Heeere's Larry

Rip Torn (left) as Artie, the backbone and conscience of HBO's The Larry Sanders Show starring Gary Shandling (right)

If it's possible for any-thing to be funnier than The Larry Sanders Show (Sundays, 9pm HBO), it's The Larry Sanders Show website (http://www.hbo.com/larry/). There are doubtless better ways to while away a couple of hours but few more gratifying than snorting with laughter continuously and interrupting an officemate's concentration by stentoriously reading aloud jokes she doesn't want to hear.

Since 1992, HBO's Emmy-winning original half-hour comedy has lampooned the entertainment industry with exquisite satire and poisonous dialogue about a fictional talk show and its unctuous host Larry Sanders (Garry Shandling). Sanders is egomaniacal without apology on and off the set, often taking out his neuroses on a brilliantly cast staff that includes Rip Torn as Artie (in what may be the role of his career). As Sanders' producer/mouthpiece/
guardian angel, Artie is rabidly loyal to Sanders, thinking nothing of decking odious LSS sidekick Hank Kingsley (an outstanding performance from Jeffrey Tambor) onstage at Larry's roast or firing his own inept son Cully (Colin Quinn). Other notable cast members are Scott Thompson's queeny secretary to Hank, Brian; Larry's lovely secretary Beverly (Penny Johnson), who might be the only sane voice in the crew; and Wallace Langham as Phil the weasely head writer.

The show is distinguished in its ability to attract name stars willing to portray themselves in situations uncomfortably close to real life. Mandy Patinkin snipes at Noah Wyle on the eighth anniversary show: "[Chicago Hope] is character-driven. [ER] is about pretty people!" while Larry dates Shawn Colvin but beds Sharon Stone, Roseanne, and Ellen DeGeneres. Hank Kingsley and k.d.lang renew an old feud ("Still vacuuming nude, Hank? Why don't you get a curtain for that window, you sick fuck?") while Artie gives in to the one woman he can't resist (besides Elizabeth Ashley), Angie Dickinson. The show's use of videotaped footage for talk show segments and film for off-camera scenes makes the separation of on- and offstage distinct and effective.

The Larry Sanders Show is in its fifth and last season, and true to life-imitating-art-imitating-life, Larry fears that the network is grooming Jon Stewart for his spot. Tune in Sunday night; Bridget Fonda and Dr. Katz star while behind the scenes, Artie loses the pen Larry gave him and Phil fakes illness when he lands another job immediately. But go check out the website.

(My best friend E.A. likes to point out how much Garry Shandling looks like Michael Corcoran when he smiles. Say, if Larry really loses his slot to Jon Stewart, the character could be reborn as a gossip columnist for a mediocre daily! Imagine Larry in little take-me-serious, wire-rimmed glasses with a faux skyline behind him! Too bad "Dancing About Society" is already taken by Corcoran as a column name.)

Stuff that's hard to avoid commenting on without smirking: Pamela Anderson (sans the Lee -- did we learn nothing from Farrah Fawcett-Majors?) has announced that she wants to "elevate [her] look" and has taken steps in that direction by acquiring a new hairdo that's not so fluffy and a more modest approach to dressing. (See http://www.clublove.com/lee/ for the full licensing agreement she signed then denied signing on Jay Leno's show.) At least that's the way Anderson appeared in the audience of a style show by fashion designer Marc Bouwer, who will oversee her overhaul. Pamela dear, what about elevating your look by deflating your breasts?...

Was that not the most anti-climactic season finale for Melrose Place (Mondays, 7pm FOX)? No wedding tragedies, no blown-up buildings, not even a very good slapfest! Weezer and I thought we'd find out who besides Andrew Shue, Lisa Rinna, and Alyssa Milano is leaving the show and instead ended up with dazed looks and scenes for MP's "Summer of Love" new episodes. My vote: Dump Coop (Linden Ashby) and Sam (Brooke Langford). Ashby is a real zero, Langford lets her right eyebrow do all her acting. And it's a very slender brow...

Hey there, Georgie boy! All signs are that yes, George Clooney will be leaving ER (Thursdays, 9pm NBC) after his contract is up next season, but will return occasionally to appear in the series that made him a star. The question now is not if his character will still marry Julianna Margulies' but whether or not this move will make him stop bobbing his head to the side. I must say, however, that I admire Clooney's commitment to his big-screen career after his outing as Batman...

Next time you're watching Highlander (Saturdays, 9pm WB), take a good look at Amanda (the former Miss America Elizabeth Ward Gracen), the latest (and most believable woman) to step forward and admit to boning Bill Clinton, when he was Attorney General of Arkansas in 1983. Since there are no longer any boundaries on this sort of thing, let me throw my hat in the proverbial ring and announce that Clinton also came on to moi twice. Yes, you read right. Both times he looked me in the eye. Both times he made promises in return for a certain favor. "Vote for me for President," he said. "Oh, yes, Bill, yes..." I sighed and marked the ballot...

And we thought charisma died with Sonny Bono: In the too-rich-for-words department, Joey Buttafuoco is getting his own talk show on one of Los Angeles' access channels beginning April 16. You remember Buttafuoco, the white trash mechanic from Long Island who schtupped then-16-year-old Amy Fischer, who turned her raging teenage passion on Buttafuoco's wife and shot her in the face. The phrase "role model" clearly was not a consideration, as the host says he wanted a show for "people who have been jammed up in the media, by law enforcement and by the system."The first guest scheduled is Divine Brown.

Yo, Joey! I have the perfect co-host for you: Hank Kingsley.

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