You might have missed… is for t.v. shows, movies, albums, books and anything else canceled or released sometime ago that might have fallen off the current radar. These are things that we feel are important and necessary to bring them back to your attention for a first or maybe even a second look.
In the mid 90’s I was a teenager and HBO was good for two things: movies that has been released the year previous and late night soft-core adult programing. Occasionally that late night programming was interrupted by a television show, The Larry Sanders Show. I would sit awash in the glow of the TV and accept this unexpected gift and giggle for a half hour. On the list of under appreciated television shows, Larry Sanders is right at the top.
This was the early days of HBO original programming, the idea that a cable channel could produce a popular show was largely untested and unaccepted. This was 1992, before Sex and the City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, and True Blood. It’s safe to say that without The Larry Sanders Show, those later series would have been delayed and might not have been made at all.
The premise of the show is unique even by today’s standards. It centers around Larry Sanders, played by Garry Shandling, the narcissistic host of a late night network talk show, similar to Jay Leno or David Letterman. Each episode takes place surrounding the production of that weeks episode, think early episodes of 30 Rock. It expertly mixes videotaped portions of the “live” show with the filmed backstage and home life of Sanders.
The realistic portrayal of the talk show was what had me confused for years. For far to long I believed that Garry Shandling was actually Larry Sanders. I didn’t get that the show wasn’t HBO’s unique version of a talk show. The behind the scenes footage seemed like an ingenious way of expanding upon a tired premise and fit with the whole, “it’s not TV it’s HBO” tagline. I was embarrassed when I eventually learned that the show was scripted, nevertheless, to this day I still find myself referring to Shandling as Sanders.
As good as Gary Shandling was, he had an excellent cast around him that made it go from good to great. Rip Torn plays Artie, the shows surly producer, and Larry’s dense sidekick ‘Hey Now’ Hank Kingsley is played by Jeffery Tambor, who often manages to steal the show. Beyond that the cast is solidified by Janeane Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk, Jeremy Piven, Sarah SIlverman, and Jon Stewart. Behind the camera the show marked the beginning of a fruitful career for Judd Apatow who worked as a producer, writer, and director.
What I found to be most amazing was how this show-within-a-show works effectively as an actual talk show and as an excellent sitcom. The guests are playing exaggerated versions of themselves plugging real projects, and just like Curb Your Enthusiasm the attention to story detail and structure is second to none. The series final episode aired in May of 1998, two weeks after Seinfeld’s and was far superior to the NBC classic.
So why if the show is as good as I say, do I assume you probably haven’t seen it? It doesn’t help that Shandling has been mostly out of the limelight since 2000, not only without a hit but without many projects at all. It’s main road block I believe has to do with being the first real HBO hit, it didn’t get the same treatment that subsequent series like Sex and the City received. Promotions were limited and until a couple years ago the show was virtually impossible to find on DVD. Now thanks to Netflix you can stream the entire series.
I can’t urge you strongly enough to give this show a try, though the guest stars are a little outdated, the concept and execution are still fresh twenty years later. Like most TV series, you have to give the first season a free pass, let them work out all the kinks before they really begin to hit their stride in season two, and beyond into what would become one of TV’s all time great shows.