Hi Allison and David,
Pardon me just a moment while I find my reading glasses—ah, that’s better.
I’m so excited to be joining you both, and I thought tonight’s premiere was a fantastic start to the new season. Among other things, it featured one of the tightest scripts of the series so far. The episode began, as many episodes of Louie do, with Louie on stage at a comedy club. Introducing a joke about “aging,” he paints an absurd portrait of senescence (a man wearing reading glasses to better see his penis during masturbation), then wends his way to an inspired, macabre take on the midlife crisis: Why, Louie wonders, don’t rich old men “upgrade” to “new dicks” that have been harvested from the corpses of promising young men struck down in their prime? (A “happy ending to a sad story, on your body,” in Louie’s marvelous formulation—are you both, as writers, as routinely envious of C.K.’s way with words as I am?)
As you mentioned, David, Louie’s comedy-club footage is often harnessed, Seinfeld-style, to the themes and events of the episode in which it appears, and Louie’s reading glasses/dick-upgrade riff was no exception: This was an episode about aging, and, to a lesser degree, about throwing money at the problem. After Louie’s girlfriend, April, about 15 years his junior, breaks up with him during midday ice cream, he upgrades to a new dick, in the form of a $7,500 motorcycle. The breakup scene at the café was fantastic, and fantastically acted, I thought, by my college classmate Gaby Hoffmann—on a show in which stand-up comedians often play supporting roles, it’s always nice to see a professional actor read so many of C.K.’s lines. On one level, the scene was a virtuoso formal exercise: a conversation that goes from zero to splitsville in a matter of minutes, with one of the characters acting as both dumper and dumpee while the other barely musters so much as a complete sentence. It was a meta-breakup that doubled, not unaffectingly (has a momentary close-up of a dessert spoon ever packed so much poignancy?), as the real thing.
Hanging over the scene, of course, was the abrupt departure, at the end of Season 2, of Louie’s unrequited love interest, Pamela (played on the show by C.K.’s real-life friend and Lucky Louie co-star Pamela Adlon). Louie’s dating in Pamela’s absence, but it doesn’t seem as though he’s turned the page. Before April arrives at the café, we can tell that he isn’t looking forward to the encounter. He sighs, runs his hand agitatedly over his head. When she slides into the booth, complaining about work stuff, C.K. nicely captures Louie’s wandering interest with a quick cut outside the café, a burst of street noise interrupting April’s speech. The difference in their age is never mentioned explicitly, but it’s addressed, and inverted, implicitly. April comes off, by far, as the more emotionally mature, or at least emotionally intelligent, of the two. The fortysomething with two kids and an ex-wife is stammering over his bowl of ice cream. The thirtysomething, fresh from dealing with hellacious meetings and an office rival (Lisa, that cooze!), plays an expert “game of relationship charades,” as she puts it, rapidly pinpointing, and then making peace with, Louie’s unspoken ambivalence about their future together. “You should just say the words and we’ll move on,” April says. When he can’t, she does. April appears again at the end of the episode, this time tucking Louie in, making him a sandwich, and, in another bravado monologue, saving them from “wasting four years of both of our lives” after he suggests, flailingly, that they get back together. He’s got a blurry penis; she sees things clearly.
I loved Louie’s brief idyll with his new, two-wheeled dick. Louie’s New York is a city of gridlock; of residents emerging from one dank cave (the subway) before descending into another (the workplace, in Louie’s case a subterranean club); of hunch-shouldered sidewalk trudging; of unsolvable, highly punitive parking puzzles. (If you’ve ever tried to stow a car on a Manhattan street, you know there was nothing remotely fantastical about those signs.) Here, though, was a sunny montage of freedom and transcendence—Louie zooming up the West Side Highway, slingshotting around Columbus Circle, gliding above Grand Central Station—undercut, just enough, by the sight gag of Louie in goggles, his burly physique strapped into too-tight black leather. (In stark contrast, it bears mentioning, to the chiseled build of the motorcycle salesman, who shows off each of his scars in a scene that played like nothing so much as heterosexual striptease.)
Of course, the reverie has to come crashing down, and it does: Soon Louie’s head is taped into a protective brace at the hospital and he’s trying, clumsily, to get a cellphone up to his ear. (I like how Louie tells his ex-wife the humiliating truth about his accident, but later tells April he was “hit by a truck,” playing more cannily for sympathy—another example of elegant dramatic compression in last night’s script.)
One last thing: I can happily go entire episodes of Louie without laughing aloud, such is its stilted tone, but I erupted at the destruction of his Infiniti by the construction crew—not the first time the excavator crushed the roof, but the increasingly implausible second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth times. (I think I heard two more impacts, but they happened off-screen.) The intrusion of absurdity on this show is not restricted to the stand-up bits. The scene also indicates the show’s success and increased budget: I don’t remember what kind of car Louie and his stoner neighbor crushed with a water jug back in the day, but it sure wasn’t an Infiniti.
Did you like this episode as much as I did? What did you make of the unexpected, first-ever on-screen appearance of Louie’s ex-wife, who is, it turns out, black? Does this throw the Season 1 episode in which Louie followed a black supermarket cashier home into a new light—or not, given the show’s established disregard for continuity?
What about Obama?