Imagine a sitcom written by Pirandello, and you’ll know what we have here, finally in a deluxe 16-disc set. Many of the plots on Showtime’s It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, broadcast from 1986 to 1990, were conventional sitcom stuff—Garry goes on a date, Garry throws a bad party, etc. But the main character, “Garry Shandling,” knew that his life was a television show (and a rather amateurish one—“like a grade-school play,” as writer-producer Alan Zweibel notes in one of this set’s supplemental minidocs). Garry interacted with the live studio audience, commenting on the action in wry asides. Surreal plot digressions and unlikely guests (Tom Petty, Red Buttons, Vanna White) were the norm. Without IGSS, there would be no The Larry Sanders Show—Shandling’s superior follow-up—but also no Scrubs, The Office, 30 Rock or Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Given that the concept was Shandling’s idea to begin with, he seems surprisingly ill-equipped to talk about it on these numerous commentary tracks. Yet he can be very funny, especially when he’s riffing on his horrendous ’80s wardrobe; what’s more, Shandling has the backbone to say when he doesn’t like an episode all that much.
But when it comes to his show’s fundamental oddness, the writers, particularly Ed Solomon, are far more insightful. When more than two of them start dialoguing, it’s like a giant riff session from some very strange comic minds—the kind who could come up with Garry Shandling visiting Shandlingland (Garry’s own theme park), or a parody of The Natural built around table tennis. In short: weird, wonderful minds.—Hank Sartin