“Montana”/“You’re Having My Baby” (season 3, episodes 1-2, originally aired June 22 and June 29, 1994)
“C’mon, Larry, I knew you wouldn’t be happy here. You’re a talk-show animal. You’re like one of those goddamn creatures out of Greek mythology: half-man, half-desk.”
Welcome back, Artie. And welcome back to The Larry Sanders Show, everybody.
The last time we saw our heroes, Larry had abruptly quit the show in the face of network indifference and personal issues, and finally gone through with his long-promised plan to retire to Montana. Season three opens with Larry at his cabin, isolated, bored, and desperately wishing he could undo the whole decision.
When Artie comes to visit, Larry maintains the charade for maybe a minute before he breaks down, but wise old Artie is two steps ahead: Larry just needs to make up a drug-addiction story, so they can spin it that he went to Montana to clean himself up. But maybe it won’t even come to that: The network’s suing Larry for breach of contract (he had three years left on his), which Artie says they can spin to make it look like the network forced Larry to come back.
That plan overlooks how it could negatively affect the show; couldn’t the audience think that, because Larry’s doing the show under duress, he’d only do the minimum amount of work? That his heart isn’t in it? Larry’s had periods of dissatisfaction with the show, and subsequently slacked a little, but this would be a whole other level of phoning it in. For more theories, please read my article “Apathy In The Late-Night Workplace: An Analysis Of Larry Sanders Season Three Hypotheticals” in The Journal Of The Home Box Office, Spring 2009.
In no time flat, Larry’s eagerly—too eagerly, for Artie’s taste—getting the band back together via a series of secret meetings at the show’s designated secret-meeting location, under the bleachers. Everyone falls in line except Hank, who’s making ends meet announcing the lottery, albeit without his signature catchphrase. He tells Larry the lottery people give him respect, but there’s no dignity—even for a man like Hank who barely knows it—in quipping “Say now!” because “Hey now!” is the intellectual property of The Larry Sanders Show and its unnamed network.
Paula doesn’t jump in, either, because she has an offer from Late Night With Conan O’Brien. “How long do you think that’s going to stay on the air?” Larry asks. “I’ll see you Monday,” she responds. Poor Conan. As usual, this episode has several references to the real world, where the new Late Night host was fighting for his life. Conan had debuted only nine months before this episode aired, and the ratings were only slightly more dire than the reviews. NBC had so little faith in O’Brien that the network only renewed Late Night in 13-week increments, and, according to The Late Shift, it was grooming Greg Kinnear, the new host of Later, to succeed O’Brien if the show continued to tank. NBC President Warren Littlefield didn’t even try to hide his inquiries into Howard Stern, either. (Littlefield would later do a cameo on The Larry Sanders Show as himself in the season five finale.)
Speaking of The Late Shift, Bill Carter’s tome about the Leno-Letterman battle for The Tonight Show came out in 1994, when it was devoured by everyone in Hollywood. It’s easy to imagine Garry Shandling, Dennis Klein, and the show’s writers eating it up, because “Montana” directly references The Late Shift, albeit without naming the book. Artie gave Larry a copy of it, and Larry says he can’t believe Leno hid in a closet, referencing an infamous incident where Leno hid in a small back office (“crowded like a closet,” to quote The Late Shift) in NBC’s Burbank headquarters to eavesdrop on a conference call among executives to decide whether to pull the plug on Leno’s Tonight Show and install David Letterman. (Just as Larry does later in “Montana.”)
“Montana” addresses The Late Shift with maximum quippiness, as Larry mocks Leno for desperately needing to know what people are saying about them, then immediately asks Artie if anyone’s talking about how he isn’t mentioned much in the book. He isn’t, but Garry Shandling is, many times, because he was a potential hosting candidate for Late Night. And in 1987, he and Leno started splitting the guest-hosting duties for The Tonight Show. META!
Back to “Montana.” When Artie and Larry get back to the latter’s office, they find the network’s Richard Germain, who’s surprised—and not in a good way—that the show is starting back up again. He didn’t hold a high opinion of Larry’s show to begin with, and he has since replaced it with back-to-back reruns of Cheers that are doing “rather well,” “better than Leno” (who was, at the time, getting killed by David Letterman’s new show). That’s the looming threat every late-night talk show faces: Syndicated reruns are far cheaper and frequently more successful in the ratings than talk shows. That was a huge threat faced by Conan’s Tonight Show, because affiliate stations were looking for a way out, but also a boon for the host on TBS: When his new network started airing reruns of The Big Bang Theory before Conan, O’Brien’s viewership grew by 27 percent.
Artie still has the drug story in his back pocket, though, and he uses it to manipulate Germain. The catch: Larry has to announce on-air that he had a drug problem, and he has to emcee the annual dinner with the all-important affiliates in Kansas City. Larry knew it could come to this, and it does.
“Montana” and “You’re Having My Baby” play like a two-part episode, much like the second season’s two-part opener, “The Breakdown.” “Montana” takes us up through Larry’s first show back, and “You’re Having My Baby” finds the mistakes of the recent past coming back to haunt Larry. Namely, it wasn’t a good idea to get a handjob in a Denny’s parking lot from a crazy person.
If you’re going to have a sex scandal, have a sex scandal. Those are embarrassing, but there’s something so much less dignified about what Larry did, which makes it way funnier. Not that the public will ever know the truth: A woman from Montana claims she’s pregnant with Larry’s baby.
And she’s cock-blocking Larry, who’s recently single and finally has an opportunity to hook up with Mimi Rogers. Only Rogers is concerned about the whole pregnant-woman thing, even though Larry assures her it’s all nonsense. After a run-in with the crazy lady at the office—c’mon, Hank, Larry’s “cousin”?—she shows up at his house, forcing the Larry Sanders team to go to DEFCON 1.
The quickest, least painful path: Pay her off. It wouldn’t even cost that much, as Hard Copy is offering her a paltry $5,000 to talk. (I’m amazed Larry isn’t offended by such a low number.) But when Larry’s attorney shows up—the great Ray Wise, always a welcome presence—the news has gotten worse. The woman says she can identify a Mickey Mouse-shaped birthmark on Larry’s genitals, even though Larry repeatedly denies having ever met her.
Here, again, The Larry Sanders Show proves prescient. I thought for sure this was a reference to the damning evidence against Michael Jackson, which included testimony from an alleged victim who said he could identify splotches on Jackson’s penis, but nope, that information didn’t come out until The Smoking Gun posted it in 2005. Also prescient: Larry emphatically telling Artie “I did not sleep with that woman from Montana,” which presaged Bill Clinton’s infamous “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky” in 1998. Maybe Clinton was just channeling Larry?
Artie immediately realizes the story is true. “Jesus, Larry, she knows about Little Mickey!” When he says, “Why didn’t you tell me about this sooner?” Larry responds, “Because I hate myself!”
But everyone should always have faith in Ray Wise: He finds the real father of the woman’s baby—and notes that she’s since changed her story, saying she gave him a handjob in a parking lot. Ho ho ho, like that would ever happen, right?
- I wrote the reviews of the first two seasons via Netflix streams, but I finally bought the DVDs for this next round. (And the show is no longer on Netflix.) I’m psyched for the bonus features, but disappointed that the transfer is so shitty. Sometimes it looks like the DVDs were copied from VHS tapes.
- I don’t mean to give Hank short shrift in “You’re Having My Baby,” because the scenes where he tries to fall on the grenade for Larry to The Los Angeles Times’ Howard Rosenberg are awesome. He tries to distract from Larry’s scandal with one of his own, like how he was physically abused as a child. “Well, who do you think did it?” he says to Rosenberg. “The other kids, that’s who!” Later, he runs down other potentially salacious dark secrets: He’s afraid of the dark, red wine gives him hives, and he has a “special thing” for Asian ladies. God bless you, Jeffrey Tambor.
- Also awesome: Hank hotboxing cigarettes in his car.
- One of the pleasures of The Larry Sanders Show is hearing Artie use the word “crapper,” as he directs Richard Germain: “First crapper on the left.”
- Larry to the magpie at his cabin: “Get off the porch, asshole!” Time to go back to LA, dude.
- One of these days I’ll learn not to turn each review into a research project, but today isn’t that day. Related: I’ll try to do two episodes each time, though we all know I haven’t been too successful at that in the past.
- I have an interview with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg coming out next week, where they talk about how much The Larry Sanders Show influenced their new film, This Is The End. Look for it on Thursday.
- Also, if you missed the TV Club 10 on The Larry Sanders Show, please check it out.