Ranking The Larry Sanders Show Seasons

To a certain extent, I did not know what exactly to expect from this show. I realize now that despite vaguely feeling like it is a very respected and beloved show, I guess I only ever occasionally hear it talked about as a top sitcom of all time. And the first season seemed to make clear why you do not hear it in the conversation Seinfeld, etc. It was simply a very good situational comedy. If anything it is a far more interesting show than an outrageously funny show. Still though, it is very clearly worth going back and watch. You see stuff here that was not done before and then clearly influenced so much of what was to come from the future of sitcoms.


6. Season 2 – More of the Same (But not better)

Season 2 made some good decisions overall but did not make any significant improvements to the show. The main good decision was moving Larry on from his marriage. It just did not connect well enough. But then they brought back Larry’s first ex-wife and that basically just recreated the original problem in a brand new way! Francine was not really an improvement in any way shape or form. The one universally positive part of the season was that the show fully understood that Tambor and Torn were where they could mine the most humor, and the show leaned into it even more than in season one.


5. Season 1 – Welcome to the show

The first season of a sitcom can actually be incredibly interesting. Sitcoms are really hard to be great right away and they often need an extended stretch of episodes to figure it out. And you kind of can tell that is what was happening here. There was an edge missing to the show. It felt like it is finding itself. The two characters that were working fully right away though were the show within a show’s producer (Rip Torn) and Larry’s on-show sidekick (Jeffrey Tambor). The show struggled with creating a funny dynamic with Larry’s home life. Beyond that, I did not have a very strong reaction to anything going on.


4. Season 3: The Big Three


It was so refreshing to watch a television to recognize that a show had a big weakness in its first two seasons and then actually make a course correction. Even more encouraging was the decision of the show to choose to highlight entirely on the show’s strength.

Season 3 focused almost entirely on the three main characters. Shandling, Torn, and Tambor are the three reasons why this show works, and it was such a wise decision to just go all in on those three guys and relegate the remaining cast members to the sidelines even more so than before.

While this was a strong season of television, it should be noted that there was one bad episode about Jeffrey Tambor sexually harassing the guests on the show, and that was more uncomfortable than funny and even more so in retrospect.


3. Season 5 – Winding Down

The penultimate season of The Larry Sanders show only had one significant development/change. Janeane Garofalo moved on from the show and was gradually phased out and replaced by Mary Lynn Rajskub. Garofalo is never an unwelcome presence, but the show never really maximized her talents. The scenario remained an interesting moment because someone who was a key to the plot (but a bit less so to the humor) was being removed from the show and so they just were not in almost any of the episodes for this season. Most modern franchises would do more to explain it instead of just trusting the fact that the majority of the audience doesn’t care.

Anyway, this season continued the strong dynamics that were finally fully established over the last two seasons. The big three were the key. Scott Thompson was the funniest supporting character, and Penny Johnson continued in her unheralded (and previously unmentioned in this column) role as a glue piece. At this point, there is nothing new or profound about the show but they are racking up strong episodes.


2. Season 4 – Darlene Out, Brian In

This season is possibly most notable for the seedy removal of Darlene from the show once she and Garry Shandling broke up in real life. It casts a real shadow over the season, as the whole situation was undeniably fucked up.

It was made all the morbid by the fact that the show continued on its trajectory of being a better and funnier show than it was in its first two seasons. Scott Thompson, in particular, was just amazing on the show and the first supporting character that greatly contributed to the weekly funny levels.

There is an uncomfortable factor with this season given the context of the major casting change, and Thompson’s character replacing Darlene just gave this all a bit of an icky feeling. One episode of this season even involves Larry sleeping with an 18-year-old assistant which only compounds the squeamishness of it all.


1. Season 6 – The End

The Larry Sanders Show is one of the few sitcoms that possibly ended on its best season (though I think it’s genuinely up for debate). The humor was likely as solid as it ever was, but more importantly was the fact that this final season was its most interesting due to the takedown of Hollywood culture being the sharpest it ever was. Sensing that the knives were out, Larry Sanders decided at the beginning of the season to end his show. And the show proceeds to use both the real and fake Larry Sanders Show to go scorched earth on how Hollywood is just a total wretched hive of scum and villainy. That is almost always a good time.


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