Yes, another Post Pick about an HBO show you may have never heard of. But this one’s important.
When I’m asked what my favorite television show of all-time is, without hesitation I reply HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show. And without hesitation the responses come back: The what? What’s that? Never heard of it.
I’m tired of this innocent ignorance, so I write this to set the record straight about perhaps the most groundbreaking and probably the most influential American sitcom ever made, and certainly the most under-appreciated.
If you like Community; if you enjoy Seinfeld (and Curb); if you are into The Office (both versions); if you love Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Extras, any or all of Judd Apatow’s (who got his start on Sanders) works; and a plethora of other sitcoms in the past 20 years are hilarious, you have Garry Shandling’s The Larry Sanders Show to thank. It’s no overstatement to say all of these shows have one thing in common — they all owe a great deal to Larry Sanders as the antecedent and spiritual father of them all.
The show within a show stars stand-up comic Shandling as the vain, neurotic, utterly self-centered talk show host Larry Sanders, taking us both on the set and behind the scenes of a fictional Letterman/Leno-esque show and recording the daily life of the show’s staff. While Sanders is undoubtedly the star of the show, the talent of the cast behind Shandling is immense — Jeffrey Tambor as his sidekick Hank Kinglsey; Rip Torn as his foulmouthed but loyal producer Artie; Jeremy Piven and Wallace Langham as the shows head writers; pre-Daily Show John Stewart as Larry’s occasion substitute host; and Janeane Garofalo as his booking agent.
This was a single-camera workplace comedy, hilarious but nothing too special creatively; the innovation was the lengths to which the show went to be realistic, and realistic about Hollywood. To this end, the true gold came from the numerous star-studded guests who appeared as self-parodying versions of themselves, allowing us to see their personas both when the cameras are rolling and behind the scenes. Many of the most genius moments of the show’s run came from the willingness of so many celebrities to completely send up their media images. Here’s another example. And another.
A write-up like this won’t do this show justice, you need to watch it yourself (every episode is available on Netflix instant streaming, FYI). And after this already-probably-too-long ode to the show’s greatness, you might walk away a little underwhelmed after your maiden viewing. The reason you do is because so many — pretty much all — of the sitcoms that have followed Larry Sanders have in some way ripped it off (in a good way); we’ve become so used to smart, funny, witty, realistic, cynical, no-laugh track for the punch-line sitcom precisely because of Larry Sanders‘ influence and shadow. The Larry Sanders Show has largely been forgotten today precisely because of its success, because so many shows that followed Larry tried to be just like it, leading us to forget the original source material.
But when Larry Sanders premiered in 1992, nothing on television could touch it, this truly was a different kind of sitcom — go back and sample the sitcoms from that era if you don’t believe me. And after 20 years of every comedic television writer trying their damnedest, in my opinion nothing come has yet to come close to the consistently hilarious and remarkably groundbreaking heights that The Larry Sanders Show reached during its six-season run. So give this show a try, if only as a thank you for spawning many of your favorite modern sitcoms that followed in its footsteps.
Cameron Dunbar is a junior studying journalism and a Slot Editor at The Post. Chat TV with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.