The season premiere of Garry Shandling’s show within a show, “The Larry Sanders Show,” kicks off tonight with Sanders (Shandling), a popular talkshow host, being forced to deal with a hat trick of setbacks: a pending divorce, bad ratings and his show’s failure to win an Emmy. To add insult to injury, Sanders also suffers a “heart episode” and has an affair with his assistant.
The news that Sanders’ second wife, Jeannie, has filed for divorce sets the wheels in motion for this finely tuned episode, which has been extended by 15 minutes and focuses heavily on the private side of Sanders — off-camera and more vulnerable.
Sanders’ talkshow sidekick, Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor), continues to elevate scheming and brown-nosing into an art form.
Upon learning of the estrangement, Kingsley puts his normal mode of sucking up into overdrive, hoping to bond with Sanders by setting up a series of double dates with groupies Kingsley plucked from the show’s live audience.
The banalities as well as the realities of talkshow life are raised throughout. Barbs aimed at David Letterman and his deal with CBS are among the most prevalent.
But a network exec, presumably stopping by to comfort Sanders, expresses sympathy regarding the “heart thing” only after informing him that a Phoenix affiliate has dropped the show in favor of Chevy Chase’s new entry.
Sanders’ producer Artie, played to perfection by Rip Torn, is an adept hand-holder to Sanders, yet he knows where the bodies are buried and can get anything done without breaking a sweat.
Artie’s booking of female guests, presumably potential companions for Sanders , prompts the host to call him a pimp. The response from the unflappable Artie, that the show is “the most highly advanced video dating service in the world,” is one of the episode’s best lines.
A series of failed dinner dates with said guests leads Sanders into an encounter with his first wife, Francine (Kathryn Harrold), a reporter who eschews the Hollywood scene, although she covers it.
Harrold appears to have a lengthy run ahead as the interplay between her character and Sanders shows much potential.
The show’s supporting cast assists tremendously in convincing viewers that they are watching behind-the-scenes wranglings at a well-known talkshow, and the creative decision to delve more into Sanders’ off-screen life could be a wise one to help expand the show’s appeal.