Kicking off what Garry Shandling has declared (sort of) will be the final season (maybe) of “The Larry Sanders Show,” this seg finds the most deliciously biting satire in TV history already operating in mid-heathen form as it launches into a seasonal arc designed to set up what life might be like on the talkshow after Larry (as if!). Someone wants us to think that there really is a chance Jon Stewart will take over for the departing Shandling and keep “Larry Sanders” rolling in his absence. It begs the question, Has hell frozen over?
The wonderfully clever sixth-season opener from a script by Shandling and Dennis Klein reminds us that the nasty lawsuits dividing Shandling and producer-manager Brad Grey can’t undo the fact that “Larry Sanders” remains a piece of small-screen art, a series whose wildly colorful characters and flawless execution make it the wittiest half-hour on TV — the Primetime Emmy comedy series snubs notwithstanding.
As things get going Sunday night, Larry (Shandling, whose identification with the character has grown so intertwined as to make the two indistinguishable) is sitting at home moping and watching his guest-host Stewart, whom he believes is being groomed by the network to take the chair full-time.
Turns out that he may be right. The network dweebs (including Bruce Greenwood, playing the perfect heavy) corner Larry and producer Artie (the brilliant Rip Torn) to assure them that the ratings are in the toilet and things need to change. For starters, they suggest a peppier theme song, something more … “Singled Out.” And something’s got to be done about Larry’s hair, specifically his “indefinite part.”
The suits also want Larry to look to Jay Leno as his role model and shake hands with audience members enthusiastically as he emerges for each show.
Larry: “I’d have to wear rubber gloves.”
Larry: “But then at the same time, I could check everyone’s prostate!”
Artie: “Great! That would get us the ‘ER’ audience!”
Meanwhile, Larry is as paranoid and self-destructive as ever, lamely courting guest Winona Ryder while Hank (Jeffrey Tambor) struggles to persuade a Hank lookalike to hand over the vanity license plate bearing his “Hey Now!” trademark catchphrase.
The final minutes of “Another List” mold a tragicomic tone onto the series that portends a springtime of even lower lows than we’re accustomed to on “Larry Sanders,” with Artie admitting that for the first time, he can’t pull Larry’s cajones out of this soup. But the show remains state-of-the-art in its ability to mold mirthful magic from backstabbing, egomaniacal angst and obsessive neurosis, with helmer Thomas Schlamme lending his usual deft hand.
If this truly is the beginning of the end of “Larry Sanders,” the show appears destined to go out with a great big whine. For the best talkshow on TV that isn’t really a talkshow, that’s the highest praise there is.