“Hank’s Divorce”/“The Fourteenth Floor” (season three, episodes 13-14, originally aired 9/14/94 and 9/21/94)
Last week, we talked about the mid-season sag of The Larry Sanders Show, but that’s all in the rearview now, folks, for we are arriving at the highlight of season three: Hank’s divorce—not “Hank’s Divorce,” as in this episode, but the dissolution of his short-lived marriage to Margaret. Season three has been leading up to this point, and “Hank’s Divorce” is one of two great episodes about it. We have to wait another week until the amazing “Next Stop…Bottom” and its senior-citizen hooker and “divorce gun,” but let’s savor the great Jeffrey Tambor as we continue this journey of marital discord.
Maybe it’s an obvious move to have Hank and Margaret’s first anniversary coincide with the show’s seventh anniversary, double underlining the episode’s theme, but I think it’s a nice touch. Anniversary shows for The Larry Sanders Show are boringly routine, glorified clip shows with the same tired scenes of Larry’s balls being grabbed by a monkey, but there’s an added poignancy this year because of Hank’s personal life. Just a year before, he had married Margaret on the air—and was too moved even to spit out his vows—thus uniting the two loves of his life, the show and the woman he’d met only two weeks before. Stunt episodes tend to boost ratings, and the wedding scene is an obvious choice for an anniversary-show clips package.
Hank won’t let it on, but everyone knows his marriage is in trouble. He reveals the depths of his denial when he invites Larry to dinner with him and Margaret (at the Lookaround Café, of course) to celebrate their anniversary. Larry demurs, suggesting they should be alone, but Hank won’t have it: “This is how I always dreamt of it!”
The DVD offers several deleted scenes for “Hank’s Divorce,” including a continuation of this one. Larry goes backstage and complains to Beverly that he didn’t know about Hank’s anniversary or that his sidekick was even still married. Neither Beverly nor Artie can even remember Margaret’s name. That’s more believable than forgetting Hank was married, considering Hank’s faltering marriage came up a couple times during “Larry Loses A Friend.” As commenter Brainiac McGee noted, continuity tended to be a problem on The Larry Sanders Show, which the deleted scene makes plain. Good thing it didn’t make it to the episode.
At dinner, Margaret reveals to Larry that she’s miserable—he says he understands, and she hopefully asks, “You do?” “No, I don’t,” he retorts—putting Larry in the awkward position of trying to force Hank to see what’s happening. It plays out like “Hank’s Wedding,” with Hank dismissing Larry’s concerns (only this time Hank thinks Larry’s banging her). Only now he no longer has “the shield of love” to protect him, and reality stubbornly persists. “The fact that you had no idea there was a problem is the problem,” Margaret tells him.
Hank confesses to Larry that he thought it was those nebulous “female problems.” “She’s having trouble with her…?” Larry asks. “No, not that,” Hank responds. “I mean, on the other hand, how would I know? I haven’t been down there in months. She could’ve grown a dick over the summer—I wouldn’t have a clue.”
The problem, of course, is Hank’s unhealthy dependence on his job—specifically, Larry’s moods. If Larry treats him well, Hank’s walking on air. If Larry’s a jerk, Hank’s depressed. Hank may be married, but his first love is his work—and it’s not a good relationship, because when the time comes to choose between one or the other, Hank will always choose Larry.
The best moment of the episode arrives after Hank gets emotional watching the wedding clip while on the panel (great work here by Tambor). Larry suggests Hank make one last plea to Margaret on the air, another grand gesture that calls back to his on-air proposal in “Hank’s Wedding.” Hank gives a spiel about a special person in his life, someone who’s taught him about compassion and caring, yada yada. There’s never any doubt that Hank’s talking about Larry—but that’s not the joke. What seals it comes immediately after:
Larry: “Well, how ’bout your, uh, wife?”
Hank: “Oh well, we had a good year, but that’s over.”
Tambor’s dismissive, unfazed delivery, followed by the immediate cut to the post-show party, just kills. In the space of a couple minutes, he’s gone from weeping at the sight of what could have been to coldly putting it all behind him. It won’t last, but for now, he’s taking it awfully well, as Larry notes.
“Well you know, Larry, there’s a deep place inside us all, a very deep place. The trick is, you gotta know how to get there.”
“And that place is…”
“Your desk, top right-hand drawer. Yellow pills. Take a few of those and a shot of bourbon, and you’ll go immediately to this place.” [Dances away.]
By comparison, the proceeding episode, “The 14th Floor,” can’t help but feel a little rote. Larry mocking a show on his unnamed network, as well as the network’s executives, doesn’t go over well with them, which only inspires further antagonism by both sides until one of them blinks. The network threatens to move the show back five minutes, to cut its budget (the guy with the palsy will cut Larry’s hair!), and finally, to can Artie and replace him with a network yes-man. Nothing gets Larry’s attention quite like that.
Artie is an expert glad-hander, skilled at pampering his overly coddled star but capable of forthrightness when necessary. The problem in “The 14th Floor” is that Artie hides the truth for too long. When the young “network liaison for late-night programming” fires a warning shot across his bow, Artie dismisses it. While he’s learned over the years what to tell Larry and what to hide, he doesn’t see what this portends. “No problem at all,” he tells Larry. “A boy came from the 14th floor, we chatted about this and that, I gave him some candy and a balloon and sent him on his merry way.”
The Master isn’t perfect, but it’s safe to assume he’s dealt with network quibbles his entire career, and this one didn’t seem especially noteworthy. But when he gets a visit from Melanie Parrish and Dennis, who demand an on-air apology, he underestimates the threat. And Larry has to drag the truth out of him later, which leads to an even more biting bit on the show where Hank tries to take flowers and a basket of powdered soup up to the 14th floor to apologize. (He ends up spraining his ankle.)
When the old man realizes the error of his ways, he hits the bottle for his lunchtime “ham and bourbon sammich.” Up to that point, Larry had been angry with Artie for not standing up to the network on his behalf, but he realizes the silliness of it all when he sees how much it has affected Artie. It could cost his good friend his livelihood, which is awful, but more pertinent to a narcissist like Larry, it would create all kinds of hassle for him. No threat of a later start or bad haircut can scare Larry like the potential of being inconvenienced.
- Hank’s two-minute-break idea during arguments even comes from his relationship with Larry. Maybe he should have married his boss.
- I love how Artie treats Hank’s divorce like an inevitability, even when Hank refuses to admit there are any problems. First he gives him his divorce lawyer’s number, then passes on a pamphlet for an apartment complex to live once Margaret gets the house. It’s “just loaded with fellow divorce victims, so whenever you get the urge to piss all over your ex, everybody joins in. You’ll have a ball!”
- “You’re fucking Margaret, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m fucking Larry.”
- The end of “Hank’s Divorce” sets up Larry’s pill addiction, which we’ll see again at the end of this season.
- Artie to the network exec: “You’ll have to excuse Hank. His heart’s in the right place, but he keeps his brain in a box at home.”
- The poster behind the secretary on the 14th floor is for North, the 1994 kids’ movie directed by Rob Reiner, who was just on the show. See, City Slickers II doesn’t get all the glory!
- Hank, on crutches: “Just take a look, Larry. This is what happens when you screw with the network: Innocent victims get caught in the crossfire.”
- The pint-sized network exec who comes out for an anti-network sketch is none other than Haley Joel Osment, fresh off Forrest Gump but still four years away from seeing dead people. He’s 25 now.
- Oh, hey, the third disc of season three has interviews with Linda Doucett and Penny Johnson. Good thing I’m just now noticing this. D’oh.