Louie, Season 3

Why Louis C.K. Is the Hegel of Stand-Up
Talking television.
July 19 2012 10:55 PM

Louie, Season 3

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How Louis C.K. is like G.W.F. Hegel.

Still from Louie.
Parker Posey and Louis C.K. in Louie

Courtesy FX Network.

One quick follow-up to our discussion last week before I get into last night’s episode: On Monday, Louis C.K. sat for an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show for the express purpose, it seemed, of addressing the Daniel Tosh rape-joke furor and C.K.’s tangential connection to it. He told Stewart that he tweeted his words of praise to Tosh during the tumult by pure coincidence, in utter ignorance: He was on vacation, had been off the Internet, caught an episode of Tosh.0, enjoyed it, and sent Tosh 85 characters of love. When he returned from his trip, he discovered he’d “been called a rape apologist because I said hi to a guy!”

Having explained that he had not, in fact, weighed in on the rape-joke debate, C.K. proceeded to weigh in on the rape-joke debate, striking a magnanimous note that sounded more combative than it was. Just like outraged bloggers, he said, comedians are “uneducated, unfettered” traffickers in “hyperbole and garbage.” And whereas feminists, “stereotypically speaking, can’t take a joke,” comedians “can’t take criticism—comedians are big pussies.” In summation: “I think you should listen. When you—if somebody has the opposite feeling from me, I want to hear it so I can add to mine.” Comedy-game Hegel! This is the animating dialectical impulse beneath some of C.K.’s best bits, both onstage—where he switches from perspective to perspective, rarely content to let one voice or point of view dominate for long—and on his television show, where Louie is regularly thrust, and thrusts himself, into charged encounters well outside his comfort zone with other people: Staten Island bullies, Harlem supermarket cashiers, anti-masturbation advocates, studly Miami lifeguards, Dane Cook, and on and on.

Last night’s episode took a different tack: It was one of the most conventionally plot- and joke-driven we’ve seen so far. (I don’t mean that as a criticism, just a formal observation.) In the opening scene, after some cute prodding from Lilly and Jane, Louie decides to find a girlfriend. His ex-wife, Janet, has been spending time with a “friend” called Patrick—he’s been on a blimp, the baller—and the girls want to know when their dad will “find the right person.” Objective established, the episode is built around Louie’s hunt for Wife No. 2. At his daughters’ school, scored by longing 1950s teen-pop, he peers into classrooms at three teachers: prospective candidates. The first isn’t interested in his hangdog leering. The second, in her sexily sensible shoes and chunky turtleneck, is wearing a ring. Then there’s the third, who, in Louie’s fantasy, is a fantastic mom who only likes sex from behind—a funny encapsulation of the scrambled-up libidinal and parental desires that characterize a devoted father on the prowl. There was a similar scrambling at the very end of the episode-opening stand-up footage: “I still just jerk off to that wedding album I found in the garbage,” Louie says. It’s a great line capping off a somewhat underwhelming bit about prejudice and Scarlett Johansson: What a fantastically filthy way to illustrate his yearning for happiness in the wake of a failed marriage.

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Speaking of jokes, the episode included a small, recurring gag about a made-up reality television show. This is extremely well-harvested comedic soil, but I liked how C.K. blurred the line in his satire between banality and tragedy. One contestant talks about the untimely deaths of his parents as matter-of-factly as he acknowledges that he works out a lot; another says he needs to be “more assertive,” parroting typical reality-show personal-empowerment-speak, then viciously stabs a rival. C.K. also mustered a quietly absurdist formal critique of the medium: a boring conversation plays out on the show, then a participant recounts that scene in its entirety in a “confessional” shot.  

But back to the wifey hunt. After a disastrous booty call with the comedian Maria Bamford, Louie steps into a bookstore (Community Bookstore on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, if you want to add it to your Louie walking-tour map) and is smitten by Parker Posey’s clerk. When it comes to casting and directing Louie’s romantic foils this season, C.K. is on a roll: From Gaby Hoffmann to Melissa Leo to Posey, he’s landed great actresses and gotten rich performances from them. Posey is a marvel as the bookstore employee. She packs so much life and character into every line and look. I enjoyed the insights her character offers Louie about Lilly’s hormones coming “on line” and about how a scary book, read by his daughter late at night in spite of Louie’s orders, will create a secret, “wrongful thrill.” And I love Posey’s elaborate play of facial expressions—all of them big, but none devolving into broad vaudeville—during the minute-and-a-half-long monologue that Louie deploys to ask her out.

He spends that proposition apologizing for himself, reasoning with a woman he assumes is unattainable, and trying to ward off rejection by force of sheer verbal acuity. It’s the most eloquent he’s been this season by a mile. When she says yes, Louie’s private moment of Sampras-style celebration is surprisingly funny given that it’s the second time in the episode we’re seeing it. The secret here, I think, is the rodent-faced lip-bite.

This episode was titled “Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 1.” In Part 2 we’ll see the date. How will Posey’s character live up to, and complicate, Louie’s idealized vision of her?

Don’t take 10 percent of my food,

Jonah

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