by Julian Spivey
For his fifth anniversary as host of “The Tonight Show” on Monday, Feb. 25 Jimmy Fallon paid homage to “The Larry Sanders Show” and it was one of the greatest and most brilliant episodes of any late night television show I’ve ever seen.
We’ve known for a while that Garry Shandling’s ‘90s HBO sitcom “The Larry Sanders Show” about the innerworkings of a late night comedy talk show a la “The Tonight Show” has been important to Fallon as he’s said as much in tribute to Shandling after his death in 2016 and multiple times when Jeffrey Tambor has been on the show he’s reprised his character Hank Kingsley from ‘Larry Sanders’ famous for his catch phrase “Hey now!”
We didn’t any “Hey nows!” on Monday night, though Fallon’s sidekick Steve Higgins did try to pitch a cookbook (pitching stuff was always a gag for Hank on ‘Larry Sanders’), but we did the classic Sanders line “no flipping” when Fallon threw the show to a commercial break on multiple occasions.
It was fascinating seeing Fallon, who’s known as maybe the nicest guy on television and certainly on late night TV, take on the jerk behind the scenes character for the episode – including getting into faux arguments with guests Tina Fey and 15-year old animal expert Robert Irwin and watching Fallon go back and forth from being a nice interviewer to a sparring partner with them was fun to watch. Fey’s angry “Trump got elected because of you” line to Fallon was the absolute funniest moment of the episode.
Another great gag during this special was Ben Stiller reprising his role as ‘Tonight Show’ mascot Hashtag the Panda and getting pissed off at Fallon when the secret is spoiled and storming off the show but getting lost in the studio and not being able to find the way out.
Anybody who loved “The Larry Sanders Show” would’ve gotten the tribute immediately and as a fan of that show I truly loved what Fallon and his crew did for this anniversary episode, but I immediately wondered how many watching would understand the homage.
It seems that many did not get it and were perturbed at “The Tonight Show” and Fallon for going with something different for the anniversary show with many complaining on social media about the episode.
This bugs me for a couple reasons.
1) I truly believe this episode would’ve been fun had I never seen an episode of “The Larry Sanders Show.” Also, it’s a crime so few people today seem to know about “The Larry Sanders Show.”
2) It’s Fallon’s show and he should be able to do whatever he wants with it for such a milestone episode. This was obviously something important and special to him and fans of the show should’ve stuck by him with it instead of being offended that he tried something different for one night. Fallon has done more than 1,000 episodes of ‘Tonight Show’ and he’s going to do hundreds more at least. Hell, the very next night the show was going to go back to normal. Let the man and show step outside of the box for one damn night.
Late night television rarely gets the opportunity to step outside of the box and do something as creative and brilliant and Fallon, his writer and “The Tonight Show” did on Monday night for their fifth anniversary and I commend them for doing such a fine job. I hope to see episodes as interesting as this one was for special occasions in the future. I truly believe the fifth anniversary show on Monday was his finest piece of television thus far.