“The Hankerciser 200” (season 2, episode 6; originally aired 6/30/93)
Early in “The Hankerciser 200,” we see Artie leading a tour group—a class he teaches at UCLA, “future TV producers, every one”—through the Larry Sanders Show offices. The mission: to let them see what a typical day on the show entails. But the tour stretches over the course of a few days, because a “typical” day proves to be elusive. The problem: Hank’s latest money-grubbing endorsement.
Only in the delusional world of home-shopping networks would Hank Kingsley be considered “fit,” but that’s where “The Hankerciser 200” basically opens. Hank sits on the set of a nameless, low-rent home-shopping network pimping a door-based workout appliance called The Hankerciser 200. (Or maybe there was a name. The Larry Sanders Show DVD transfer isn’t sharp at all, and it’s extra blurry on Netflix Instant.) The exceedingly cheap-looking contraption hooks up to a door and uses a system of lax cords and pulleys for the most futile-looking workout in existence.
Hank has the good sense not to hook himself up to the Hankerciser on television, so he has Darlene doing it in a high-cut outfit. “Darlene has only been using the Hankerciser for one month, and look at that body!” he says. “Look at Hank’s!” she replies enthusiastically. Larry, who only catches this because Francine wanted to order some earrings from the network, calls in anonymously. “I’m overweight, and I was wondering: Could I use the Hankerciser to reduce the size of Howard Stern’s ass?”
Hank’s whorishness is a load-bearing wall in the Larry Sanders Show house. Or, as Larry puts it in “The Hankerciser 200,” “You put your fucking name on every other piece of shit that comes down the pike!” In the first episode ever filmed, “Hey Now,” (which closed season one), Hank’s distracting side work as a pitchman has Larry questioning his value to the show. In the first episode of season one, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?”, when the network forces Larry to do a commercial on the show, they insist Larry do it because Hank’s “saturation level is too high.”
In the write-up for that episode, I compared Hank to Krusty The Clown, and “The Hankerciser 200” only reinforces that resemblance. It even has a scene where Hank breaks down in front of Francine—who threatens to write an article about irresponsible endorsements after getting injured by the Hankerciser—that approximates Krusty’s breakdown in front of Bart at Kamp Krusty. “Ooohh, they drove a dump truck full of money to my house! I’m not made of stone!” Krusty wails. Hank essentially says the same thing to Francine, adding he can’t reach the guy who set up the Hankerciser deal in the first place. “I’m so fucked!” he says, crying, only to regain his composure on a dime when Francine says she’s dropping the story. (She tells Larry she’s considering doing one on the link between cellular phones and tumors.)
Only a day earlier, Hank was eagerly encouraging Francine to do a story. He was generously doling out autographed freebies to everyone in the office, from the tour group (“To Kevin, feel the burn”) to staff members to Francine. Surprisingly, she gives it a try—“You look like Howdy Doody having a tantrum,” says Larry when he sees her—only to have the doorknob fly off and hit her in the ass, leaving a huge bruise. Francine having a small accident is one thing, but her being unable to have sex because of it escalates the situation to Defcon-1 for Larry.
We know this because he bellows it during an excellent scene where he and Hank record promos for the affiliates. Hank’s being typically evasive—asking if Francine warmed up properly—until Larry has enough: “She was so bruised, Hank, she couldn’t have sex, okay?!” He says it just as Artie’s tour group makes its way to the set, so Artie directs them elsewhere: “I said let’s all go down and have some fucking cheese!”
The way Hank and Larry converse as they cycle through cities and staff members change out their costumes and props probably ranks as one of my favorite moments of The Larry Sanders Show. It’s just done so well, as Larry and Hank switch between their on-camera personas and their conversation with striking fluidity.
But my favorite moment of the episode and among my favorites for Jeffrey Tambor on The Larry Sanders Show comes a little later, when he sees Darlene sitting at her desk wearing a neck brace (the result of another Hankerciser injury). The way the defeat washes over him is almost majestic. “Sweet Jesus,” he says, rubbing his eyes. “It’s a house of cards.” GENIUS.
“The Hankerciser 200” has it all, really: Pitchman Hank, Glad-handing Hank, Angry Hank, Desperate Hank. The look on his face when he realizes he inadvertently called Francine a cunt is priceless, and his stumbling excuse and plea for mercy that follows is equally so. Blaming it all on his hay-fever medication, he tells Larry, “Please have pity on me. I’m drowning.” (Later, he theorizes that the hypnotist they had on the show put a hex on him.)
Even after someone throws him a life preserver, Hank doesn’t learn from his mistakes. He has a hot lead on a deal with an electronics company—to endorse cellular telephones! “Hank? Sit down,” Larry says.
The Larry Sanders Show has a habit of telegraphing its final punchlines and wrapping up everything a little too neatly, but it works here. As Artie addresses the tour group and says now they’ve seen a typical day at the show, Hank comes barreling out of Larry’s office, reprising his “Sshhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittttt” from “Out Of The Loop.” The unsaid punchline: This is a typical day at The Larry Sanders Show.
- John Riggi, who wrote this episode, is also a producer and writer for 30 Rock. He’s written some great episodes for that show, including “Gavin Volure” and “The Natural Order.”
- Francine: “I need to find a, um…” Artie: “Ladies’ crapper? Third door on the right.”
- Hank kissing Francine’s ass at the elevator: “Are you going up or down?” “Down.” “Excellent choice.”
- Artie, on why he’s subjecting his students to Hank: “This is a lesson I call ‘If Hank can do it, anyone can.’”
- Artie and Larry after Hank takes the tour group to the set to show them what the Hankerciser can do in an open space: “In a big, wide-open space, you could cram this right up his ass.” “I don’t think you’d even need to take it out of the box.”
- A contraption similar to the Hankerciser 200 played a key role in the Seinfeld episode “The Money.” That was episode 12 of season eight, so David Sims should have it in TV Club Classic soon.