Not Just the Best of The Larry Sanders Show appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A mix of mediocre and bad, the shows usually looked problematic.
Sanders split its time between videotaped material from the eponymous talk show and the filmed elements from “behind the scenes”. The latter filled the majority of the series, and that often made the results quite ugly, as the filmed scenes tended to present really flawed visuals. Sharpness looked iffy at best. Most of the show presented edge enhancement, and that contributed to the soft, blurry look.
I thought the picture gave us a blocky, gauzy impression. I noticed shimmering and jagged edges as well, along with some source flaws like specks, hairs and marks. These scenes often appeared very grainy. Colors were murky while blacks looked inky and messy. Shadows came across as dense and thick. Matters improved to a moderate degree during the last couple of seasons, but they remained less than stellar.
The videotaped talk show bits had their own problems, though they looked stronger. Colors showed the biggest improvements, as they were still a bit messy but they came across as brighter and more vivid. They varied between decent definition and softness, with the latter more dominant. Blacks were somewhat muddy, and shadows a little thick, though those weren’t much of an issue on the brightly-lit set. Overall, the visuals tended to be problematic.
The Jekyll and Hyde nature of Sanders affected the Dolby Surround 2.0 audio of the series as well, though not as severely. Once again, the “behind the scenes” parts of the series worked the worst. These were often essentially monaural in terms of their soundfield. General ambience fleshed out the spectrum to a moderate degree but didn’t add much to the proceedings most of the time. Only a few sequences used the sides or rears to passable effect.
At least the talk show portions offered more activity, though still in a restricted manner. Music and audience elements created the most compelling aspects of the tracks. These opened up matters to a reasonable degree and brought some dimensionality to the proceedings.
Audio quality remained acceptable and not much better. Music only appeared during the talk show scenes, and those elements seemed reasonably dynamic and concise. They didn’t really impress, but they didn’t disappoint either. Speech could be a little edgy and dull, but the lines were intelligible and not terribly problematic. Effects played a background role, where they sounded clear and accurate within their scope. The audio of Sanders was average as a whole.
Quite a few extras pop up through this four-DVD set. Across the discs, we find four separate audio commentaries. These come with the following episodes:
What Have You Done For Me Lately? - Series creator/actor Garry Shandling and writer Peter Tolan. They tell us about story ideas and characters, sets and decoration, cast and characters, and a few production basics. Though I’d like more about the show’s origins, this track covers the episode fairly well. We get some nice notes and reflections on the series’ challenges.
Hank’s Night in the Sun - Shandling and director Todd Holland. They examine technical elements of the show, as we learn about camerawork, sets, logistics and budgetary concerns. We also get a few cast and story notes, with an emphasis on how the show changes when Shandling doesn’t appear much. Holland dominates this piece and provides a strong look at the technical side of things.
Putting the “Gay” Back in Litigation - Shandling and director Judd Apatow. Much of the chat looks at the challenges Apatow faced in his directorial debut. We get a few more general series and episode notes as well, and the track takes on a more jokey tone than usual. It’s not the most informative of the commentaries, but it’s the funniest and most entertaining.
Flip – Parts I and II - Shandling and Tolan. Since so much of “Flip” takes place on the talk show set, those elements dominate this chat. We hear a lot about the Johnny Carson influence and other decisions related to the end of the series. This means plenty of good notes about the guest stars and other aspects connected to the final episode in this solid discussion.
Deleted Scenes come along with nine episodes. We find them for “The Mr. Sharon Stone Show” (three scenes, 4:23), “The Hey Now Episode” (one scene, 1:38), “Hank’s Night in the Sun” (one scene, 2:26), “Hank’s Divorce” (two scenes, 5:14), “Larry’s New Love” (one scene, 0:56), “Ellen, Or Isn’t She” (three scenes, 14:51), “The Beginning of the End” (one scene, 1:19), “Putting the ‘Gay’ Back in Litigation” (two scenes, 7:16), and “Flip” (three scenes, 15:50).
Quite a lot of good material crops up here. We get the clips in raw form, so expect a little taste of what happens before and after the actual segments. Many of the scenes are entertaining, and some are truly great. The extended Jim Carrey sequence during “Flip” is absolutely wonderful. On the other hand, a long cut piece with David Duchovny from the same episode is a near-complete dud. Overall, though, there’s quite a lot of fine stuff to be found in this entertaining little package.
A few Interviews with various participants can be found across the discs. We get these with Jeremy Piven (Disc One, 6:00), Penny Johnson (Disc One, 10:02), Linda Doucett (Disc Two, 11:26), Janeane Garofalo (Disc Two, 7:30), Sarah Silverman (Disc Two, 9:01), Wallace Langham (Disc Three, 6:29), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Disc Three, 7:42), Scott Thompson (Disc Three, 8:51), and Bob Odenkirk (Disc Four, 4:52). In general, the subjects chat about character and performance choices as well as some episode specifics.
Across the board, these offer nice insights into the supporting actors and their roles. We get good thoughts about the series and their work along with career subjects like why Piven left Sanders. Doucett’s segment is particularly interesting given her former romantic relationship with Shandling, but all of the others offer good content as well. I’m not sure why Thompson does his segment from a bubble bath, but I still find a lot to enjoy here.
In an unusual vein, we discover looks at participants under the banner of Personal Visit With…. We encounter Shandling with Alec Baldwin (Disc One, 18:52), Sharon Stone (Disc One, 22:27), Linda Doucett (Disc Two, 11:26), David Duchovny (Disc Two, 9:54), Ellen DeGeneres (Disc Three, 4:38), Jon Stewart (Disc Three, 10:13), Jerry Seinfeld (Disc Four, 23:41), Carol Burnett (Disc Four, 15:39), and Tom Petty (Disc Four, 20:45). For these, Shandling visits the participants and often engages in a variety of activities. He boxes with Baldwin and takes breakfast with Stone. Shandling chats with DeGeneres on the set of her talk show, yaks on the phone with Stewart, and consults Doucett during the filming of another DVD extra. He plays basketball with Duchovny, walks around New York with Seinfeld, pals around at Petty’s house, and drops in on a photo shoot with Burnett.
These segments vary from light and funny to odd and confrontational. The Baldwin sequence is probably the most antagonistic and strangest of the bunch, as Alec seems to get more and more agitated as it goes. The portions with Stone and Doucett take on a more bittersweet feel, mainly because both actresses experienced romantic relationships with Shandling. These can be awkward and uncomfortable for the viewers given their personal nature.
The others tend to be looser and more entertaining. The DeGeneres segment acts mostly to set up a gag at the end, and Shandling essentially just discusses Burnett’s appearances with her; there’s not the same personal connection seen elsewhere. Stewart’s chat also focuses on jokes, while the pieces with Duchovny, Seinfeld and Petty mix fun and personal interactions. While rather unusual, the “Personal Visits” are a cool, quirky little extra.
On Disc Three, we get an Emmy Print Campaign. These stills cover 15 screens and shows ads created in attempts to garner awards for the series. They’re often quite creative, which makes them interesting to see.
Disc Four packs a few other components. The main component comes from a “feature-length documentary” called The Making of The Larry Sanders Show. Hosted by Greg Kinnear, this one-hour, 10-minute 53-second program mixes show clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from Shandling, Garofalo, Rajskub, Stewart, Thompson, Tolan, Johnson, Silverman, Langham, Holland, Apatow, Piven, Odenkirk, Burnett, Seinfeld, Tonight Show with Johnny Carson executive producer Peter Lassally, HBO chairman (1984-1995) Michael Fuchs, HBO chairman/CEO Chris Albrecht, Time Warner president/CEO Jeffrey Bewkes, director of photography Peter Smokler, writer/co-executive producer Maya Forbes, acting coach Roy London (in 1993), TV critic Ray Richmond, and actors Rip Torn, Jeffrey Tambor, and Gavin de Becker.
We start with a look at Shandling’s career and how this led him toward Sanders. From there we get into the series’ development, casting, characters, and performances. Next we learn about directors and technical elements, writing the shows and Shandling’s development as an actor, guest performers, and the effects of pressure on the series. We finish with the show’s end, the final episode, and retrospective thoughts on Sanders.
Uncommonly rich and informative, “Making” provides an excellent view of Sanders. It doesn’t give us a blow-by-blow account of the series’ run, but it doesn’t need that. Instead, the piece delves into the heart of Sanders as it presents an introspective examination of the series. Expect plenty of great archival footage as well; we see fascinating elements like seminal Shandling standup bits and some series auditions. It’s a fine documentary.
By the way, stick through the ending to find a funny coda with Bruno Kirby, as Shandling bumps him from the DVD. It acts as a nice tribute to Kirby himself, as the actor died only a few weeks after this shoot; it stands as his last performance, and it’s an amusing final turn for him.
More info from Shandling and Apatow comes up in The Writers Process. This eight-minute and 23-second featurette shows a chat between the pair as they discuss one particular disagreement about a gag from a Sanders episode. Intended to demonstrate how the writers interacted as they developed the programs, it works in that regard but also looks like a couple of guys who can’t let go of a particular bone. That antagonism makes it feel real – and entertaining.
Rip and Jeffrey Visit with Garry in His Living Room lasts 11 minutes, 30 seconds. Similar to Shandling’s “Personal Visits”, this one plops Shandling, Torn and Tambor together to reflect about the series. Given the prominence of the three participants, the content of “Room” doesn’t live up to its billing. It gives us a mix of reasonably interesting notes, but it comes out as a somewhat disappointing chat.
Finally, we find a short clip called The Journey Continues. In this two-minute and nine-second snippet, Shandling learns a little about Buddhist symbols. I’m not sure what point it serves on the DVD.
I never saw The Larry Sanders Show during its run on HBO, and I now regret that. Experienced in this compilation called Not Just the Best of the Larry Sanders Show, I missed an excellent series. The DVDs offer problematic picture and mediocre sound, but it’s clear that they represent the source material accurately. The set comes with a very nice collection of extras. I had a lot of fun with this package and definitely recommend it.