Garry Shandling’s life played almost like a fairytale: After a near-death experience, he devoted himself to his dream of being a comedian and made it to The Tonight Show—at the time, the only way for a comic to know he’d truly made it—and from there became guest host for Johnny Carson, an honor akin to the mighty Starman coming down to anoint David Bowie’s Ziggy.

And Garry Shandling realized, “This isn’t quite right for me.”

Which is simultaneously surprising and not. In fairytales you don’t find the princess and decide, “Eh, we’re really not compatible,” but it’s true of most of adulthood: You pursue something relentlessly and make endless sacrifices and tell yourself this will all be worth it and finally get it and it’s… okay.

 The Larry Sanders Show found the middle ground, portraying life as endlessly aggravating from one day to the next, but also suggesting if you can laugh at it, you can live through it and even enjoy it on occasion.

Not bad, mind you, but somehow not what you expected and you’re left wondering if it was worth chasing it in the first place… but then again, you can’t think of anything else to do… and hey, you have to do something so you keep heading down that road.

The genius of Garry Shandling was that he actually found a new and gratifying path, with the creation of the remarkable, before-its-time talk show parody The Larry Sanders Show, which aired on HBO from 1992 to 1998.

But he never lost sight of the struggle. Indeed, Shandling credited The Larry Sanders Show with giving him four ulcers, and a legal battle with his ex-manager Brad Grey outlasted the show itself, finally getting settled a year after it went off the air.

For those unfamiliar, The Larry Sanders follows host Larry Sanders (Shandling) as he puts on a talk show featuring real-world celebrity guests while navigating a life both glamorous and humiliating. Emphasis on humiliating.

In general, it was a place where people did great work before going on to do great work elsewhere, only the later great work would be watched by way more people. Notable alums include Jeffrey Tambor (he was sidekick Hank Kingsley before Arrested Development and Transparent), Judd Apatow (a writer/producer) and Bob Odenkirk (his turn as superagent Stevie Grant was a definite dry run for Breaking Bad’s Saul Goodman). Hell, even Grey became an executive producer for The Sopranos.

That said, arguably none of these people have equaled their work on Larry Sanders. Every character gets moments to shine, particularly Tambor and Rip Torn, whose producer character, Artie, provided the blueprint for Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock—where Torn played Donaghy’s boss to drive home the link.

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Yet while Shandling often steps back to give everyone else the spotlight—notably during a remarkable episode when Hank finally gets to live his dream of actually hosting the show and nearly torpedoes his career in just two appearances—it’s called The Larry Sanders Show and ultimately everything revolves around the guy with his name in the title.

And so Larry gets to be a child, every whim immediately addressed, isolated from the stressful realities of daily life, all so he can be at his best in front of the cameras.

Except no one can be completely cut off from reality, as Larry is repeatedly shaken by threats to his lifestyle (he discovers his accountant has been robbing him blind) and ego (he insists on confronting a “stalker” who broke into his home… only to learn the man is a robber who has absolutely no idea who he is).

Periodically Larry tries to grow up, insisting his staff share their problems with him so he can help—then realizing he has neither interest in their struggles nor wisdom to share. He even gives a job to his former partner—and quickly remembers why they went their separate ways: His ex is the worst human being on earth.

We see him worry that his talents are being unrecognized (a bad review can shake him to the core) and underappreciated (contract negotiations are a nightmare) and just being frustrated in general as all the while he and his staff bang out the episodes: some good, some bad, some ugly.

Yet while inevitably worried, Larry isn’t miserable. He finds some pleasure in dating way above his weight class. Even that can be humbling, as his glee at scoring Sharon Stone vanishes with continual reminders of how much brighter her star shines than his.

A greater happiness comes from the fact he actually gets satisfaction from doing his job. As everyone who’s worked in a place you’ve liked and another you’ve hated knows, this makes a big difference in your overall life. The show has a running joke of Larry making a point of always watching his show when it airs and being genuinely delighted to see himself, a gag very silly and oddly sweet and incredibly sad all at once.

TV tends to be a medium of extremes, where life is either relentless awesome, like Entourage (featuring Sanders’ Jeremy Piven) or pure misery, like The Leftovers.

The Larry Sanders Show found the middle ground, portraying life as endlessly aggravating from one day to the next, but also suggesting if you can laugh at it, you can live through it and even enjoy it on occasion.

Of course, Garry Shandling never would have gotten a show if he weren’t frickin’ hilarious. There are countless comic delights to discover in The Larry Sanders Show—Hank embracing Judaism and insisting on wearing a yarmulke on air, a pre-Entourage Piven repeating “I’m the head writer” during sex, Tom Petty taunting Greg Kinnear about his time on the E! Network, Larry confessing he got a handjob in a Denny’s parking lot, the episode where Hank wanders around muttering, “Penis, vagina”—and I urge you all to neglect your jobs and families and head down this beautiful rabbit hole, as I have since the news of Shandling’s passing.

If you need somewhere to start, this is a fine place: Larry asking Hank to explain what the hell his “Hey Now!” catchphrase actually means.

Thanks again, Garry. No flipping.