Gary Shandling: 2 for 2. Two TV shows, two masterpieces. But where more people are familiar with his later Larry Sanders Show, It’s Gary Shandling’s Show has not received the same posthumous praise or attention, partly because it was a Showtime show in the mid to late 80’s, and then began playing on the just-starting Fox network. The show aired for four seasons, and then was out. And to be fair, it ran out of steam, but when it was on, it was one of the most dazzling formalist TV shows to ever air. My review after the jump.
The premise is that Gary Shandling plays himself, and has a platonic female best friend in Nancy (Molly Cheek) and a married best friend in Pete Schumacher (Michael Tucci). Pete’s wife Jackie (Bernadette Birket) eventually gives birth to a second child, who gets named by the audience, and they have a tweener son in Grant (Scott Nemes). Gary’s mom Ruth (Barbara Cason) stops by regularly, as does his Condo association manager Leonard Smith (Paul Wilson), who loves interrupting the show and offering advice on how it should go about.
From the get-go, Shandling breaks the fourth wall, mostly to tell stand-up jokes, but also to comment on the episodes as they unfold. This self-awareness becomes the show’s greatest invention as Gary drives a golf cart (as does everyone else), and he can walk into the set for the next scene before everyone else. In one episode, he even plays with the “There’s a Monster at the End of this Book” convention by having a horrible act foretold, but as a slightly omniscient presence Gary tries to prevent it. One of the best episodes that folds in on itself has Grant and Pete going to Hollywood where they get tickets to see It’s Gary Shandling’s Show, and watch Gary as he investigates in Grant’s bedroom. Another has Gary taking a neighbor he doesn’t like to Shandlingland, the theme park made after the show. There’s so much invention in the first two seasons, and some of that carries over to the third season, where obvious fatigue sets in after a rousing first half. In it there’s the ping-pong The Natural parody, and the Live Election show, where Gary predicts that Michael Dukakis will win the 1988 election. It’s still pretty strong, but in Season four Jessica Harper is brought in as Gary’s live-in love interest, and finding the mundane acts mixed with flights of fancy starts feeling that less organic. Ironically, around this time Seinfeld was getting off to a terrible start with a vaguely similar set up. The series ends strongly with a Driving Miss Daisy parody.
The show was chocked full of great writers, and was produced by Alan Zwiebel, one of the original Saturday Night Live writers, and everyone here understands the conventions they’re tweaking. While waiting for Jackie to give birth, Gary hosts a talk show in his living room, with that being the first episode to introduce Tom Petty as one of Gary’s neighbors, and Petty has a great reoccurring role, often working against Leonard Smith. Al Jean and Michael Weiss, best known for their later work on the Simpsons, really broke out here, and you can see how the structure of starting with one concern and having it turn into something else entire is very much of the Simpsons style.
The show did great film parodies, as mentioned, but also got a lot of mileage out of its guest stars. Perhaps the best is Gilda Radner, who makes her final onscreen appearance in an episode devoted to her. If you love Gilda Radner, it’s a great show, but then also people like Dabney Coleman, Red Buttons, Martin Mull and Dan Aykroyd get good one off’s
In It’s Gary Shandling’s Show’s structure, the team managed create one of the best commentaries on the sitcom structure, while also being a fairly successful sitcom in and of itself. And, of course, Gary Shandling is a very funny guy. Highlyrecommended.
Shout Factory is – bar none- one of the best companies producing DVD and Blu-rays these days, and here they’ve collected every single episode from the four seasons, and spread them out over sixteen discs. All come in full frame and 2.0 stereo. Extras with season one include:
Disc One: deleted scenes from the pilot (1 min.) and a commentary by creators Shandling and Alan Zweibel.
Disc Two: deleted scenes for “Gary Met a Girl Named Maria” (8 min.), commentary on “The Graduate” by Shandling and Zweibel, and on “Grant’s Date” with Shandling and writer Ed Solomon
Disc Three: commentary by Solomon on “Fate.”
Disc Four: Commentary on “Dial L for Laundry” with writers Tom Gammill, Max Pross, and Shandling and Zweibel, Featurette “Getting There” (19 min.) on how the show came to pass and dry run sketches for a Mike Nesmith show “Television Parts,” and runs two sketches “Gary Meets Miss Maryland” (4 min.) and “Gary Shandling’s Car” (5 min.)
Extras with Season Two:
Disc One: Outtakes for “Who’s Poppa?” and “Nancy Gets Amnesia” (12 min.), and commentaries on “No Baby, No Show” with Shandling and Zweibel and “The Schumachers go to Hollywood” with Gammill, Pross and Solomon.
Disc Two: Deleted scenes for “It’s Gary Shandling’s Christmas Show and “Killer Routine” (7 min.)
Disc Three: Deleted scenes from “Save the Planet” (7 min.) and commentary on “Mr. Sparks by Gammill and Pross.
Disc for offers deleted scenes from “Mr. Smith Goes to Nam” (3 min.) and commentary with Alan Zweibel, and the featurette “Being There” (26 min.) which talks to the cast about making it. Also included are the ten promos done for the show when it began airing on Fox (6 min.).
Disc One: Offers deleted scenes from “What’s Happening to Me?” (4 min.) , and commentary by Gammill, Pross, Shandling and Zweibel, commentary on “Goin’ Places” with Gammill Pross, Shandling and Solomon, and on “The Natural” with Shandling, and writers Al Jean and Michael Weiss.
Disc Two: Offers Deleted scenes from parts one and two of “Vegas” (9 min.)
Disc Three: Offers deletes scenes from “Ruth’s Place” (5 min.) and commentary on “Gary Acts like a Moron” with Jean and Weiss.
Disc Four: Offers Deleted scenes from “Gary Goes Golfing” (2 min.) and commentary by Jean, Weiss and Shandling, and Deleted scenes from “Worry Wart” (3 min.) along with commentary by Gammill, Pross, Shandling and Zweibel. Also included is featurete “Still There” (26 min.) which focuses on the writers and behind the scenes staff, while “Show and Tell with Tom and Max” (8 min.) goes through Gammill and Pross’s memorabilia. “Shandlines” offers the official newsletter from the show
Extras with Season Three:
Disc One: No extras. ZING!
Disc Two: Offers deleted scenes for “the Honeymoon Show” (5 min.) and “Firehose” (3 min.), with the latter featuring a commentary by Jean and Weiss
Disc Three: Offers Deleted scenes from “Shandling Vs. Mull” (5 min.) and commentary on Family Man by Zweibel
Disc Four: Offers commentary on “Driving Miss Gary” with Jena and Weiss, “Try to Remember” (20 min.) a conversation between Shandling and Zweibel about their partnership, and finally “Bruce Grayson: The Man Behind the Brush” (3 min.) which gives Gary’s makeup artist his own chance to talk.
The set also comes with a booklet to walk you through each episode and with comments from Larry Gelbart and Judd Apatow. The commentaries are loving, and people are very happy with the work, while Shandling is very positive, and this set stand in contrast to the weird depressing angles of the Larry Sanders set. Everyone is proud of their work here, though everyone also admits that the final season showed fatigue, even though there’s a great episode where Gary had a part in a pornographic movie called Firehose.