By Cory Barker and Les Chappell
The Larry Sanders Show
Season 1, Episode 13: “The Hey Now Episode”
Original airdate: Nov. 7, 1992
Previously on The Larry Sanders Show: Larry obsessed over his likeability ratings and inadvertently took out a woman in line at the supermarket, but still found time to go fishing in his living room carpet. Also, Hank lost seven pounds!
Cory: Well Les, we’ve come to the end of the first season of The Larry Sanders Show. Though, it’s not really the end, considering “The Hey Now Episode” is listed by production code as the first episode shot. We’ve talked about the curious production process/airing order, but no matter the original intent of where this episode was meant to go, I think it serves as a nice culmination for this first year.
Throughout the season, we’ve seen Larry get frustrated with Hank, but not to the degree that occurs here. When Larry discovers Hank nodding off on the couch during the live taping, he loses it—well, “loses it” in the Larry Sanders kind of way. Meaning, he pisses and moans to Artie right after the show and then squirms momentarily about how or if he’s actually going to say something to Hank. Somewhat surprisingly, Larry, who has been afraid of conflict at many points along the way this season, does take his issues up with Hank, resulting in not one, but two heated conversations about Hank’s dedication to his job on the show.
What I liked about this conflict is that it allowed Larry to have real cause for being upset (Hank was nodding off, after all), but it still reflected some important things about Larry’s intense dedication to his job. We know that this dedication almost wrecked his marriage—and a perusal of Wikipedia tells me it, in fact, does wreck his marriage—and turns a lot of people, even those on his staff, off. And we also know that Larry, like just about anyone in his position, is sensitive. You get the sense in this one that Larry is not only a little fed up with Hank’s lackadaisical commitment to the job, he’s also bummed that the fans still love Hank anyway, mostly because of “Hey now!” So, in true Larry Sanders form, he orders Hank first not to use his catchphrase at all, and then to just dial it down (and I love that touch; Larry can’t even be “tough boss” for three minutes), but ultimately, neither assertion works in the way Larry thinks it will. Instead, the fighting actually spurs both Hank and Larry do to better at their jobs, and to be better to one another. And by the end of the episode (and the season), the two of them get to share that intimate moment on the couch about where they’ve been and where they’re going—and now they seem more committed than ever to go there together. How’d you feel about this one?
Les: This one was interesting for me, largely because—as you said—we knew going into it that this was the first episode produced f the season, but was airing as the last. We’ve talked time and time again about how comedies tend to take a while to find themselves, and how the pilot episode is rarely the best installment a series will produce and is in fact regularly one of its worst. So that left me wondering if this was going to be a similar scenario, and I’d have to brace for a dud close to what has been a pretty damn solid first season of television.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, because “The Hey Now Episode” was a fine installment of The Larry Sanders Show, full of all the things we’ve come to appreciate. You have Larry’s squirming out of every conflict, Hank’s fragile ego and sense of showmanship, and Artie’s tireless efforts to keep the ship going no matter how many Jacksons they lose the opportunity to book. And the moment where Larry stumbles on the show and Hank swoops in to take all the attention was the first time that I felt like the fictional The Larry Sanders Show was a show I would watch if it was on the air, as opposed to a delivery system for celebrity flirtation, green suits and painful monologues. (Not that we were free of the latter, as Bob Saget launched into a routine where Larry griped he could have worked a shift at Jack in the Box and not been missed. Artie’s reassurance: “Anyone with less talent would have tried to interrupt him.”)
Interestingly, while I thought the conflict between Larry and Hank was handled very well—particularly the scene in the makeup room, a terrific bit of direction by Ken Kwapis in showing us both men in front of mirrors with backs to the camera—I realized that this was an episode that would feel noticeably different had it actually aired as the series premiere. The way we’re watching it, it comes across as the conflicts of the last twelve weeks coming to a head, with all of the attendant issues that we’ve seen over the season (Larry’s desire to put the show in front of everything, Hank’s frustration at being the village idiot) tied up in a feud that’s far more real than Hank’s annual charade of quitting the show. And the final conversation between the two as T-Bone Burnett played in the background comes across as a rare moment of honesty for two men who are utterly devoid of sincerity for so much of their waking hours.
Larry: “I’ve turned into an asshole these last couple of years.”
Hank: “That’s okay, I’ve turned into a moron. I mean… Just have a good time with it.”
But had this been the first episode we saw, it would have come across as the established interplay between the two, and for the whole season we’d be seeing them play out different parts of a previously established dynamic. Their various conflicts could be seen as reactions to their moment of understanding, Larry trying not to be as much of an asshole and Hank trying to find more outside validation to prove his worth. It works both ways, I’m just fascinated by how much differently events would have played had these episodes aired in order. (For reference, it looks like the actual last episode they filmed was “The Talk Show Episode,” and that last moment of uncertainty between Larry and Jeannie and Artie’s “This is the best show we’ve ever done!” line certainly would have been a great moment to close on.)
Quality aside, the other question I found myself asking was whether or not it was obvious this was the first episode they made. You mentioned Larry being oddly confrontational, but there are a couple moments scattered throughout for a lot of people that strike me as out of character—Hank brazenly saying he wants to fuck Darlene, Larry actually engaged in the writers’ room, Jeannie only appearing for ten seconds to say hello and refer to Artie as “Arthur,” something I’d be wiling to bet not even his mother does. Nothing about it screams of a gap between pilot and series, but there are a few quirks that even if I didn’t know about the order I’d be scratching my head. Did you notice those things as well?
Cory: Yeah, those discontinuities were a little odd. Though, we can at least pretend that Jeannie calling Artie “Arthur” was like a disappointed mom reaction to the horrible party we saw a few weeks ago.
With the season over, let’s think about the whole product. Weird production order aside, do you think the show improved over time—and if so, how? For me, the show’s pilot came to life pretty fully formed and the show, while improved, didn’t change dramatically. What I did enjoy about the season as I went along is how well Garry Shandling and the writers deepened Larry’s awkward side, particularly in his relationships with the rest of the team, without ever apologizing for the character or allowing him to be too sympathetic. The Larry Sanders Show is willing to let its lead character be an asshole—not an evil asshole, but a recognizable, true-to-life jerk who doesn’t quite know how to act in normal social situations, both because of his position and because of his personality.
Les: This was, I thought, a remarkably consistent season of television. It started out strong by showing what Larry had to do to keep his show on the air, spent a full season showing how the show impacted/replaced the personal lives of everyone involved with it, and closed with a legitimate conflict between the two men at the center of things. The out-of-order sequence did make things feel a little strained at times, but this isn’t a show that’s trying to build serialized storytelling or anything more than surface continuity. This is all about the pressure of putting on a show five nights a week in an overly crowded marketplace, and in a pressure cooker like that, the days blur together into the next guest star, the next monologue, the next stupid animal trick. And I think it did a great job capturing both that vibe, and the inconveniences that go on behind the scenes without keeping that show from going on.
I don’t know if I’d say the show got better as time went on, but I do think that it was more willing to add personal shading to its characters. You already mentioned Larry’s deepening awkwardness throughout the whole season, and the rest of the cast had similar personality upgrades in various spotlight episodes. Hank, who could easily be dismissed as an inept buffoon, had moments like “Hank’s Contract” that betrayed how aware he was of his place on the totem pole and how much that could hurt. Artie was the ultimate spin machine and morale booster, but he was also capable of feeling taken for granted, and in “The New Producer” willing to walk out on Larry unless the right gesture was made. Jerry’s self-destructive affair, Jeannie’s depression, even Paula’s frustration at supposedly being passed over for promotion—there were a lot of little details that were gradually added to make its characters more human, rather than show business phonies. There certainly were plenty of those, such as smarmy PR man Norman, but their inclusion usually made the rest of the cast look better by comparison.
Now that we’ve wrapped up the season, I also wanted to ask how you see the show in the larger comedy landscape. We dropped the 30 Rock reference many times over this discussion, as it’s certainly a more amped-up and cartoonish version of this approach to show business, and which even has a connection beyond spiritual successor with Rip Torn’s appearance as Don Geiss. But with its more naturalistic style, and hybridization of talk show and single-cam comedy filming style, there’s a lot more in its DNA that other shows have borrowed. Curb Your Enthusiasm certainly owes a lot to The Larry Sanders Show, as do several other HBO comedies since, and both incarnations of The Office. Obviously we haven’t seen all six seasons so its total impact can’t be measured here, but are there any other shows you can think of that clearly owe a debt to Larry Sanders?
Cory: You mentioned some really good choices in 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm. While the former is much more cartoonish than Larry Sanders, our references to the relationship between the two shows are valid. The Curb nod might be more valuable, considering that show’s emphasis on its lead character’s inability to thrive—or even survive—in social situations. There’s probably something to be said for the show being part of a lineage of HBO shows featuring celebrities tinkering with various versions of their public personas that includes Curb, Extras, and Entourage.
Despite my appreciation of Larry Sanders, what I’m maybe a little surprised about after watching these first 13 episodes is how conventional it is. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. Yet, for much of this season, the show felt like a really good workplace comedy, perhaps just one with a more unlikable central character. The workplace is the central locale, so many of the conflicts stem directly from the setting, and in a favorite thing of mine, the show is regularly interested in exploring whether or not the workplace helps or harms characters and their relationships with one another. So, aside from the vulgarity allowed by HBO (curiously, there isn’t any nudity here; if this aired in 2013, Darlene would have been topless for at least six episodes), Larry Sanders could have worked on broadcast television in 1992.
Before we go: What were your favorite moments of this season?
Les: Tough call, as this was a season with many fine moments. From a comedic perspective, the sequence in “Out of the Loop” where our core group is witnessing Jerry having sex with Sally in the parking lot is probably my favorite. It has a wonderfully delivered Artie line (“If he bangs her any harder the airbags are going to inflate!”), gets to see Larry look legitimately upset that his bad effort at a pep talk didn’t have any effect, and of course triggers the excellent payoff of Hank’s filthy newsletter at the end of the episode. A little moment, but one that allowed us to see all three of them reacting to a remarkable event in their own unique ways.
On an emotional level, I think the speaker phone moment in “Hank’s Contract” is probably the best scene in the Larry/Hank relationship. It’s a funny break in the awkward conversation the two are having when Artie gives himself away with a sneeze—and then Larry tries to gloss over it with a fart joke—but the symbolism of what it means is no less important. Hank’s not dealing with his usual petty ego issues, he’s legitimately upset that a man he considers a friend and colleague doesn’t consider him important enough to have a genuine one-on-one conversation with. And to his credit, Larry isn’t just dealing with his usual discomfort at confrontation, he knows exactly what message he sent by having Artie on the line, and it’s that guilt that pushes him to finally break out to engage with Sheldon directly.
As a related final thought on the show, I want to single out the dynamic those three had. It’s been said many times that what keeps a sitcom going is the core relationships, and I always appreciated the real affection—dysfunctional as it was—that Larry, Artie and Hank had for each other behind their unique cocktail of ego and bluster. Larry Sanders had a lot of show business phoniness and obnoxious celebrities, but at the center there was always Shandling, Tambor and Torn, and the show was always best when it just let them work.
This marks the end of The Larry Sanders Show coverage at This Was TV, at least for the foreseeable future. Cory and Les will be splitting up for a while, as Les checks back into Fawlty Towers to review the second series in February and Cory decides what his next weekly project will be. As always, thanks to everyone who’s read and followed along with us. You may now flip.