Earlier today, I finished watching the fourth and final season of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. I enjoyed the whole series so much, that I wanted to share a few thoughts on it. For those who don’t already know, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show was a sitcom that ran on the Showtime network between 1986 and 1990. In it, Garry Shandling plays himself, and is fully aware that he is a sitcom character. All of the characters around him also realize that they are a part of a television show, so the whole experience is very “meta.” Garry often involved the studio audience in the story, and each show opened and closed with a monologue. The fourth wall was broken as a rule on the show, not as an exception, so the viewer at home was usually in on every situation and joke.
What I like most about the show is how unique a premise it is, even to this day. Having the characters of the show all realize that they are on television is very clever and made for some great gags. Garry would often exploit this fact to the fullest; whether walking between sets to keep a thread going, or advancing time in silly ways to push the story forward. The supporting cast is all terrific, and the comedy outstanding. There were some episodes where I literally laughed until I cried. You gotta love a show that can do that.
The fourth season is definitely the weakest of them all. I listened to a number of episode commentaries, and it was interesting to learn that many of the writers felt the show went in the wrong direction in the fourth season. Showtime had a fairly small audience, so the show’s ratings were never terrific (even though it was nominated for, and won, a number of awards). After Fox picked up the last two seasons, ratings tanked, mostly because the show was never meant to air with commercials. Upon debuting on Fox, the show came in at number 99 out of 100 shows; only The Tracey Ullman Show was worse. Interestingly enough, during the fourth season, many of the writers from It’s Garry Shandling’s Show also went to work on a little television show called The Simpsons, which debuted in the top 5 of the ratings. It’s ironic, then, that the same writing staff would garner a top 5 rating and a 99th rating in the same year.
If you get a chance to check out this show, I highly recommend it. In some ways the show may be dated, but the humor is clever, and there are some very ground-breaking ideas. I’m greatly looking forward to checking out Garry’s subsequent show, The Larry Sanders Show.