one man to send flowers to another man," Hank tells the women before taking the bouquet and announcing that he's going to put them in a place of prominence in his office — perhaps on the air conditioner. As Hank returns to his office, Beverly cracks up but laughs continue to evade Darlene.
DARLENE: What am I gonna do?
BEVERLY: Oh, about Jon? Well, just ask Paula to book him two more times.
DARLENE: What good will that do?
BEVERLY: None, but by then you'll have flowers and a Miata.
Jon Lovitz sits in the back of a limo in the studio's parking lot. He asks his chauffeur (Mark Roberts) if he should just go up to the show's offices, but the driver tells him that they're sending someone down to escort him up. The driver asks Lovitz how many times he's done Larry's show. "I think like, thirteen. Fourteen if you count when I got bumped for Desert Storm. Fucking Saddam Hussein," Lovitz gripes. "You must like Larry a lot. Is that why you do it so often?" the driver inquires. "Yeah. I mean I like Larry a lot, but, you know, he's got this beautiful…" Lovitz self-censors as the chauffeur turns around. Lovitz questions whether he can use the limo's phone. The driver tells Lovitz he can and asks if he'd prefer that he raise the partition. "Well, let me ask you a question. Did you see City Slickers 2?" "No," the driver admits. "Well, then put it up," Lovitz says, making the motion of the partition rising with his hands.
Beverly shows the bracelet to Paula while the two of them and Darlene hover around the kitchenette. "What's the big deal? It's a bracelet," Paula says, this time with Janeane Garofalo in her season of many hair colors sporting a reddish-brown shade. "You're just mad because all your bracelets are made out of shoe laces," Beverly responds dismissively. "I gave you one," Paula declares with a combination of hurt and anger. Beverly, realizing her etiquette faux pas, tries to repair the damage. "I know and I liked it. I'm sorry," Beverly apologizes as Paula stomps off. "I did. It was different." Beverly returns to worshipping the "gorgeous" bracelet and asks Darlene if she'd care if she wore it for the rest of the day, then gave it back. Darlene tells her to keep it and walks off. Beverly pursues, asking her why she doesn't just stop it by going out with Lovitz — he's funny and nice. Darlene informs Beverly that she refuses to date anyone in the business anymore. "No comics, no actors, no magicians," she proclaims. Hank emerges from his office again. "Darlene — Artie — ballgame," he intones. Before Darlene can answer, the phone rings and she answers, "Hank Kingsley's office. Can you hold one minute?" and then drops the receiver as if it were on fire and runs off. It does set up for our first candidate for Hank Kingsley Line of the Night, delivered by the inimitable Jeffrey Tambor. Hank picks up the phone and awkwardly says, "Hello." Of course, it's Lovitz on the other end. Hank thanks him for sending the flowers, telling Lovitz, "I'm just nutty about irises."
Another aspect of The Larry Sanders Show (aside from Tambor's brilliant creation of Hank Kingsley) is that even the weaker episodes always get juice by pairing any combination of Rip Torn's Artie with Garry Shandling's Larry or Tambor's Hank (or Hank and Larry or a rollicking triple threat of putting all three together in a scene) to spin comic gold no matter the subject matter. In this episode, the first time we see Artie and Larry, they appear in a short, but fun duet, though Torn really owns the scene, as Artie uses a distracted Larry to his advantage to get out of the ballgame with Hank. It begins with the producer and the talk show host seated across from each other in Larry's office where Arthur teases Larry about what he just pulled out of his pocket and is shaking in front of his face while humming.
LARRY: (Stopping what he's doing.) What are those?
ARTIE: These are tickets to the Dodger game tonight. (Artie stands and walks to the other side of the desk next to Larry as
he continues to talk) Hank and I have an evening out together once a year. Just the two of us. Tonight is that night.
LARRY: (continuing to look at things on his desk) Great. That'll be nice.
ARTIE: Yeah. These tickets are right behind the home plate. Nine innings of me listening to Hank whine about his marriage bullshit.
LARRY: (Looking up with a mischievous grin) Oh, you stay for the whole game, huh?
ARTIE: (Dangling the tickets in front of him, practically in Larry's face) Don't you want to go?
LARRY: Huh? Well, I don't even have tickets. I'm not going.
ARTIE: (Sarcastically faking disappointment) Oh, I hate to part with them. Hank will be so disappointed. Why don't you take Jon Lovitz? (Artie gets all those lines out so fast you barely notice he's already sprinted to the office door to escape) Took you a long time to figure out what I was getting at, didn't it? Have a big lunch, today?"
LARRY: Yeah. (Artie leaves, closing door behind him. Artie's intentions finally dawn on Larry.) Oh. He doesn't want to go with Hank.
Darlene confides to Hank about Lovitz's continued gift giving. "I have to admit I found the flowers and gifts cute at first," Kingsley says. "I'm still getting a lot of use out of that pasta machine because there's nothing better than fresh pasta, but you're right. You're right. It's obviously — it's gone too far." Hank promises Darlene he'll take Lovitz aside and talk to him. "Oh, you're so sweet," Darlene tells Hank, giving him a big hug. "I am. I am sweet," Hank concurs.
We do receive the treat of the corollary scene to Artie tricking Larry into taking his Dodger tickets. Now, he must sell the idea that it wasn't his idea to Hank. He enters the makeup room where he encounters one of that night's guests, Jarina Venvenich (Elsa Raven), "the bird lady," who carries two feathered friends on her arm that Artie greets as Scooter and Pepper. "Where's Poncho?" Artie asks. "He's no longer with us," she answers on a heavy accent. Artie inquires as to Poncho's fate, suggesting some possibilities in Jarina's native tongue. "He was eaten by our neighbor's Rottweiler," Jarina informs him before she exits. Hank sits in the makeup chair getting prepped by Bruno. He complains that no one told him that the birds would be on the show or he would have taken his allergy pills. Artie insists he told Darlene early that morning.
HANK: Oh well. I don't care if my face swells up like a pumpkin. We're not going to miss that game tonight. (Notices Artie's expression.) Oh goddammit.
ARTIE: Bad news, buddy. Larry wanted to go to the game. He heard I had tickets —
HANK: You gave him our tickets?
ARTIE: Gave him? He took them. He's the fucking boss. My hands were tied.
HANK: He's a fucking baby.
ARTIE: (coughs to indicate Bruno's presence) Well, all I'll say is he's very complicated.
HANK: One night out and Mr. Big Man thinks he can take anything —
ARTIE: I hear you, but next year is right around the corner, buddy
HANK: It's not about the game. I just wanted to have some special time with you —
ARTIE: (wiping something on Hank's face) What's the matter, sugar? Is the marriage that bad?
HANK: (Shakes head no) It's the fucking birds.
ARTIE: You're telling me. I've been married five times. They were all the fucking birds. (Artie leaves)
HANK: No, that — (to Bruno) You knew what I meant, didn't you?
Larry meets Jon Lovitz after he gets off the elevator on the show's floor, but Lovitz definitely has his mind elsewhere. Larry invites him to see the Dodgers after the show and Lovitz says it sounds great, but doesn't act as if he really heard what Larry offered. Sanders tells Lovitz he'll walk him to his dressing room, but Lovitz declines, saying he wants to say hi to someone first. Larry walks off confused and Lovitz enters the office area of the show, making a beeline for Darlene's desk. He leans over her desk and quietly speaks her name. "Hi," Darlene responds unemotionally while continuing to type. "You look beautiful today — as usual," he tells her in the same quiet voice that, frankly, borders on the creepy. "Thank you," she replies almost as quietly as he's speaking. He asks if she got the flowers he sent her and looks around for them. (Lovitz should realize Hank intercepted them since he thanked him for them on the phone.) He also asks about that "little gift," which Darlene also confirms she received but she runs into trouble when Lovitz wants to see the bracelet. In a phrase you don't hear often around the Larry Sanders office, Darlene is saved by the Hank, who appears and asks her to call makeup, "and tell them to come and remove my tissues." Kingsley rolls his eyes and Lovitz steps back and folds his arms, looking miffed. Darlene offers to handle the task but Hank won't let her, insisting she get Bruno because, "It's a union thing." Darlene exits and Hank moves in, calling Lovitz "Jonny" and beginning with his trademark "Hey now." "Welcome back Mister (pause) Funny, Mister Movie Star," Hank lays it on. "You forgot Mister Hunk," Lovitz adds. "I was getting to that," Hank says. Then Hank gets serious, asking if they can talk. He tells Lovitz that he's heard that he has a thing for Darlene and wants to know if it's true. Lovitz's expression almost turns ashen, but then he brightens up and admits it, saying how terrific he thinks she is. Hank agrees that Darlene is fabulous. "I think she's really starting to warm up to me," Lovitz declares. "A piece of advice — don't go there," Hank warns. "Just don't waste your time because, frankly, she's not available." Lovitz assures Kingsley that he checked first and knows she isn't dating anyone currently. Hank looks stuck — obviously his Plan A just went up in flames — so he asks Lovitz to come speak to him in a more private area. "See, I don't even know if this is my place to say," Hank tells Jon as he closes the door to the conference room. "See, the way that you want to go. This lady — she doesn't go that way," Hank lies to a stone-faced Lovitz. Lovitz makes him spell it out. Kingsley stumbles but finally gets out the words, "She prefers women." "Oh that's bullshit!" Lovitz snaps, Hank stands by the lesbian story, but Lovitz doesn't believe him, naturally wondering why she wouldn't have said anything to him after all this time. Hank tries to make the case that a person's sexual preference can be a very private thing, but Lovitz still isn't buying his story. Hank abandons ships and tells Lovitz he has to go, but Lovitz chases him back to his office. "Hank, is she seeing a woman now?" he asks. After some more fumbling, Kingsley finally says, "Yes. Yes, she is" before closing his office door and hiding inside.
Perhaps saying "Saved by the Hank" might have been premature. The situation can't be improving now that we see Phil (Wallace Langham), once briefly a Darlene dating partner, wandering toward the kitchenette where Darlene prepares a snack. After the standard pleasantries, Phil opens with "So, you're a lesbian." Darlene doesn't know what he's talking about. "It kind of makes sense. A lot of stuff that we went through makes sense now. I only wish you could've told me yourself instead of me having to hear it from Paula," Phil tells a thoroughly confused Darlene. "Paula told you I was a lesbian?" she asks him. "Oh and I think Larry's gonna be really pissed when he finds out you've been seeing Beverly," Phil adds. It didn't take long for that fake story to spread and metastasize. Backstage, Hank stands sipping a cup of water after taking something off a tray a man holds when Darlene comes barreling down the hall toward him, leading him away. "What? Easy? Spilling! Spilling!" Hank says as Darlene keeps herding Hank to another location. "That's how you get Jon Lovitz to leave me alone — by telling everyone that I'm a lesbian!" she yells at him. "I didn't tell everyone. Jon asked Paula to confirm what I told him. You know how she is with gossip. She's like a terrier after a rat," Hank says in his defense. "Hank, how could you do this?" Darlene demands to know. "Now Darlene, I didn't know you had a thing against gay people. Frankly, I'm a little offended to find this out," Hank responds as only Kingsley could. "Hank, you lied," Darlene tells him. "I didn't — now come on — like you've never been with a woman?" Hank asks, digging that hole for himself deeper and deeper. "Like you've never been with a man?" Darlene fires back. Kingsley seems to get the point and says, "Fucking tabloids."
Lovitz and Larry are joking around in Larry's office while Larry has a snack when Jon brings up the subject of Darlene. Sanders brings up that she posed for Playboy, referring back to the Season 2 episode "Broadcast Nudes." "Did you see it?" Lovitz asks. "No," Larry lies. Jon then brings up that Hank told him that Darlene is a lesbian but that he thinks he's "full of shit" giving Larry his own moment of pause, since he and Darlene also had their brief fling earlier this season in the "Office Romance" episode. "Listen, if she's not, can you do me a favor? Can you force her to go out with me?" Lovitz asks Larry. "Force her to go out with you. You want me to force her to go out with you," Larry repeats, doing well to hide the fact that he can't believe what he's hearing. "It's your show, isn't it? She has to do what you say, right?" Lovitz says. "That would be called sexual harassment," Larry tells him quite rightly. "Oh, come on. 'Blow me' — that's sexual harassment," Lovitz replies. He asks Sanders to be a pal and just do him this one favor. Larry stands and tells Lovitz he can't. "I have to go talk to the bird lady." As he's leaving, Lovitz persists. "What people do with their own time is their own business. I don't meddle," Larry declares as he leaves Lovitz alone in his office. "So she is a lesbian?" Jon yells at the closed door.
The next sequence stands out as being slightly different from the norm for The Larry Sanders Show. There's a quick scene with Lovitz in the makeup chair while Paula does the pre-interview and he begins telling her an anecdote from the making of City Slickers 2. A quick cut takes us to Larry's office where Paula finishes the story, sharing it with Larry who rejects it and says to instruct Lovitz to go with the tuxedo rental story instead. Paula doesn't know what Sanders is referring to, but he swears Jon will know "He tells it every goddamn time we go shopping. It's hilarious," Larry replies in a pissed-off tone. Another quick cut finds Paula in Jon's dressing room listening as Lovitz finishes relaying the tux rental story without an ounce of enthusiasm. "It's not funny," Lovitz says. "It's not funny, but it's cute that you and Larry shop together, I guess," Paula comments, caught in the deterioration of these two men's friendship and still trying to perform her job. "It's adorable. I just love spending hours watching him try on hundreds of pairs of pants," Lovitz complains. He then imitates Larry and asks, "Does my ass look fat in these pants?" Lovitz laughs and seems to return to normal. "He's a nice guy but sometimes he's just wrong." He asks Paula to tell Larry to keep the movie story as well. Paula promises that she will and Lovitz says he'll owe her one.
After Paula leaves, Darlene knocks on the door. Lovitz gets giddy at the sight of her, but she has just come to set him straight about the rumor that she is a lesbian. It isn't true, she tells him. He says he knew and then asks where they'll be going after the show. Darlene asks him to sit down. She tells him that the reason she can't go out with him is because he works in show business and she's been hurt too many times. Lovitz collapses back on the couch. "Fine. I'm so tired of this, you know. Yeah, why would you want to go out with someone who's famous and rich and handsome and can give you the life you always dreamed of and can make you laugh all the time? Yeah, pass," Lovitz whines. Darlene apologizes and leaves as Beverly enters carrying a mug of cocoa that Lovitz requested. He spots the bracelet on her wrist. "Where'd you get that?" he asks. "Darlene gave it to me," Beverly replies, then corrects herself, saying she's just borrowing it until tonight since the two of them are going to a women's meeting together. Lovitz starts moaning as if he's going to puke. "Uh. It's true," Lovitz groans as he rushes out of the dressing room. Beverly runs down the hall shouting Paula's name.
Larry stands bent over in the dressing room with his pants around his knees when Paula bursts in. "Hey, knock, why don't you?" Larry says, pulling up his pants. "Why are you putting your shoes on before you pull your pants up?" she asks. "I always do. Superstitious. Thank God you weren't in here a few minutes ago when I was painting my balls," he tells her. "Lovitz walked," Paula informs the host. He immediately blames her, wanting to know what she said to him. She said she didn't say anything. She just told him that Larry wanted him to do the tux story and Lovitz didn't want to do it, then he bolted. "What a child. He's a fucking child," Larry complains. He also catches a glimpse of himself in the full-length mirror. "God, my ass looks fat in these pants!"
Larry, Darlene, Paula and Beverly have assembled in Larry's office, but Artie has resumed control of the ship. "Cut the horseshit, Adam. Your client walked off our show. Now what are you going to do about it, huh? If you can't control your own people, you should be out of the business," Artie shouts into the phone. "Give my regards to the darling Jamie. Bye-bye." Larry wants to know what Adam said. "He said Lovitz will not be back and he's very upset," Artie reports. Larry asks what Lovitz has to be upset about, just because he wouldn't let him tell the City Slickers 2 story. Paula suggests three segments with the bird lady and then Carl Sagan. "Unless Mister Sagan comes out and shits a string of pearls, we have no show," Artie proclaims. Larry's phone rings and it's Jon Lovitz. He apologizes for Paula about the movie story and tells him that "just between us, she has an eating disorder." Larry doesn't hear a response from Jon on the other end. Darlene asks to speak with him. Larry insists that Lovitz got mad about the movie anecdote. Darlene tells him he hurt his feelings by not going out with him. Beverly takes the blame because he saw her wearing the bracelet. Larry still wants it to be his fault. "Are you telling me that you've never been upset when you were romantically spurned?" Artie asks Larry. "Not like this," Larry claims. "Emma Samms," Artie says. Larry says Artie promised he'd never bring that up and it wasn't that big a deal. "You turned on her alarm system," Artie continues. "You did not read the police report," Larry insists. "I'm quoted quite liberally in it," Artie replies. Larry tells Jon that Darlene wants to talk to him. It turns out he's in the limo in the parking lot so Darlene heads down.
Darlene tells him how impressed she was that he walked off the show for her. It proves that he's not like the other industry guys. The camera pans and Larry also sits in the limo. He hands Jon the tickets to the Dodgers game and suggests he take Darlene to it after the show because he has another problem to deal with. "You can guarantee she's not a lesbian," Lovitz asks. Larry does, then Hank speaks up. He's there as well. "Jon, guys and nothing but guys. That's our Darlene in a nutshell," Kingsley swears. "Uh, I can vouch for it too. We went out briefly," Phil tells him, having somehow made it to the limo and sitting between Hank and Artie. "I think she's just swell but we've got a fucking show to do, so let's move it," Artie suggests. Everyone exits the limo except for Artie, Hank and Larry. Hank begins to tell a story about his wife and Artie tells him to shut up and he'll take him to dinner. "This whole thing just doesn't make sense. Can you imagine Darlene with another woman?" Larry asks. The three men all drift off into dreamy thoughts.
While the episode has its moments, it seems undercooked. They drag Beverly into the rumor but you never see her going ballistic on anyone and you expect a payoff with the bird lady that never comes. Torn, Tambor and Shandling turn in great work as always, but it almost seems as if their roles. particularly Torn's, were limited this week. While Sanders certainly can be self-absorbed, it becomes a little hard to swallow that he still thinks that Lovitz got upset over him not wanting him to tell the story about the incident on the City Slickers 2 set when he stormed out on Lovitz when he tried to get him to force Darlene to date him. Thankfully, the season soon will pick up in a big way.