Last night’s Louie was a series of pep talks—some more helpful, or more genuine, than others. The first, from Louie’s ex-wife Janet, was the most effective. “I guess they’re looking possibly at maybe me to maybe be the guy who could replace” Letterman, Louie tells Janet with as much, uh, confidence as he can muster, before going on to list all the reasons he shouldn’t pursue the late-night gig, the primary one being the time commitment he’s made to fathering their two girls. “Listen,” Janet says to him, exasperated at being in the position of cheerleader to her cowardly ex, “you’ve been a fine father. But nobody needs a father that much.”
Go fucking do this, is Janet’s basic message, and so he does, training not in a New York Sports Club as I had predicted, but under the Manhattan Bridge, running himself ragged as maudlin piano, strings, and sax kick in. (Was that melodramatic score sincere or ironic? I’m not sure.)*
And then: DAVID LYNCH. David Lynch as Jack Doll/Dull, late-night sage, magician of the monologue. Louie was “sent” to see him, summoned to the mountaintop of the Ed Sullivan Theater to be trained in the art of Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson. C.K. has called Lynch one of his idols, and just this year, he broke Lynch’s record for most individual Emmy nominations in a single year. (The student becomes the master, etc.) Lynch plays Doll/Dull as both enigma—his desk drawer is filled with foreign bills, a gun, and a stopwatch—and master of the obvious, timing Louie’s reading of a cue card from 1972 and imparting such learned advice as “Comedy is about timing, son.”
Louie leaves more confused than when he came, continuing to float through the episode. I wonder: Does anyone really become the cheap option to replace Letterman with so little drive or aptitude for industry bullshit? Actually, I don’t wonder. And I don’t think we’re supposed to sympathize with Louie, as he just lets this singular opportunity happen to him.
Leno calls. Talks some crap about the downsides of late-night stardom, and Louie buys it. Until his “friend” Chris Rock delivers the truth: JAY LENO IS A LIAR. (Jay Leno, by the way, is also a good sport? Or knows that making fun of his own cut-throat rep is the only way to restore it?) Of course, Chris Rock is also a liar, and later in the episode tries his own tactic for pushing Louie out of contention for the job. Every comedian out for himself, except for Louie, who, after 25 years in this profession, can’t seem to see anything for what it is, and just keeps taking hits.
Literally: The scene at Gleason’s—77 Front Street, another great Brooklyn location in a season filled with them—opens with him not knowing why he’s there and closes with him knocked out, sprawled flat on the ground of the ring. C.K. is a serious boxing fan, and, despite what the shape of his mid-section might imply, has trained with real-life Fighter protagonist Mickey Ward. “To succeed in boxing,” he once told the A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin, “you have to think really smart and subtle things under a huge amount of pressure, which is that you’re getting beaten up. That’s why I like sparring and stuff in boxing. If you get into good enough shape, and you train hard enough, then when you get into the ring with somebody, when they’re punching you, you don’t flail.”
This is, ostensibly, good advice for Louie. Train hard, don’t flail. Instead, he’s all flail. Hard to see him getting this gig, though stranger things have happened, particularly when David Lynch is involved.
Jerry Seinfeld. Boo.
Correction, Sept. 14, 2012: The article originally described Louie as running under the Williamsburg Bridge. He runs under the Manhattan Bridge. (Return to the corrected sentence.)