“The Flirt” (season 1, episode 6, originally aired Sept. 19, 1992)
Opening credits guests: Mimi Rogers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Michael Richards
Hank’s introduction of Larry in the opening credits: “Because we’ve got the name that says goodness...”
“The show was a sexual buffet for me,” writes Larry in a chapter of his “autobiography,” Confessions Of A Late Night Talk Show Host, called “Celebrity Sex.” Not only were there “actresses and models and magician’s assistants and beauty queens,” but once he even had on a woman who lost her house in a hurricane, simply because she looked hot in The New York Times.
“Let’s book her,” I said to Artie.
“Are you kidding? This story’s a tragedy. Besides you don’t know if she’ll look that good in person.”
“Let’s take a chance. That’s what television is all about.”
Tellingly, the book barely mentions Jeannie, Larry’s second wife, though “Celebrity Sex” has a list of the 57 famous women Larry had sex with, which includes both Mariah Carey and a Mariah Carey look-alike, a bunch of famous movie stars, and at least three lesbians (“both of the Indigo Girls” and Ellen DeGeneres). Oh, and Andy Dick.
But back to Jeannie. Although previous episodes have alluded to it, “The Flirt” makes plain Larry’s tenuous hold on marital fidelity. In the episode, Larry faces a beautiful movie star—Mimi Rogers—who practically says “I want to fuck you” while being interviewed on the show. The temptation is real, the opportunity waiting—how will (ostensibly) former adulterer Larry deal with it?
If the first step in beating temptation is to remove yourself from the situation, Larry fails right away. When his flirtatious banter with Rogers runs long, without even covering all of his assigned interview topics and bumping Michael Richards in the process, Larry invites her back the next night. He’s never done that before, and he immediately regrets setting the precedent.
He also knows how the interview will play at home, so he nervously fidgets as he and Jeannie watch the show in bed. When Larry tries to change the channel, Jeannie says, “No, no, honey, I want to see if she straddles you.” Not missing a beat, she adds, “So honey, do you fuck her on the desk or on the couch? I’m guessing the desk because Hank is on the couch, and I know you’re not into that.”
“Spiders” showed some of the issues Larry has in his marriage, first with Jeannie being thoroughly annoyed when they had Jon Lovitz over for dinner, then in passing mention of Larry’s fear of having children. The former shows a disconnect between Larry and Jeannie; she has limited patience for the world in which he operates. Fundamentally, Larry is a comedian, and so are his friends. They try to make each other laugh—sure, their riffing could be grating, but that’s who they are. Understanding that is the price of admission with Larry, and it doesn’t seem like Jeannie gets that. It becomes much more apparent later on in season one, in “Party,” when we see her completely ignore some personal and professional boundaries.
Here, though, she has a right to be concerned, though she has faith in Larry. “I trust you,” she says, then motions to his image on the TV. “I don’t know that I trust him.”
Neither does Larry. Watching the Rogers segment on the TV in his office with Artie, he can’t stop wincing. “Look at the way I’m grinning, Artie. C’mon, you know that’s not how I grin when I’m doing just any interview.” Artie dismisses it, but Larry knows he’s not overreacting.
“All I’m saying is I’ve played this course, and I know right where it goes,” he says. “Hand on hand, flirting backstage, and then I’m fucking ’em in Hank’s Malibu pad.”
“You don’t want to do that, Larry,” Artie responds. “He’s had terrible septic problems with that place.”
At this point, we don’t know much about Larry’s first marriage—to Francine, who we meet in season two—but it seems that’s precisely the kind of behavior that killed it. As tempted as he is by Rogers, Larry genuinely wants his marriage to work. He even asks Beverly to tell Rogers not to flirt with him on that night’s show. He also enlists Artie to give him a sign when he’s flirting so he’ll stop. (Artie suggests grabbing his balls. “I’m not gonna see that. You do that all day long anyway.”)
Not that Larry can even own up that. Asked by Rogers—alone with her in her dressing room—if she did something wrong, he of course tells her no. “That artificial flirting thing, the audience loves it,” he says. “Oh did it seem artificial?” she responds.
Back on set, it’s just as bad as it was the night before, and Rogers is being even grabbier than she had been. Clearly uncomfortable—and justifiably, because Rogers is aggressive—Larry squirms his way out of the situation by getting the other guest, a racist old man who carves soap, to sing “Camptown Races.”
The situation defuses. Watching at home with him later, Jeannie says, “You got out of it this time. She’s singing ‘Camptown Races’ with a guy who carves soap.” They both chuckle about it, ignoring the slightly ominous “this time.” Who knows if Larry will persevere next time?
Turns out “next time” is the following night with Michelle Pfeiffer. To quote Patton Oswalt, “Wackity, smackity dooooo....”
• Not on that list of women Larry banged? Mimi Rogers. But he did have sex with “Noah Wyle’s girlfriend”!
• In “Celebrity Sex,” Larry also mentions nearly hooking up with Carol Burnett. Eww.
• “I don’t do just the soap,” the old man tells Paula as they walk the hall before the show. “I also tell jokes: It seems these two colored fellas—” She cuts them off, but he reassures her, “It doesn’t have to be colored. We could make them Polacks!”
• Fred Barron wrote this episode with Garry Shandling. He worked on a couple other short-lived sitcoms before creating Caroline In The City, which had a five-season run on NBC. But his biggest hit happened overseas with My Family, which was Britain’s highest-rated sitcom. It’s currently ending after 11 seasons.
• Larry’s bizarre exchange with Hank in the hallway after the scene in Rogers’ dressing room cracked me up, just in Tambor’s low-energy delivery. He couldn’t have been more bored talked about the Stanley tools spot he just did, but he offers to hook Larry up with any tools, so long as he doesn’t want nails. “Absolutely no nails,” he says. So weird.