The Larry Sanders Show: “Would You Do Me a Favor?”/“The Gift Episode”
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The Larry Sanders Show: “Would You Do Me a Favor?”/“The Gift Episode”

Larry Sanders may not do many things well, but he’s a world champion of taking people for granted. You’d think a guy so inept at the tasks of day-to-day life would thank the people who insulate him from said tasks, but coddled celebrities aren’t known to be gracious. And it wouldn’t be The Larry Sanders Show without a few episodes where the people closest to him have had enough of his shit.

Hence “Would You Do Me A Favor?,” where Beverly starts paying herself extra from Larry’s bank account for all the ridiculous extra tasks he forces on her, and “The Gift,” where Larry’s too distracted to heed Artie’s repeated warnings about the studio’s safety after an earthquake. Artie and Beverly: the people who put “suffering” in “Larry’s long-suffering handlers.”

The “Larry as self-centered jerk” is less prominent in “The Gift,” but it’s front and center in “Would You Do Me A Favor?,” which shows that Larry neglects his colleagues because he was neglected by his father, Jerry (Warren Frost, a.k.a. Dr. Will Hayward on Twin Peaks and Susan’s dad on Seinfeld).

Larry’s attempts to dodge the old man’s phone calls make for some very funny bits, particularly when Larry stoops to hiding out in Hank’s office—apparently for only the second time ever. A couple of the exchanges in Hank’s office are expertly staged, like Hank standing up and putting on a blazer when Larry comes in, and Darlene nervously getting a snack tray out of the fridge. But the best part is when Beverly finally hands Larry a cordless phone. Larry motions for Hank and Darlene to leave Hank’s office while he talks, so they wait outside. Then Larry wanders outside, so Hank and Darlene go back into his office, but Larry goes back in, so they leave again. It’s a great bit of understated physical comedy.

That scene also captures Larry in a nutshell: oblivious to the people around him who must constantly adjust to his whims. The Larry Sanders Show has some great episodes where Artie takes it on the chin (like season four’s “Arthur After Hours”), but Beverly has it worse. Why? Because at least Arthur has some power. Beverly has to do stuff like clean the applicator of Larry’s hemorrhoid cream. She has to drive three hours roundtrip out to Encino on a Sunday to get something for Larry’s house. She has to hunt Larry down to get him to talk to his father—and even then, Larry’s dad complains that she didn’t get him the right kind of seat on his flight.

None of that was in the job description when Beverly became Larry’s assistant. But an endless succession of “Would you do me a favor?” requests has turned her into some sort of nanny for an adult baby. The problem is that she’s so good at it, as proven in another great bit from the episode: Larry doesn’t want to go a Lakers game with Jason Alexander because he doesn’t have good seats. (They’re in something called the “loge.”) After the show, while Larry and Beverly apologize for Larry being unable to attend, Alexander mentions that he ended up scoring tickets right next to Jack Nicholson, so Beverly acts like she got the days mixed up. Turns out Larry is available! Great, Jason Alexander says, because Steve Guttenberg is also coming. Not missing a beat, Beverly apologizes again, saying no, she was right the first time, Larry isn’t available. (Also: I love that joke.)

Beverly’s so good at being Larry’s assistant, she feels she deserves extra compensation. Rather than ask for a raise, she just takes it out of Larry’s account—apparently everyone in Larry’s life knows his ATM password. While we don’t know just how much she’s taken from Larry—he mentions to Hank at one point that he’s missing a whopping $50,000—it has apparently been going on for some time. If she had any other boss, she’d be fired and likely arrested—but she knows Larry’s spineless and easily guilt-tripped, so he would never do such a thing. He’s even chastened by it, going so far as to thank her on air later—he also introduces his dad on the air too. Good feelings all around!

That is until “The Gift.” An earthquake—presumably the Northridge quake of January ’94—has damaged the studio, and the network has offered a few different stages to use while it’s repaired. Artie says a big aftershock could be dangerous for everyone, but Larry isn’t hearing him because Danny DeVito canceled. Why did he cancel? Maybe because the show only pays guests scale and gives them a crappy T-shirt and hat as a gift.

Imminent physical danger or petty concern about the show? It’s obvious where Larry’s mind will go. Sure, it’s concerning that DeVito canceled—it’s dog-eat-dog in the world of late-night TV—but in the face of a grave threat to his safety and the safety of his audience and the people who work for him, it’s especially telling that Larry instead focuses his energy on what gifts other shows give their guests.

To be fair, Larry isn’t exclusively dwelling on his show’s gifting; he has real concerns about Paula’s ability to book guests—which he expresses to Paula by saying what a great job she does. (“Oh girl, you are fucked,” says Beverly.) Again, late-night TV is a competitive world, so she has a difficult job, and “The Gift” makes a convincing case that she’s either terrible or just right for it. Her desperate, by-any-means-necessary attempts to get DeVito back on the show make dedication explicit, or prove that she’s an incompetent mess. In Hollywood, the distinction between the two depends on the results. Paula ends up pulling it off, so her saying to DeVito’s agent, “Screw you, you glorified, 10-percent-taking butt-boy!” is simply a personal quirk of successful person. For now. (Let’s see if that Sting booking happens.)

But the problems with the studio remain. Frustrated, Artie complains to Beverly that Larry doesn’t listen to him anymore. “Oh Arthur that isn’t true. Larry thinks of you as a close friend and trusted advisor,” Beverly says. Artie replies, “Ah, cut the crap. Don’t talk to me the way that I would be talking to me.” Not only has Larry failed to consider the studio’s safety, but he hasn’t read the Potato Lady questions (which Beverly prepared because Paula is chasing DeVito).

When it all, literally, comes crashing down, Artie finds a small measure of vindication, not unlike Beverly in “Would You Do Me A Favor?” He only keeps DeVito on by giving away the Tiffany clock Larry gave him for Christmas the preceding year—i.e., the clock Beverly undoubtedly picked out that Larry clearly doesn’t remember—so the larger problems of life with Larry remain. But the people underneath him know to savor the small victories.

Stray observations:

  • My favorite moment in both of these episodes is Larry trying to hum a song he likes to Beverly, who’s on the phone with Tower Records (R.I.P.) Oh Shazam, how you’ve changed our lives.
  • I love the show’s runner joke about “the weird intern,” and doubly love that it’s French Stewart.
  • I could’ve sworn the Potato Lady in “The Gift” was Jane Kaczmarek from Malcolm In The Middle, but nope, it’s a comedian named Carol Siskind. With a name like Kaczmarek, she has to be from Chicago. What’s that? She’s from Milwaukee? Close enough.
  • Beverly: “How did you get DeVito back?” Paula: “I didn’t.” “Don’t you think that’s kind of like a problem?” “Not if I kill myself before 5:30.”
  • Artie, asking about Larry: “Is he on something?” Beverly: “No, just the same two things, except I think he took them together today.”
  • I love Hank spelling out the signs that make his horse a sure thing: The horse’s name is Larry Valentine, the jockey’s name is Hank, and the trainer’s name is Bill. “Just like the guy who writes for us!”
  • Larry’s dad, on Hank’s job: “That’s a pretty sweet deal: Take home a big paycheck just for holding down a couch and selling crap.”
  • Artie to Jason Alexander: “Excellent as always. My boy, when are they going to give you your own show?” Oh they did!
  • The “dishes celebrities send back” bit on “Would You Do Me A Favor?” is so perfect—that’s exactly the kind of thing a late-night show would do. Sinead O’Connor sent her pasta back because there’s a hair in it. Har har!
  • Larry’s new ATM password: Leno.

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