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matt zoller seitz

Seitz Asks: What’s Your Favorite Episode of The Larry Sanders Show?

This is what you might call a niche-interest Seitz Asks, but what the hell: The Larry Sanders Show, my favorite sitcom, premiered twenty years ago today, and I'm in the mood to celebrate.

This inside-showbiz satire by star Garry Shandling and his co-producer Dennis Klein is the program that inspired me to subscribe to HBO for the very first time, and it might be the first of the network's great artistic achievements. As I wrote in a 2010 piece for the Museum of the Moving Image's magazine, it might be the most influential American comedy series that almost no one saw. It's damned near impossible to pick a "best" episode, so I won't try. (My friend Ed Copeland did a bang-up job in his top ten list, though; it's a must-read for Sanders fans.) Instead I'll name my favorite: "Arthur After Hours," in which the fictional talk-show host Larry Sanders (Garry Shandling) pisses off his veteran producer, Artie (Rip Torn), by cutting Artie's pal Ryan O'Neal from a show.

The affront sends Artie on a postshow bender that drags on into the night, revealing facets of Artie that we've never seen and inspiring Torn to give one of his career-best performances. The first part of this episode — the selfish, neurotic Larry taking Artie for granted, his default mode with pretty much everyone — is spot-on, mixing affection, pathos, and knife-twisting satire. But it really takes off when Artie stages a pity party on the show's deserted soundstage, getting tanked, belting the jilted-lover's-revenge song "I Wanna Be Around" as a coded eff-you to Larry, and bonding with the show's Russian janitor, Nicolae (Elya Baskin).  

"Arthur After Hours" is also one of the show's most insightful portraits of workplace power politics. "I clean up shit all day, you clean up shit all night," Artie tells Nicolae. "It's different shit, but we're the guys pushing the brooms." Artie means what he says, but he still asserts privilege when it suits him, going from handing Nicolae a gold watch to commanding him to commit an anatomical impossibility when Nicolae refuses to clean up a broken bottle. "Hope your balls falling off!" the Russian bellows.

What's your favorite episode of The Larry Sanders Show?

Photo: HBO