The brilliance of Louis C.K.’s semi-autobiographical FX show is in its contradictions. As the most prolific stand-up comedian of this era, generating a new hour of material each year, C.K. could easily be expected to craft a sitcom heavy on laughs, dense in dialogue, and limited in theme. Instead, the writer/director trusts viewers to indulge in dark moments, remain patient through lengthy pauses, and answer some hard truths based on his experiences. Louie is less of a sitcom than a gritty personal journal set to pictures.
If this were a traditional recap, here is all you would need to know about the first two episodes of Louie: Season 3. Last week, Louie got dumped by his girlfriend in the morning, lost a car and crashed a motorcycle in the afternoon, and was nursed back to health by his ex-girlfriend that evening. This week, Louie was surreptitiously set up on a blind dinner date by a comedian friend, then argued over the reciprocal nature of oral sex in the front seat of a pickup truck.
Funny premises, indeed, but these 44 minutes of TV were hardly the stuff of laugh tracks and belly aches. WHAT happens on Louie is far less significant for discussion than WHY or HOW those events occurred in the first place.
If Louie had launched in 1992, his character would be doomed to fail as an Al Bundy charicature. To a stranger, Louie is a bit of a schlub. Absent the unique nature of his night job as a stand-up comedian, the show’s emotional center is often vapid. Confronted with outpourings of emotion from his girlfriend last week or a foul-mouthed critique of his sexual generosity this week, Louie is stoic and unmoved. He is a guy who is deeply flawed, but old enough to be aware of those shortcomings. Thank goodness for those imperfections, however, because they are the backbone of Louie’s appeal.
Before text messaging and smartphones, I clearly recall face-to-face conversations where I was not needed. Aside from the bobbleheaded instincts we use to appear engaged, we have all been confronted with overdramatic family members or needy significant others. Louie’s solution to those chats is to clam up, say nothing, and suffer the consequences. Is it insensitive to look disinterested when your girlfriend is telling you what’s happening in your mind or when a buddy is lamenting the death of a colleague? Sure. But when you’re old enough to grow hair on your shoulders and have prostate issues, who really gives a shit how you’re perceived?
This episode’s opening sequence, mashing up Louie’s dinnertime joke fest with his onscreen daughters and his Comedy Cellar set, was the linchpin to understanding the events that unfolded later. Louie’s daughters are the only people in the world who both require and receive his undivided attention. He would rather hear his youngest tell a horrible knock-knock joke than see one of his peers get a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall. His marriage and career tanked long before his recent surge in popularity, so C.K. the writer is quick to assert whose opinions truly matter to him.
That brings us to Melissa Leo’s fascinating guest role. As Lori, a woman invited to have dinner at Louie’s pal (and fellow comedian) Allan Havey’s home, the Academy Award winner was introduced as a disheveled, disinterested homebody with a life and business all to herself. That sounds like someone else we see in this show on a regular basis. Following a disastrous initial meeting, when neither could muster the common courtesy to exchange pleasantries, Louie & Lori decide to leave their married friends behind and grab a drink.
Several rounds later, with the pretense of their blind date in the rear view mirror, Louie & Lori find common ground. These are damaged people, removed from a world of hipsters and social media, just trying to salvage a night out. Armed with the lubrication of hard liquor and a shared helping of cynicism, Lori starts to drive Louie back to his (now-repaired) motorcycle at the Havey residence.
Until a detour, that is, when Lori pulls into a back alley and offers a friendly blowjob. Because, as we all know, oral sex is offered as a ritual of thanks, similar to tipping a valet at your local Cheesecake Factory. As an overweight, unattached man in his forties, Louie is happy to accept Lori’s offer. The ensuing scene, as Lori asks her alley date to pay her the same courtesy, was as shocking as it was hilarious. Flipping the conventional male/female roles, Louie plays the emotional card, saying that he didn’t feel like he knew Lori well enough to return the favor. I’ve never been a fan of Melissa Leo, but she earned my respect by blasting Louie for his hypocrisy. This led to the most cringe inducing $1000 bet in the history of mankind, the details of which I don’t even want to type. Once Louie & Lori had “settled up,” and we were left to assume this was a drunken adventure that would simply disappear from their personal histories, the unthinkable happened. Lori asked is Louie wanted to go out again, and he said, “Sure.”
Louie’s age and lifestyle demand that certain people play functional roles in his life. If intimacy is his handicap, his sexual desires are probably best served by someone who is equally lame. Louis C.K. & Melissa Leo made for a strange couple, but the fallout of their bizarre hookup served the point of the series. How would we behave in those circumstances?
Louie is not a show for everyone, but it is far from a niche vehicle that only comedy nerds can enjoy. I strongly encourage the OCTV faithful to give it a try, and see if you laugh at the absurdities of one man’s struggle to find a few moments of peace.
Were you satisfied with Leo’s performance? Did the blind date premise seem too contrived for you? Did you think Louie acted accordingly with his character? If this is your first season watching Louie, are you finding it too serious? I’m curious to read your feedback, so please chime in early and often!