Unlike you heartless, barren Seinfeld offspring, I’m a child-full child of Family Ties, with plenty of reasons to love hugging and learning. But though I cried at “Dad Night Live,” I’m with Jonah here: Last night’s episode was too syrupy. And I’ll add, too square.
It wasn’t just the music. We all know how good C.K. is at juggling the threads of a half-hour show when they don’t all have to fit together, but there’s something a little rudimentary about the way he handles linear storytelling. 1) Make cleaning lady cry. 2) Take a beating at Gleason’s. 3) Struggle in front of the home camera, feel dejected. 4) Get pep talk from daughters, feel hopeful. 5) Jog down the middle of the street in New York with a teenage entourage and pour water over your head to show how hard you are driving yourself. 6) GO GET ’EM.
The whole needs to match the parts. If you’re going to, say, brilliantly cast David Lynch as a late-night guru, and then write his part insanely well, and then pull off that incredibly authentic Late Show test run, don’t make the structure holding all that stuff together so schematic. (As David mentioned, the secrets-and-lies segment fell into this trap as well: Oh, secrets are lies, you say? Well what terrific timing! Here comes someone telling a secret that’s a lie!)
Am I being way too harsh on a show that I actually love? Of course. Louie is still better than any other half-hour on TV. But all of the above really blocked me from emotionally connecting to an episode that I truly, deeply wanted to feel—and that C.K. desperately wanted me to be moved by.
It wasn’t all forced piano cues and horizontal storytelling. Neither of you svelte gentlemen noted the exchange between Louie and his daughters about weight, in which he explains that he needs to lose 40 pounds to have a chance at the Letterman gig, and Lilly responds: “If they want a skinny person, why don’t they just get someone skinny?” It was a very brief chat, but an overweight dad, trying to better himself—to, as David said, push himself to be something more—mixed up with body issues and the pressure to look the part (a pressure C.K. must struggle with, and something that his daughters will surely feel in years to come, if they don’t already) got me in the gut.
You guys have already rightly praised my favorite moment in the episode—the office song-and-dance between Jack and Louie (and, on the sidelines, Louie’s agent)—so just a few more notes on that. When Louie and Jack first met in Part 2, Jack kept rubbing and pulling at his ear. Last night, he instead repeatedly played with his eyebrow. It’s a small thing, but I wonder if a choice like that was Lynch’s or C.K.’s? Lynch, by the way, was the perfect straight man to C.K.’s overly sentimental side, delivering every opaque line with that amazing mix of deadpan chill and grandfatherly wisdom. There were moments when he seemed equally likely to give Louie a Werther’s or slam the door in his face. Speaking of doors: “This is either a door or a wall for me” is one of those lines that could have been a groaner, but C.K. played it so well—reminding me that, in addition to all of his other talents, he’s a good actor.
You know who else are good actors? Talk show guests. Susan Sarandon and Paul Rudd played themselves playing themselves, and nailed it. Also, the JEWS card: very funny. (A personal digression: When I was a little kid, our hometown newspaper—awesomely named The Vindicator—came to our house to photograph my family lighting the Hanukkah candles. When the article appeared in the paper a few days later, there we were in our party dresses, smiling, lighting the Shamash, all under the very straightforward headline: “JEWS.” The subhead was a little more descriptive, but at that point unnecessary.)
So what about that ending? Other than the inside-baseball fuck you to Letterman, I DIDN’T LOVE IT. David, you called it “impressive”—but why? Because it circumvented the two options on the table: Louie getting the gig and finding happiness, Louie losing the gig and crumbling? Or because you really bought Louie’s reaction—you really believed that, in the end, successfully hosting one night and serving his purpose as the network’s leverage to get Letterman’s price down was win enough? I couldn’t swallow that.
But even if I did, I would still have been left wondering: Now what? Louie’s been a sad sack all season long. This “Late Night” arc let him go from broken man to confident hero in three episodes (and underlined it all in that final on-the-nose boxing sequence). So, then, is this who he is now? Were all the Rocky parallels actually serving a purpose, to get us to know this man more than we have in three seasons, to get us to emotionally connect in a way we as yet have always been blocked from doing? Or is next week’s episode back to square one, and next season a slate wiped clean? That’s the thing about character development—you can’t just drop it. Being asked to invest in Louie’s awakening, to believe in his personal growth, feels to me like being swindled.
Let me tell you what kind of what you are,