“The Breakdown, Pt. 1” and “The Breakdown, Pt. 2” (season 2, episodes 1-2; originally aired June 2, 1993)
The second season of The Larry Sanders Show began in the summer of 1993 a little more than a year after Jay Leno debuted as the post-Carson host of The Tonight Show and a little less than three months before David Letterman launched his show on CBS—which itself debuted just days before Chevy Chase’s infamous bomb. Late Night With Conan O’Brien would debut on Sept. 13, just a couple weeks after Chase. (Fox would cancel Chase’s show by the middle of October, after just six weeks on the air.)
All of this is to say the timing couldn’t have been better for a show that satirized and celebrated the culture of late-night talk shows: Reality provided a rich bounty of material for The Larry Sanders Show.
It heavily informs the two-part episode that kicks off the series’ second season, with Larry fretting about new competition from Letterman—especially his supposed appeal to a younger audience—and Chase. And he’s not being paranoid: The Phoenix affiliate is dropping Larry for Chase (and Tulsa doesn’t look good, either). Not helping matters: the Emmy nominations, which have once again overlooked Larry’s show, even though he thought for sure he’d get a seat at that table with Carson gone. (Sometimes, there’s just no beating A Jackie Mason Hanukkah.) On top of it all, Jeannie has been estranged in Chicago for the past four months, and divorce is all but certain. “Walk it off,” advises Artie. “Walk it off? Why don’t I just put ice on it, Artie? It’s a marriage for God’s sakes!”
But Larry gets a quick moment of clarity right after that: “You know what I need to do, I need to focus on this fucking show,” though he’s quickly distracted by the prospect of a hot towel. But as he later tells Artie, who suggests he move on from his marriage, “There will be no dating. Until I get the show on track, I have no dick.”
That’s the crux of the first two episodes. Where should Larry put his effort: his work or his personal life? For the former: Affiliates may be dropping, and ratings are terrible:
“Bear in mind that Koppel had the Buttafuccos on last night,” Artie says, always spinning the preceding night’s bad ratings.
“Jesus, he’s really digging in the toilet,” Larry responds.
“Well, why didn’t we get the Buttafuccos on?”
“’Cause they turned us down!”
For his personal life: a marriage in tatters and, at the end of part one, a “heart episode” that felt like a heart attack (or as Dana Delany heard, a stroke). After a typically mediocre sketch segment (the Cap In A Can) stumbles even more thanks to Hank, Larry’s anxiety escalates, even though spin doctor Artie assures him, “You can’t buy those kind of fuck ups!”
The next time we see Larry, he’s bedridden at home, an oxygen tube under his nose as Hank leads a rambling group prayer. “Thank you for sparing the life of Larry Sanders. I first met Larry in the spring of 1985… ” (That’s followed by a weak Larry waving Hank closer: “Hank? Hank? Get the fuck off the bed.”)
Until the doctors get involved, part one finds Larry in a crisitunity. His failed marriage could at least allow him to focus on making the show great, which, considering his two new competitors, has never been more important. This is his chance to take a bad situation and use it to his advantage! All he has to do is follow his own “I have no dick” announcement.
But Larry Sanders is almost all dick. It’s not that he’s lecherous like Hank, but he desperately needs the stability of a relationship, even if it’s one he doesn’t nurture like he should. (In the first episode, he’s watching his show while talking on the phone to Jeannie, who promptly calls him on it.) So it’s not surprising that the second episode finds Larry taking tentative, awkward steps into the dating world by using the bounty of famous starlets his job provides. “There’s a very fine line between being a booker and a pimp,” he tells Artie, who has seemingly lined up string of single ladies as guests.
There’s an excruciating dinner with Helen Hunt (who could not look more ’90s if she tried) that basically repeats her interview segment on Larry’s show. There’s a slightly less awkward dinner with an uninterested Dana Delany, who tells Larry he’s not her type. (What is her type? She can’t say, but Larry ain’t it.) Even more demoralizing is a double date with Hank, who sets them up with a couple ladies who work at the Gap (including a very young Kristin Davis). Although they’re very young, Hank says, they’re very bright (and one even has some community college!). “Will you think about it?” Hank asks. “I’ve decided to ruin my life on my own,” Larry retorts, though he gives in, and it goes predictably poorly. But that’s hardly as bad as sleeping with Beverly, which he also does. Unsurprisingly, by the end of the episode, Larry is clinging to something familiar: his ex-wife Francine.
Unlike Jeannie, Francine is a driven career woman, so she’s perhaps more understanding about Larry’s priorities—but then again, they are divorced. When they meet again in the hallway of Larry’s building (she’s there working on a story), it’s friendly, even flirtatious. But Francine is persona non grata to Artie, who hangs up on his son calling from rehab to try to nip this in the bud. “Jesus, who let that crazy bitch in here? It’s going to fuck him up for weeks!”
Eighteen weeks, to be exact, because it sets up a season-long story arc: the tentative reconciliation between Francine and Larry and all the emotional baggage that accompanies it. Adrift and extremely anxious about his life, Larry sees a chance to fix something he screwed up. Turns out he does have a dick—but it may be in Francine’s purse.
- These two episodes offer a bounty of good stuff in the margins. I love that Artie’s sons are basically criminals. “I hope bail money becomes tax-deductible,” Artie grouses. “It should with that hippie in the White House!” In another scene, Beverly tells Artie his son’s on the phone. “Eddie?” “Stevie.” “Ah shit, sheriff’s station?” “No, Regency.” Hey, rehab’s better than jail.
- Awesome Darlene joke: She doesn’t get how pagers work. “Let’s go over this again,” Hank says. “It’s for when you cannot see me. Cannot see me!” I also love that Darlene is convinced that it’s only a matter of time before Larry starts working his way through the ladies in the office, and that she’s on deck.
- The first Artie line of the second season comes when he finds Larry lying on his office sofa: “Oh Jesus, you’re not laying in your own puke, are you?” Rip Torn FTW.
- Jeannie has a restraining order against the show to prevent the writers from making fun of the divorce. Which is too bad, because according to Artie, the writers have “a couple” jokes. “Two hundred,” Phil says. “He’s been working on them since 1989,” Larry says dismissively.
- I wish there were a good way to describe the noise and gesture Hank makes when describing a blowjob. It’s apparently the cure to what ails Larry.
- Worst pickup line of all time? “Wanna go back to my house and watch ourselves on the show?”
- Larry, after Francine flips off Ovitz when he’s not looking: “He doesn’t need to see it, he can feel it. He’s an agent! You know how many times he gets flipped off behind his back in a given week? He’s sitting over there right now going ‘Wow, someone just flipped me off.’ It comes from deep down with those guys.”
- Artie, Father Of The Year: “Listen, Steve, you better grow up, you son of a bitch. This is America. You don’t get caught—you don’t ever plead guilty. You hear me, you asshole?”
- Larry’s show didn’t get nominated for any Emmys, but The Larry Sanders Show was the first cable show to get nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1993—thought it began a long tradition of losing to Frasier that year.