Star and co-scripter Garry Shandling, his fellow cast members and production execs have honed the satiric edge of this show — about the behind-the-scenes neuroses of a hit latenight talker, with real people mixing with (barely) fictional characters — to a sharp edge. Focusing on a subject that in real life provides ample opportunity for parody doesn’t hurt either.
Season four picks up pretty much where last season ended, with Roseanne, playing herself, at the center of the talkshow host’s life. While romance bloomed when she helped him kick a dependence on painkillers, he’s now smarting that she dropped him, and is in a panic that his producer Artie (Rip Torn, still in top form) has booked her on the show.
One subplot involves sidekick Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor, never better) lamenting the human cost of the O.J. Simpson trial: namely, he has to take a detour to get to his Rockingham Place home.
In another subplot that underscores the is-it-real-or-is-it-television brilliance of the show, Larry runs into Chevy Chase in the waiting room of his shrink (Charles Cioffi). “What’re you doing here?” Chase asks an obviously embarrassed Sanders. “Did your show get canceled?”
The show’s skill comes from the subtle shadings of character and humor and its ability to get the nuances of talkshows just right.
There’s particular adroitness in the will-she-or-won’t-she buildup to Roseanne’s appearance. The comedian, who normally seems so grating, is wonderfully natural and a very good sport here, allowing numerous jokes about her supposed multiple personalities. When she finally does hit the talkshow couch, the bantering emphasizes that while Sanders is a bumbler in his real life , he’s in control on camera.
The only cast change this season is the departure of Linda Doucette, as Hank’s assistant Darlene; Doucette also was Shandling’s real-life g.f., and her unexplained absence only serves to raise the question: Who needs HBO’s planned docudrama “Night Shift”? A truer — and certainly funnier — version airs every Wednesday night.