“The Grand Opening” (season 2, episode 17, originally aired 9/22/93)
One of my favorite moments from “The Hankerciser 200” happens when Hank encounters Darlene, who’s wearing a neck brace due to a malfunctioning Hankerciser. “Sweet Jesus,” he says, rubbing his eyes in defeat. “It’s a house of cards.”
The Hankerciser was neatly contained in one episode, but the opening of the Lookaround Café has been building for an entire season—which means if the Hankerciser sent Hank into a panic, opening a restaurant could very well kill (or bankrupt) him.
Opening night has at last arrived. As Phil and Artie point out, this opening night is just another in a series of them, all of which had to be delayed for some reason. The rotating floor—the signature of Hank’s Lookaround Café!—didn’t work a couple months back. Then the water pipes burst a couple weeks after that, which also screwed up the rotating floor. But this one is the real deal! Much as a film’s opening weekend determines its success, Hank needs his opening night to be a big one. If he has to strong-arm everyone to make that happen, so be it.
He guilt-trips (to Phil and Mike: “Hey c’mon guys, thanks for the support! No reason to help out Hank—like I’ve never laughed at your lame monologue jokes, which I DON’T EVEN GET”), he bullies (guest hosts Martin Mull and Burt Reynolds, filling in for a vacationing Larry), he constantly mentions it on the show. “If you’ve looked for cruise-ship cuisine on dry land, and you like dining in the round… ” (Could anything sound less appetizing than “cruise-ship cuisine”? How about “all-inclusive-resort cuisine”? “Las Vegas-buffet cuisine”?)
Hank’s barely keeping it together. Guest host Reynolds tells Artie—after Hank is a huge asshole to him on the air—that Hank is only days away from “a complete mental collapse.” Not even days, Mr. Reynolds. There, in his office surrounded by bad paintings of ships, Hank has a psychotic break. Everyone’s against him, he says—his wife, his staff, the government, and, most recently, an electrical engineer. “This guy he comes in, he fills in at the last minute. I’m supposed to think this guy knows fuck all ABOUT ANYTHING?! OH SHIT! OH SHIT IF I HAD A GUN!” (Reynolds overhears this as he walks off the elevator and thinks Hank’s talking about him—now they’ll need a third replacement host.)
While it’s funny to watch Hank unravel, that “OH SHIT IF I HAD A GUN!” line was actually disconcerting—and, as we know from “The Stalker,” Hank carries Jack Lord’s gun from Hawaii Five-O. Hank’s too much of a bumbler to do anything with it, but hearing him lose it like that kind of reminded me of the scene in Seven where the guy who used the razorblade dildo on the prostitute freaks out.
Maybe that’s too hyperbolic an allusion, but darkness pulsates underneath “The Grand Opening.” In “Hank’s Wedding,” Hank tells Larry his new wife can’t be after his money, because all of it is tied up in the restaurant. There’s a very real sense that the whole thing could ruin him; his greed and egotism have finally come back to bite him in the ass—which probably pleases those of you who dismiss Hank as unlikeable and his contributions to The Larry Sanders Show overrated.
I love Hank in this episode, though. So much of the way he presents himself is an illusion, like he’s constantly pitching Hank Kingsley to the world, so I appreciate the humanity that occasionally peaks through. We see it every now and then—as recently as “Hank’s Wedding,” for one—but the stakes have never been higher.
Artie finally shuts down Hank’s shilling when he’s warming up the crowd for guest host Jerry Seinfeld. Artie’s doing Hank a favor by putting him out of his misery; he’s so worn out from the stress that it barely registers when Darlene tells him the restaurant’s sign was installed incorrectly. (It just says “Hank’s Look Round Café.”) There’s a nice moment as Hank, standing there in front of a silence audience, tears up a bit. “I’m gonna take a long fuckin’ walk.” Mic drop. (I love how Hank wields “fuck” when he’s upset: “Let me give you a prenuptial announcement: Go fuck yourself.” “You know, if I were you I’d concentrate on the fact that it’s 105 degrees in the studio, but I suppose it’s a dry heat and I’m just an old fuck.”)
Hank gives up just as everyone comes through for him: Larry has postponed his and Francine’s trip to Vegas to attend the opening. Artie’s there, even Phil’s there. Hank isn’t, to the consternation of everyone. Artie: “You see that ice sculpture of the Queen Mary on the buffet there? I’m gonna shove it up Hank’s ass if he ever gets here, son of a bitch.” (A-ha! It is a buffet!)
The idea of the restaurant with a rotating floor was not only problematic for Hank, but also The Larry Sanders Show, when an episode finally took place there. The show puts Artie, Darlene, Larry, and Francine in a booth near the door, away from the rotating part. The people on the rotating floor look like they were shot in front of a green screen, then superimposed over Larry’s booth. It’s not seamless, but it conveys the point—and man, they need to slow down the speed of that floor, or someone’s gonna twist an ankle stepping off of it.
Hank might have realized that if he were around, but no one has seen him for hours. When they eventually find him, curled up on Jerry’s sofa on the neighboring Seinfeld set, Hank’s out of it, but probably rested—because it’s 9:30 the following morning. We’ve talked a lot about how The Larry Sanders Show has a habit of ending on a weak or obvious note, so it’s not surprising that Hank misses opening night after he hassled the whole world about it. The episodes usually end with clean audio—basically, the beat right after a line—but this one cuts while Larry complains to Hank about missing his trip. It strikes me as out of character that the episode continued for a few seconds after Hank’s “Make it go back! Make it go back! Turn back the world!” They were probably running a little short, but in the existing-only-in-my-head director’s cut of this episode, the credits roll right after Hank exclaims “Turn back the world!”
- Another inside joke about The Larry Sanders Show and how it parallels Garry Shandling’s real life: Hank says Mull may have been fine on “that make-believe talk show, that Fernwood thing, but you put him in the genuine article, and he locked.” Considering how often Shandling hosted The Tonight Show, he apparently never locked up.
- I loved all of the bad paintings of boats in Hank’s office. He must’ve raided every starving-artists’ sale at hotels near LAX for months to get them all!
- I also enjoyed how Hank quietly warned Seinfeld about his future. Sure, NBC put his show on Thursday because it’s doing well, but “It doesn’t last forever.” Oh how Seinfeld would learn that lesson later with Bee Movie and The Marriage Ref.
- Up next: the finale of season two and, ostensibly, Larry’s talk show.