“Larry Loses A Friend”/“Doubt Of The Benefit” (season three, episodes 11-12, originally aired Aug. 31, 1994, and Sept. 7, 1994)
The midseason sag of The Larry Sanders Show’s third go-round continues a bit this week, with a minor episode (the City Slickers II-shilling “Larry Loses A Friend”) that segues into a mostly minor, but comedically strong episode (the zippy “Doubt Of The Benefit”).
In “Larry Loses A Friend,” Jon Lovitz (who just happened to co-star in that summer’s City Slickers II: The Legend Of Curly’s Gold, which was out of theaters by the time this episode aired) makes his 13th appearance on Larry’s show, a tally probably unmatched by any other guest. He doesn’t return because he likes Larry so much, but because of Darlene, whom he has doggedly pursued for some time.
She’s not interested, so the episode plays out with Lovitz trying and failing to make a connection with her. Hank eventually lies and tells him she’s a lesbian, which spreads around the office, as expected. That premise is hacky—even if Hank is funny as he tells Lovitz, then tries to call Darlene a homophobe when she gets pissed—but the resolution is strong. Darlene confesses to Lovitz that she isn’t gay, but she doesn’t date showbiz types because she’s been burned too many times. Lovitz pouts, but everything unravels when Beverly comes in wearing the tennis bracelet he had given Darlene. “I was going to give it back to her tonight because we’re going out,” Beverly says. “To a women’s meeting.” The way Lovitz punctuates every sentence Beverly says with an “Oh!”—as it mistakenly dawns on him Darlene’s “no showbiz” rule was a cover for her lesbianism—just kills.
The final scene of Lovitz sulking in his limo after he storms off the show also works, as the initial shot is tight on him and Darlene, who’s had a change of heart. It pulls out to reveal Larry sitting next to Lovitz, then expands more to show Hank, Phil, and Artie on the other side of the limo. They’ve all come down to get Lovitz back on the show in the rapidly dwindling time they have before showtime, as well as reassure him of her heterosexuality. “Guys, guys, nothing but guys,” Hank says. “That’s our Darlene in a nutshell.” Lovitz apparently isn’t fazed by Hank’s implication that she bangs a lot of dudes.
“Larry Loses A Friend”—the title doesn’t seem right, does it?—is the second Darlene-centric story in four episodes. It’s interesting that Darlene’s character can be the focus without Linda Doucett having to carry the episode—which is good, because she’s not really able to do that. Doucett has a lot more lines in “Larry Loses A Friend” than she did in “Office Romance,” but Darlene’s character exists as the office naïf, the straightman who doesn’t even know she’s the straightman. She’s not a compelling enough character to carry an episode. Part of is probably Doucett too, whose acting career was pretty limited. As Shandling has noted in one of the show’s commentary tracks, Doucett was perfectly cast as Darlene, because she basically was Darlene. Shandling had worked with her before on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, so it’s possible—maybe even likely—that they had her in mind when they created Darlene. But I don’t think anyone would argue that Scott Thompson’s Brian is the lesser of Hank’s assistants. (Coming soon!)
“Doubt Of The Benefit” treads a well-worn path for The Larry Sanders Show by highlighting a favorite theme, the phoniness of show business. On the macro level, it’s a minor episode—Larry mistakenly thinks Rob Reiner canceled an appearance because he wouldn’t do a benefit Reiner recommended him for—but its snappy dialogue makes it especially enjoyable. The quips come quickly:
Hank & Darlene:
“You might tell them I have some nerve deafness.”
“Hank, that is so sad.”
“I really don’t have nerve deafness.”
“I know. That’s what’s so sad.”
Larry & Artie:
“What a goddamn disappointment, Artie. And people wonder why I’m a cynical asshole.”
“No they don’t.”
Hank & Darlene, again:
“What is wrong with mankind, I ask you!”
“Please be quiet.”
Phil & Larry:
“A new study shows that over 1.6 million children ages 5 to 14 are left home alone each day. Boy, finally some good news for Michael Jackson.”
“Ooh, is it last January already?”
Zippy dialogue, that. (Credit, again, the late Drake Sather, but also Peter Tolan and Shandling.) The episode moves briskly, with well-executed staging. For instance, Artie and Larry move from Paula’s desk via walk-and-talk through the hallway, pausing briefly, and to the backstage area (in search of cake celebrating gaffer Glen’s first day back since having his thumbs reattached). It’s not one long take—though that would be pretty great—but it moves at a cracking pace, from Artie and Larry’s actual movements to the rhythm of their banter. Larry’s visibly excited about having Reiner on the show, but Artie’s more restrained, because he’s heard Reiner has gotten a little self-serious since he became a director. (This episode comes two years after his acclaimed work on A Few Good Men, a movie whose position on the truth and who can handle it informs “Doubt Of The Benefit.”)
“Sometimes, Larry, you act live you’ve been in this business for two days,” Artie tells the host later, because Larry refuses to believe that Reiner would cancel simply because he turned down the benefit Reiner suggested he host. Larry has yet to learn you never doubt Artie, even though in this case he happens to be wrong. He’s not buying that Reiner severely sprained his ankle on the way to the show: “What a cinematic excuse! I can almost see him falling. That’s what makes him such a genius.” But when Larry once again goes against Artie’s advice later, he learns that lesson yet again.
As much as The Larry Sanders Show liked to mock Hollywood’s phoniness, “Doubt Of The Benefit” offers a new wrinkle: Honesty can be equally harmful. Larry feels bad that Reiner was so gracious when he realized Larry thought he faked his injury. Larry only did that benefit so he could rub his being the Bigger Man in Reiner’s face. Larry feels genuine remorse, and after he tells Artie how he and Reiner were able to “put Hollywood bullshit aside and have an honest moment,” he feels comfortable enough in his rapport with Reiner than he can be honest about his true intention for doing that benefit. Cue Artie saying “You can’t handle the truth!” yada yada.
As Artie predicted, it blows up in Larry’s face. Never doubt the master!
- Apologies for the lack of reviews last week! We should be back in business for the remaining episodes of the season.
- More zippy dialogue in “Doubt Of The Benefit”: Hank’s rant about charities’ misplaced priorities, which ends with, “Oh nerve deafness this.” [Makes jerkoff motion]
- Another great Jeffrey Tambor scene in “Doubt Of The Benefit”: He and Darlene are going through the benefits he’s been asked to host while he eats. The sickle cell people have invited him, and Hank lights up. Paul Anka hosted it last year, so he wants Darlene to find out what he was paid, add 5 percent as well as—and this is such a great little moment—a helicopter, which he indicates by whistling and making a propeller motion with his hands. National treasure, I tell you.
- Ugh, City Slickers II: The Legend Of Curly’s Gold. I’ll admit I enjoyed the first City Slickers, but I was 14 when it came out. What the hell did I know? I’d imagine it’s pretty taxing to watch all these years later, particularly the bit where Billy Crystal counsels Daniel Stern on programming his VCR. Curly’s Gold was a pretty steep drop from City Slickers, so it must be unwatchable nearly 20 years later. Trivia: It opened the same day as Speed, which won the weekend handily—but Curly’s Gold was even beaten by the dire Flintstones live-action movie, which had been in theaters for three weeks by that point. Ouch.
- “Doubt Of The Benefit” was filmed during Pauly Shore’s early ’90s heyday, when he starred in a movie every year between 1992 and 1997. The “army movie” he references is 1994’s In The Army Now. Jury Duty would follow in 1995 (to capitalize on that sweet, sweet OJ publicity), then Bio-Dome in 1996. Something called The Curse Of The Inferno followed in 1997, but I’ve never heard of that. Shore was on a flight with me, Sean O’Neal, and Josh Modell on the way back from SXSW this year. He was a nice guy. Travels with his own pillow to sit on, because airplane seats are uncomfortable.
- Paula & Larry:
“Why are you putting your shoes on before you pull your pants up?”
“I always do.”
“Superstitious. Thank God you weren’t in here a few minutes ago when I was painting my balls.”
- Hank to Darlene: “Well for your information, Miss Smartypants, I have been thinking about dropping Alzheimer’s. I mean, five years? C’mon guys, where’s the cure?”
- Artie to Larry: “Took you a long time to figure out what I was getting at, didn’t it? You had a big lunch today?”