Not Just The Best Of The Larry Sanders Show
Nineteen ninety-two saw a seismic shift in the landscape of late-night television, touched off by the retirement of Johnny Carson. In a futile effort to fill the void, every network tried to throw someone up in the 11:30 time slot. The results, for the most part, were disastrous. If the late-night territory wasn’t rife with opportunities for parody, nothing was.
Enter Garry Shandling and “The Larry Sanders Show.” With Sanders, Shandling populated his fictional late-night talker with elements of all the other shows. Using a Carson-like set and bumbling sidekick, Letterman’s penchant for goofy skits, and Leno’s insecurity and willingness to please the network brass, Sanders took viewers into the back-stage world and created perhaps the funniest and most insightful show of its time.
Yet as clever and spot-on as Shandling’s depiction of Sanders was, the show would have been nowhere without the stellar supporting cast. As Sanders’ buffoonish sidekick Hank, Jeffrey Tambor perfectly captures the ego and cluelessness of the vapid entertainment personality, while every moment of screen time for the great Rip Torn as Larry’s producer Artie is simply a gift.
There really wasn’t a bad episode in the series, so selecting the 24 episodes that make up the four-disc set could not have been easy. So, for that reason, I’ll cut them a little slack for leaning a bit too heavy on the fifth and sixth seasons.
Not Just The Best weighs heavily on the side of the celebrity guests, and they were legion. Alec Baldwin, David Duchovny, Sharon Stone, Jon Stewart, and Letterman himself show up, and that just scratches the surface. And, like the talk shows it was lampooning, Sanders would often interrupt the proceedings for a musical guest. On this set, we get performances by Elvis Costello, Clint Black, Colin Hay, and others.
On top of all this, Not Just The Best comes packed with special features. Interviews with practically all of the supporting cast are included, as well as Shandling catching up with above guests. There’s a full-length Making-Of segment with Shandling, Tambor, Torn, and the writers and directors as well.
Sanders was truly groundbreaking television, and it opened the door for HBO to get fully into the episodic series. Without it, there would be no “Sopranos,” no “Deadwood,” no “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” And that alone is worth giving thanks to “The Larry Sanders Show.”
Series: **** Features: ****
Volunteer Jam Starring Charlie Daniels
In 1975, Charlie Daniels held the second in what was to ultimately become 10 Volunteer Jams. While the first one had taken place in an auditorium that seated a little over 2,000, the second took place before 13,000. It was also filmed and released as the first film solely dedicated to Southern jam rock.
Many consider Daniels as strictly a country artist, yet during the ’70s he more than held his own on the Southern rock landscape, although Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers got all the press.
At Volunteer Jam, Daniels is joined onstage by members of the Allman Brothers, as well as The Marshall Tucker Band, and a post-Allman Dicky Betts.
This is the first time it has been available on DVD, and while it doesn’t make for a particularly engrossing experience sitting on your couch and watching it, the music is great and the 5.1 sound mix is decent. The problem comes with the film quality. If they took the time to remaster the sound into 5.1, they could have spent a little time sprucing up the image. Instead, it’s grainy and washed out as if they just took a copy of the print and slapped it on a disc.
As for special features, there’s only an interview with Daniels himself. With the Volunteer Jam turning into an event that would be held every year for a decade, you would think that there would be more. The film deserves better.
Film: *** Features:*1/2
– Timothy Hiatt
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