[Contains insanely expensive pens and SPOILERS!!!]
I was just gearing up to watch the sixth season of The Larry Sanders Show (1998) when the sad news of Garry Shandling’s death broke, adding an extra layer of poignancy to this final outing. It also inspired plenty articles and posts asserting how influential this cult sitcom has proven to be since it first aired, and the long shadow that its star/creator has cast over the genre with this seminal series and its fourth-wall-smashing predecessor, The Garry Shandling Show (1986-1990). So, a solemn hat-tip to him… and here’s hoping that the still rather murky circumstances surrounding his untimely demise don’t tarnish his remarkable comedic legacy.
As noted in my previous post, ‘Paula’ was entirely absent this season, superseded by ‘Mary Lou Collins’ (Mary Lynn Rajskub) as the head talent-booker. In fact, Mary Lou scored an impressive 11 credited appearances across 13 episodes, though the undoubted highlight of her run has to be ep #6.5, in which she has an unfortunate fender-bender with ‘Hank’s (Jeffrey Tambor) beloved Bentley in the parking lot, and makes such a hash of her confession that she actually ends up agreeing to go out with him, rather than admit to her misdemeanour! D’oh! She also formed a close friendship with my (new) fave female staff-member, ‘Wendy Traston’ (Sarah Silverman), who made a triumphant return in ep #6.9… though Mary Lou wasn’t especially supportive of her gal-pal’s fledgling stand-up career, hesitating long-and-hard over the question of whether Wendy was “ready” to perform her act on the show or not. To his credit, snarky and chauvinistic head-writer ‘Phil’ (Wallace Langham) sung her praises quite sincerely to ‘Artie’ (Rip Torn), having finally come around to accepting her as a talented comedian first, and a woman second (if at all). Hurrah!
Fun fact: The jokes that Wendy performed on the show were taken directly from Big S’s own off-screen act, meaning that I’d actually seen/heard snippets of her Jesus is Magic routine several decades before I became consciously aware of how awesome and hilarious she was. What took me so damn long!? Gah!! Of course, this episode aired back in the dark and dreary pre-internet days, when a curious comedy fan couldn’t simply Google someone’s name to find clips of their previous work, or buy their albums at the click of a mouse-button… so… er… that’s my defence, m’lud. Wendy re-appeared briefly in ep #6.10, but it was just a couple quick scenes of her tormenting a beleaguered Phil in the writers’ room, and snarking at Mary Lou, rather than the subplot-starring role that she enjoyed in her previous episodes. Boo! Apparently Silverman and Shandling continued to hang out together long after the series had ended, with the former eulogising the latter (via Twitter) as “the most generous loving mentor & friend”. R.I.P.
As for the guest stars: Winona Ryder appeared in ep #6.1, bonding with Larry over a mutual appreciation for the music of Smash Mouth (!), before making-out with his new professional nemesis, Jon Stewart, in her dressing room. Tch, tch, tch! Lea Thompson appeared in ep #6.3, resentfully enduring Hank’s inept audition for a cameo on Caroline in the City*, and consequently receiving the stink-eye from him throughout her (post-rejection) appearance on the chat-show. Bridget Fonda appeared in ep #6.4, fretting about her appeal as an interviewee, while promoting Jackie Brown. Kristen Johnston appeared in ep #6.6, being a lovely guest and chiding guest-host Stewart for asking about her height… which is apparently such a cliché question, she’s considered getting the relevant measurement tattooed on her forehead! Laura Dern appeared in ep #6.8, dating Larry in secret but eventually getting outed by a resentful psychic (Char Margolis) who’d been bumped from the show.
Polly Draper appeared in ep #6.9 as ‘Dr. Monica Gordon’, giving Hank his first ever colonoscopy, and somehow enchanting him enough to be asked on a date, shortly thereafter! Meanwhile, Gina Gershon guested on the show and agreed to go out with Larry, despite the fact she was clearly still hung up on her former boyfriend (and Larry’s best bud), Jeff Goldblum. This episode also featured a brief appearance by Illeana Douglas, arriving for a pre-interview for the show, and taking an immediate liking to Larry… which then lead to her becoming his serious love-interest in the subsequent episode (ep #6.10), where he’s so worried about her rambling/boring anecdotes that he ends up coaching her to become a better guest by scripting their “spontaneous” banter, and intensively drilling her on the line-readings. By the end of the episode, their relationship has taken on a slightly disturbing (and mildly abusive) sub-dom aspect. Shudder… but also top marks to Douglas for her incredible performance here. Oh, and Drew Barrymore also had a short-and-sweet cameo, recording a good-bye video for Larry directed/instigated by Hank, who couldn’t help spoiling the warm-and-fuzzy vibe by sexually-harassing her. Tch!
Finally, Ellen DeGeneres and Carol Burnett appeared in the extended finale (ep #11/12) as guests on Larry’s over-stuffed swan-song show, calling the host a liar on-air and cheerfully chatting among themselves to freeze him out. Meanwhile, Linda Doucett also returned for a very welcome backstage cameo as ‘Darlene’, expressing her joy that Larry was finally leaving the toxic world of showbusiness behind… bless her.
* By a wacky co-inky, Caroline in the City was also referenced in a recent episode of Fresh off the Boat, prompting me to refresh my memory of the series… which, according to Wikipedia, ran for 97 episodes across four seasons, from 1995-2000. I definitely remember watching (and liking) it at the time, but really haven’t thought about it much since then… hmmm…