Despite the ’90s hair and Gary Shandling’s awful suits, The Larry Sanders Show holds up remarkably well twenty years after its HBO debut. It’s often considered a peer to Seinfeld and a strong influence for The Office, but Larry Sanders‘s meta-concept reminds me more of Louie. Gary Shandling plays a fictionalized version of himself, and the series functions as a sharply written, insider-y profile of a self-loathing comedian.
It’s also worth noting that I plowed right through every single episode last December. That’s six seasons, totaling 89 episodes, in one month. I was hooked, but I couldn’t then explain why. Cue this terrific revisit Vulture did a year ago, which really nails the appeal of the series.
While the drama of Larry’s life and the backstage antics of the show’s production were taped like any other sitcom, The Larry Sanders Show itself was very real. It was taped in front of a live studio audience with celebrity guests improvising on the spot and full-length musical performances (by acts we almost certainly don’t remember today). It’s as if we got Jimmy Fallon’s late-night show and a well-scripted, naturalistic sitcom about Larry’s life wrapped into one half-hour.
I enjoyed Late Night with Conan O’Brien growing up, and I think Fallon’s take on Late Night is terrific, on those rare occasions I see it (usually while trying to fall asleep in a hotel room). I can’t imagine watching a talk show every night, but The Larry Sanders Show became something of a comfort. It was part of my new nightly routine, much in the same way real late-night talk shows do. And though the show becomes fairly hit or miss in its later seasons, I found myself complying quite easily with Sanders’s famous catch phrase: “no flipping.”