One of the great comedians working today, Gary Shandling has done quite a few smaller parts in film in recent years, but is still more widely known for his two great television shows in the 80's and 90's. First, there was the Garry Shandling Show (created for Showtime, then it moved to Fox for that network's early years), an inspired and somewhat surreal series that included a wonderfully simplistic opening theme (sample lyrics: "This is the theme to Garry's show. The opening theme to Garry's show. This is the music that you hear as you watch the credits.") "The Garry Shandling Show" was, in some ways, "Seinfeld" before "Seinfeld".
While "The Garry Shandling Show" was not a ratings success, it did gain a cult audience and lead to Shandling starring as Larry Sanders, a fictional late night talk show host who goes out and calmly goes through his monologue and interviews, then heads backstage where he knows he'll have to be in the midst of one crisis after another.
At his side is Arthur (Rip Torn, brilliant), the show's producer and Larry's brute force, able to push and be hostile (such as when the networks come calling or when the crew of the show started to have troubles with one another) past what Larry was capable of. On the flip side of the spectrum is the show's sidekick, Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor), an impulsive, neurotic and deeply insecure man who, despite intentions, often starts problems (see the "Hankerciser 200" episode, where Hank puts his name on a cheap piece of exercise equipment) that snowball out of control. He'll hold his "sidekick" status over lower-level members of the production, a tactic that often backfires on him.
The series focused most of its time on the behind-the-scenes issues, which usually saw real-life stars playing themselves walking into the minefield that was currently going on behind-the-scenes at the show. Characters on the series are flawed in many varying ways (but flawed only to a point where they felt real and not overdone for comedy) and are often manipulative; even Larry has his moments where he turns or gets insecure. Even the real-life celebs could misbehave off-camera. One of the show's qualities that made it a success was that, despite the fact that it focused on the production of a TV show, a lot of people saw the kind of office politics that they're used to dealing with on an everyday basis.
The series offered fantastic performances from its main three leads, but it also gave an early boost to Sarah Silverman, Jeremy Piven, Janeane Garofalo, Mary Lynn Rajskub and others.) "Larry Sanders" was a groundbreaking series in a lot of ways (the series won a pair of Emmys and was nominated for a host of others, and won/was nominated for quite a number of other awards) and remains just as funny today as it was when it first aired.
This DVD edition is - well, let's just say it: not exactly what the fans wanted. Fans wanted full seasons of the show and, for whatever reason (I'm guessing some sort of rights issue/s?) what we get here is a set of 23 episodes from across the show's run. However, unlike most situations where we get a "best of", Shandling seems to have tried to make the best of the situation, with his brand of humor found on the menus and packaging (especially in the included interviews) and plenty of participation from the former Larry Sanders in the extra features.
Not Just the Best of The Larry Sanders Show episodes include:
What Have You Done for Me Lately?
The Spider Episode
The Hey Now Episode
The Hankerciser 200
Life Behind Larry
The Mr. Sharon Stone Show
Hank’s Night in the Sun
Hank’s Sex Tape
I Was a Teenage Lesbian
Larry’s New Love
Everybody Loves Larry
My Name Is Asher Kingsley
Ellen, or Isn’t She?
Pilots and Pens Lost
The Beginning of the End
Putting the ‘Gay’ Back in Litigation
Flip (1-hour final episode)
VIDEO: "Larry Sanders" episodes are presented here in 1.33:1 full-frame by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The presentation quality is perfectly fine; this was never a slick looking show when it aired and it's not a slick looking show here, but additional flaws are very limited. Sharpness and detail are not remarkable, but the series remains consistently crisp here and, again, looks about broadcast quality. Some slight artifacting and shimmering is occasionally seen, but the presentation otherwise appears clean and clear. Colors looked natural and accurate, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: Crisp stereo soundtrack that delivers the dialogue clearly and without distortion or other issues.
EXTRAS: There are commentaries included here, but I think what I have to mention first are the newly recorded conversations with Jon Stewart, Alec Baldwin, Tom Petty (who kind of looks like one might imagine David Spade may in about 15-20 years), Linda Doucett, Sharon Stone, Ellen DeGeneres, David Duchovny, Jerry Seinfeld, and Carol Burnett. These are unusual interviews and, in a way, really kind of wonderful. They are about as informal as you can get (the camera people are often seen, we see the actors having their mics put on) and take place in unexpected places, such as Shandling's hotel lobby and in the park (an interview with Seinfeld) to breakfast with Sharon Stone or boxing with Alec Baldwin. These interviews appear to be "one-take" deals and include all the awkward pauses one hears in your average conversation (the Sharon Stone interview especially.) Shandling and a rather bitter and cynical Seinfeld riffing on a park bench for 20 minutes is classic, and Baldwin's hilarious.
As for the audio commentaries, they are quite informative (despite it being a little while since the show) and are: "What Have You Done for Me Lately" (with Garry Shandling and Peter Tolan), " Hank’s Night in the Sun" (with Garry Shandling and Todd Holland), "Putting the ‘Gay’ Back in Litigation" (with Garry Shandling and Judd Apatow) and "Flip" (with Garry Shandling and Peter Tolan).
We also get shorter, more standard interviews with Mary Lynn Rajskub, Penny Johnson, Wallace Langham, Linda Doucett, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Silverman, Jeremy Piven, Janeane Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk and Scott Thompson. These aren't as unique and entertaining as the more informal discussions, but they're enjoyable and informative.
A "making of" documentary that lasts over an hour on the making of "Larry Sanders" is hosted by Greg Kinnear and offers a great deal of information on the creation of the series, the development of the show, how it helped HBO and the careers of some of its stars. It's an excellent, sweet and insightful piece that will be great fun for fans.
"Rip and Jeffrey Visit with Garry in his Living Room" is a 11-minute featurette where Tambor, Torn and Shandling sit down to recall some of their favorite aspects and moments working on the show. We also get "The Writer's Room", where writer Judd Apatow and Shandling discuss the process of writing the shows and pitching jokes. Finally, we get deleted scenes, a photo gallery and "The Journey Continues...", a short piece with Shandling.
Final Thoughts: "Larry Sanders" was a groundbreaking series in a lot of ways (the series won a pair of Emmys and was nominated for a host of others, and won/was nominated for quite a number of other awards) and remains just as funny today as it was when it first aired. While this "best of" set is not what fans probably were hoping for, it really does offer a great deal to fans of the series, as there's tons of bonus features. Recommended.