“The Party” (season 1, episode 10, original airdate Oct. 17, 1992)
Opening credits guests: N/A
Hank’s introduction of Larry in the opening credits: N/A
“The Talk Show” opened with Larry and Jeannie arguing backstage while he looked over cue cards, and “The Party” begins with a callback to that moment. Only this time, Jeannie and Larry aren’t arguing, and the uncertain look on their faces that ended “The Talk Show” is replaced with smiles. The storm facing their marriage during “The Talk Show” has seemingly passed—and the comfort that development brings unfortunately leads them right back to a bad place by the end of this episode.
Sitting in the green room with Artie (“How’s Elaine?” “She’s halfway to her ideal weight, whatever that’s supposed to mean.”), Jeannie invites him and his wife over to Larry’s for dinner—a breach of protocol that brings out the Larry David in Larry Sanders. Artie and invisible Elaine have never been to Larry’s house—no one on staff at the show has. That’s because Larry, like Larry David stand-in George Costanza, likes to keep his worlds separated. As he pointedly tells her later, these people are his work friends, not his real friends. “Oh well, excuse me,” Jeannie responds. “I’m from Chicago, and when we have parties, we invite actual friends, and we have fun, and we talk about whatever comes up.” (Speaking as a Chicago resident, I have invited casual acquaintances to parties.)
Larry, unable to deal with the prospect of dinner with only the two couples, invites Beverly to help relieve some of the tension. Larry and Artie are very close, so it’s surprising that Larry would need a buffer, but I think it has more to do with the situation: Larry and Artie one on one are fine, but Artie, his wife, and Jeannie makes Larry very nervous. However, he makes a critical error by not realizing the ripple effect caused by inviting Beverly.
Office politics quickly turn a low-key dinner into an event. Beverly has to cancel “Sister Circle” (!!!) with Darlene and Paula, the latter of whom interprets the invite as Beverly getting a promotion. “The dinner invitation kind of speaks volumes,” she tells a flustered Larry later on. Pathetic Hank first acts like he and Larry had discussed promoting Beverly, then sadly tries to bluff his way into the dinner by inviting Larry to see a fight. “Please invite me to your party,” he mumbles sheepishly. “ I don’t have any tickets. There are no tickets.” After making several calls to update Jeannie on the headcount for the event, Beverly finally says, “I have only one word for you: catering.”
In the nearly 20 years since it aired, “The Party” has earned a place in the pantheon of great episodes of The Larry Sanders Show, largely for its fantastic second half when the action shifts to Larry’s house and plays out exactly as he’d feared. Artie is not only pounding Salty Dogs but also insisting Larry drink them, and Jeannie is overly familiar with the guests, making the problems in their marriage apparent to everyone.
Jeannie not understanding Larry’s world is a recurring theme in the first season, and it’s no more obvious than in her tone-deaf interactions with Larry’s staff. First, she outs him as a fan of Ghost in front of Jerry and Phil (“You cry every time at the end when he finishes with his mission on earth and he has to go back up to heaven.”), then gets a little TMI retelling the story of her first date with Larry. (“Then of course that night he wanted to have sex, and I said no, so we ended up dry-humping on the couch all night.”)
Those two aren’t a big deal, but it’s when she interjects as Hank tells the origin story of “Hey now!” that she puts her foot in her mouth. Sure, her suggestion that Hank try “C’mere!” as a “Hey now!” replacement is dumb, but she makes a huge mistake by following it with “That’s what you can use if the show goes off the air.” She may talk about “whatever” during her parties back in Chicago, but she crosses a line here. Not only does she fail to recognize that, but she digs herself deeper by casually mentioning Larry’s dream of quitting show business and moving to Montana—to people who depend on him for their livelihood.
Larry grabs her before she can do anymore damage—she leaves everyone with looks of stunned concern on their faces—but Jeannie just doesn’t get it. Then she makes it worse by abandoning the party altogether and brattily sulking in their bedroom. Larry grows even more panicked, because now everyone knows he and Jeannie are fighting. Everything he worried about has happened. An increasingly intoxicated Artie can only offer him a Salty Dog. “Drink it, you pussy.”
The last third of the episode belongs to Rip Torn, not only for introducing the Salty Dog into the Larry Sanders lexicon (“Don’t let Artie make these drinks,” Larry tells Jeannie early on. “He makes these drinks they’re half salt, half vodka. Swear to God the olive floats at the top.”), but being the loveable loose cannon who emerges after a few cocktails. He’s thoroughly annoyed by the photographer who’s taking party pics for some reason, and his incredibly slurred exhortations for Jeannie to open the door are priceless. (He kind of sounds like Jack Nicholson calling for Danny as he wanders the snowy hedge maze at the end of The Shining.) It’s Artie who finally bangs the bedroom door open so Larry can beg Jeannie one last time to come out. “Ha, five marriages,” Artie says proudly after bursting the door open. “And now I’m heading downstairs to take care of that sack of human shit with the camera.”
In the bedroom, Jeannie has given up, both on the party and probably on her marriage. “You know, this is so sad that you think that you have to hide our life,” she says, still blind to her own missteps. “That is what everybody does, by the way,” Larry responds, before begging for one more “Lady Di smile,” just “one more fake moment, then we’re out of this thing.”
She won’t do it, and Larry has to acknowledge to everyone what they all already know: He and Jeannie are fighting. “I bet Letterman fights with that woman who claims to be his wife.”
The next day, Larry sheepishly walks through the office, painfully aware that the worlds he fought so hard to keep separated have irreversibly collided. But at least he can always count on the phoniness of Hollywood to sweep it all under the rug, as everyone tells him how much fun they had. “It was great!” Larry says.
• The end for Larry and Jeannie is nigh—but we won’t get a sense of that just yet, because “Warmth,” the next episode, doesn’t address it at all. As Garry Shandling mentions in the featurette that accompanies the DVD of the first season, the episodes weren’t shot in order, so plotlines don’t necessarily follow from one episode to the next.
• “The Party” was the first episode written by Maya Forbes, who at various times in The Larry Sanders Show’s run served as executive producer, story editor, and more. She does a lot more writing in season two, including “The List,” “Larry’s Agent,” “Larry’s Birthday,” and the great “Hank’s Wedding.”
• Poor Paula. No one’s wardrobe from this show has aged well—though Artie’s suits have that timeless businessman quality—but “The Party” is particularly rough on Janeane Garofalo. I said “What is she wearing?” twice.
• “Your house? What is that, a new Chinese place?” I think Mel Brooks did some uncredited script work on this episode.
• “What should I bring tonight? Ice? Chips? Salt!”
•The Salty Dog: 5 oz. grapefruit juice, 1.5 oz. gin, 1/4 tsp salt. Pour everything over ice cubes & serve. (You can also use vodka; the recipe I found recommends 3 oz. grapefruit juice and 4 oz. of vodka—so way more booze than its gin counterpart.)