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‘The Larry Sanders Show’: Want to Understand Its Genius? Start With David Duchovny

Some of the best moments of this groundbreaking comedy, now streaming on HBO, were courtesy of "The X-Files" star.

Garry Shandling and David Duchovny in "The Larry Sanders Show."

Garry Shandling and David Duchovny in “The Larry Sanders Show.”

Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Today marks a very happy occasion for television fans, one we’ve been clamoring for for some time — HBO has made the complete 1992-1998 run of “The Larry Sanders Show” available for streaming on HBO Go and HBO Now.

Starring Garry Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor and Rip Torn, the ensemble cast also included Jeremy Piven, Janeane Garofalo, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Thompson and Bob Odenkirk over the course of its six seasons. The groundbreaking comedy was notable for no shortage of reasons, from spotlighting future creators like Paul Simms and Judd Apatow and establishing HBO as a home for quality comedy to influencing countless other comedies in the same vein.

Since Shandling’s death earlier this year, people have been wanting to revisit the series in all its 1990s glory. In particular, the way “Larry Sanders” handled celebrity was one of its most memorable threads — the show allowed famous folk of the era to satirize their own public images in weird, cruel or bizarre ways.

As a microcosm of that trope, let us examine the guest appearances made by one person in particular: David Duchovny, a rising star in the 1990s thanks to “The X-Files.” Amongst those who appeared on the show as “themselves,” Duchovny was arguably the most memorable of the bunch, thanks to a rapport that came from some of the weirdest/best on-screen chemistry to date. Duchovny’s Emmy-nominated work on “Larry Sanders” made such an impact on the legacy of the show that it’s almost shocking that Duchovny only guest-starred in three episodes total. But each  is quite special.

“The Bump” (Season 4, Episode 4): Duchovny’s first appearance on “Larry Sanders” actually goes overlooked a fair amount, as it’s relatively generic — Duchovny is just one of many guests Larry and Art (Torn) are trying to cram into the night’s show. (Art refers to Duchovny as “eminently bump-able” at one point.) How much actual “acting” is Duchovny doing when he gets pissed off over his treatment by Larry and the producers? Hard to say. But he does promise to return — and boy howdy, does he ever.

“Everybody Loves Larry” (Season 5, Episode 1): A season later, David Duchovny is now “buddies” with Larry, but their friendship has escalated to a weirdly uncomfortable place, something Larry struggles with over the course of the episode while upcoming fill-in host Jon Stewart (as himself) jockeys for better guests. The episode climaxes with the scene below, but the build-up to it is something pretty magical.

“Flip, Part 1” (Season 6, Episode 11): Duchovny only appears in part one of the two-part series finale, but his one on-camera scene makes quite the impression. As Duchovny told Seth Meyers during a recent “Late Night” appearance, the idea for the scene came directly from a real-life hotel room encounter with Shandling that also included a robe.

In real life, Duchovny and Shandling were friends, to the point where Duchonvy used Shandling in an extremely meta fashion for the “X-Files” episode “Hollywood A.D.” Duchovny’s second turn as writer/director featured Shandling playing (essentially) himself, as an equally deadpan actor cast as “Agent Mulder” in a movie loosely based on Mulder and Scully’s alien-hunting adventures.

“Hollywood A.D.” aired in 2000, two years after “Larry Sanders” went off the air — but it still included a callback to that back-and-forth mancrush, just as a reminder of how memorable this ongoing joke was. The best bit? Even today, we’re not totally sure how much of it was an act, and how much was real affection between these two men.

And remember, the Duchovny storyline was just one facet of “The Larry Sanders Show’s” greatness. And it’s a greatness we can now revisit as much as we like (with an HBO subscription).

“The Larry Sanders Show” is now streaming on HBO GO and HBO NOW. 

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