“Being There” (season 2, episode 13, originally aired 8/18/93)
Season one has Larry struggling to maintain his marriage, and season two finds him backsliding to his first wife and struggling to make that succeed the second time around. Jeannie had no life outside of their marriage and wanted too much from Larry, but Francine has an active, fulfilling life outside of him, and that’s no good for Larry, either. “Being There” recalls “The Party” from the first season, when Larry’s personal and professional lives intersect and it becomes obvious that, in the battle of Larry’s Ladies Vs. Larry’s Show, the show always wins. Or, to punch that up a bit, THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.
At least “Being There” is a little more sympathetic toward Larry than “The Party.” Then, he was a buffoon desperately trying to make his home life look normal and happy in front of his staff. In “Being There,” he genuinely wants to be with Francine, but the show gets in the way.
Specifically, Hank feeling threatened by a hotshot new bandleader gets in the way. Jake is attractive (in an early-’90s-rayon-shirt-with-yin-yangs-on-it kind of way), funny, and young—three words no one would ever use to describe Hank. Who needs a sidekick when you have a funny bandleader? Carson may have had Ed McMahon, but he also had Doc Severinsen. Letterman has Paul Shaffer. Leno’s had whoever it is he’s had. Is Kenny that guy’s name?
When Jake gets a laugh during a sketch that’s bombing, it’s a red flag for Hank, who wastes no time trying to get rid of him after the show. He calls Jake’s English accent very “Yakov Smirnoff” and worries about relying on musicians. “Musicians are needy people,” he tells Larry. “I think the last thing we want around us, especially you, is needy people.” “Yeah, you know, you’re right,” Larry responds. “You’re fired.”
Artie and Larry dismiss Hank and agree to bring Jake on full-time, which sets up the conflict that will drive a wedge between Larry and Francine. That conflict is also staged when Larry races home after the show, bailing on poker night at James Coburn’s house (with James Caan!), to have a nice dinner with Francine. He even has flowers—well, he had Beverly get him the flowers, but hey, that’s something when it comes to Larry.
And that’s kind of the problem. Larry probably thinks he deserves some kind of medal (and by “medal” I mean “sexual favors”) for getting home in time to have dinner with Francine. He’s the only one who’s allowed to miss dates, because he’s Larry Sanders, Famous Celebrity. The women in his life aren’t granted the same dispensation. Francine’s sister Dora drives home that point when she and Francine are, well, driving home.
“It seems to me that Larry just cares about the show. That’s the whole thing with him—the show, the show, the show. It’s the first thing that comes out of his mouth every time I see him: ‘You have to come to the show.’ Who cares?”
And to prove her right: Larry’s sitting in the dark at their house, eating pudding and fuming that Francine missed their date. He didn’t see Francine’s note about having to pick up her sister (who’s having a relationship crisis) at the airport, and now he knows he can’t be mad, but he still is. He busted his ass to make it for dinner! “And Artie and I had a very important meeting with James Caan.”
But the line that lays bare the whole conflict is this one, from Larry: “Why are you never here?” Francine immediately understands what he’s really saying: Why aren’t you always available to tend to my needs? As she mentions in a later argument, Larry always thinks his job is more important than what she does.
The next day, Beverly breaks it down for Larry: He interprets Francine’s interest in her life as lack of interest in his. “God, you should have a column,” Larry says. She’s right, and Larry knows it. The host, as always, looks to Carson for guidance. “Did any of Johnny’s wives work?” he asks Artie. “They were fully functional. Is that the question?” Artie says, not that he’s much help in the marriage department.
“My first wife was working 12-hour days when we first got married!”
“Oh yeah? Well how did you handle that?”
“I fired her ass. She was my secretary.”
There’s a sense that Larry really wants to make this work, even if it’s just to prove to himself he’s not as self-involved as he thinks he is. When Francine shows up unannounced to have a dinner with Larry in his office after the show, Larry’s genuinely touched—Francine’s showing that she understands his unconventional life. But that doesn’t mean she’ll tolerate it for long.
And so the two trains in Larry’s life continue to race toward each other at full speed. Hank has a hilarious confrontation with Jake backstage that snowballs into something uglier later.
“Don’t mess with me, Mr. Music Man. I’m warning you. You step on my turf again, and you’re going down. You dig?”
“I’ll chill out when you fuckin’ get out.”
There may be nothing funnier in the universe than Hank Kingsley saying “You dig?” Actually, all of Hank’s interactions with Jake are pretty great, even when he goes way over the line and insinuates to the audience that Jake is a sex offender. (When Artie reams him for that, Hank says the audience knew he was joking. “That audience comes on buses,” Larry says. “They can barely tell when I’m joking.”) They fight again backstage later after Jake calls Hank a “clown in a fucking girdle,” and Hank scores again with a hilarious kiss off telling Jake to shove his tea and crumpets and Queen Mum up his rectum.
Larry tries to join Francine while this is happening, but Hank and Jake keep going at each other—and eventually duke it out on the set, from what it sounds like—and hold him up. When he finally gets free, Francine has left.
I have to say I’m a little dubious that Francine would see guys literally fighting backstage and not be more patient with Larry, but then again, we have no real sense for how much time passed between the fisticuffs and Larry finally getting back to his office. But with five episodes left in this season, a rekindled romance with Francine looks less and less promising.
- I know this much is true: Jake is played by Gary Kemp, better known as the primary songwriter for a little synth-pop band called Spandau Ballet.
- According to IMDB, “Being There” was the last thing written by Emily Marshall, a veteran TV writer who also wrote for Laverne & Shirley, Rhoda, The Bob Newhart Show (and Newhart), and more. And to bring this thing full circle, she’s married to Doc Severinsen. Taking it to a whole other level: Severinsen met her when she was the secretary for Fred De Cordova, Carson’s longtime producer on whom Artie’s character is based. THIS THING HAS SO MANY LEVELS, PEOPLE.
- “In my defense, that joke about sex with minors, I think I confused them. I think they actually thought I meant miners—miners down in the mine.”