2018, TV

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling (2018)

I am a huge fan of Larry Sanders. I think it’s one of the greatest shows in the history of television. But, outside of that, and having suffered through What Planet are You From? I really didn’t know a lot about Garry Shandling. I can tell you that this 4-hour-plus miniseries, made by one of his proteges, is more than most of us could possibly ever want to know about him. But it’s still very much worth watching because, it turns out, he had a very unusual life and he had a rather massive impact on Hollywood, something I knew nothing about.

This miniseries benefits from something most documentaries don’t have the benefit of: Shandling was a compulsive notetaker and documented his entire professional life (and his personal life once he was a professional) with diaries and notes. So, in addition to the usual talking heads with something like this, we get numerous insights into his life from the man himself. It’s possible that the view of this miniseries knows more about Garry Shandling the person than most of his friends did while he was living. That’s a rare feat for a documentary it’s entirely possible due to these notes (and the filming that seems to have also documented part of his later years).

I was born in the ’80s so I was entirely unaware of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and its impact on sitcoms and comedy in general in the English-speaking world. I’ve added it to my list and I will be checking it out, as it does seem to have been pretty pathbreaking. Its impact on The Simpsons was something I was completely unaware of.

I was also completely unaware of his battle with his manager and how much of an impact that may have had on Hollywood as a whole. Learning about it (in this admittedly biased manner) it’s easy to understand how he seems to have somewhat disappeared after Larry Sanders. Regardless of the truth of the battle, I do hope that the fight did set the precedent that talking heads in this miniseries claim, as it does seem a massive conflict of interest for a manager to be on the production side as well.

This is clearly biased. Apatow clearly wanted to honour Shandling and I do think the whole thing could have delved a little bit more into the negatives of him. The fact that writers regularly were fired from his shows seems to be mostly brushed under the rug, or absolved due to Shandling’s supposed commitment to perfection. It does feel like a less biased filmmaker might have looked into that stuff more.

The film does end up feeling like a bit of an extended eulogy, or a public wake for the people who couldn’t attend his funeral (which features in the credits). Normally, I would be very critical of that. But one of the things I learned from watching this is how massively important Shandling was to an entire generation of talent, and not just comedic talent (which is the surprising part). It seems as though he mentored just an absolute ton of people and this is something I think few people outside of Hollywood knew before this film. It seems like he was a little bit like the Michael Stipe of comedy. (Maybe Michael Stipe is the Garry Shandling of alternative rock?) Along with his legal battle with his manager, this mentorship thing is a reminder that we don’t see a massive chunk of celebrities’ lives. We judge them on their work and their public appearances and really they have lives like us, with all the complications that implies. A film like this lets us see the human side. We might not need this for every celebrity but arguably we do need something like this for anyone who seems to have had this much impact on their artistic community.


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