Louie, Season 3

Liz Puts the “Manic” in Manic Pixie Dream Girl
Talking television.
July 27 2012 6:30 AM

Louie, Season 3

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Liz puts the “manic” in Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

still from Louie.
Louie and Liz (Parker Posey)

Photo courtesy FX.

In Week 1, I wondered whether C.K. could pull off longer narrative arcs on this show. Now we have our first two-part episode and the answer is more than an emphatic yes: “Daddy’s Girlfriend” is one of the best things this series has done so far. On Twitter, New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum said this episode was so good it beat the previous four episodes to death. I don’t know if I’d go that far—Episode 2, with Melissa Leo, was awfully good—but I do think it’s the best one yet.

And for many of the reasons you cited, Allison. First off, Posey’s performance, and the sheer force of that character, as you put it. I’m not a doctor and I’m not going to diagnose a fictional character after 40 minutes with her, but C.K. clearly decided to dwell on the “manic” in Manic Pixie Dream Girl. In fact, this whole episode could be read as a devastating critique of that troubling Hollywood trope. A certain breed of writer-director likes to imagine a pretty, whimsical, wild girl who will come along and sweep his alter ego off his feet, opening up new worlds of possibility. But C.K. shows that someone with that kind of crazy energy would be exhausting, pushy, and quite possibly deeply troubled.

And yet still riveting. I bought that Louie would be taken with her—even if he obviously had his concerns nearly from the beginning of the date. About five minutes into the episode, after Posey’s character recounted her teenage evenings vomiting from chemo while comforting her mother, he gave this look that said, OK, what am I in for? But a story like that, about seeing death and going through hell, is exactly the kind of thing Louie would respect and appreciate. (That scene was directed perfectly, too, with the camera revolving around both her and Louie in dim city-light with disconcerting music playing in the background.) He would also respect her emphasis on truth-telling: “Let’s be honest,” she says. “It’s the only way I’ll continue this date with you.” That’s like music to Louie’s ears.

Of course, she’s not totally honest. Telling Louie that her name is “Tape Recorder,” for instance. OK, she plays it off as a joke, which it is, but the joke is on him—so even if it’s not exactly dishonest it’s manipulative and cruel, which is a recurring thing with her. Two other things about this scene before I move on to her other manipulations. 1) That choice of fake name brought to mind C.K.’s weirdest short film, “Hello There,” which everyone should watch, and 2) that skeezy pool player staring at Posey through the window-wall of the billiard hall was a good callback to the best bit from the episode’s opening stand-up set, C.K.’s very C.K.-ish description of the male gaze: “He just looks at you and you feel just buckets of cum hit you in the face.”

Speaking of feminism: Another gender reversal! The most flagrant one yet, in fact: Louie putting on a dress at the pushy insistence of a woman. Liz doesn’t have to punch Louie in the jaw or jump on his face, but I still thought of Melissa Leo in the pickup truck. Leo’s Laurie called Louie “a fag”; Liz is more enlightened, and just tells Louie to “grow some guts.” “Plus,” she adds, “I think it’ll look pretty on you.” And when he does it, and ends up looking like a red-headed Fred Flinstone in gold lame, she says—once her laughter has faded—that he is “officially great,” and kisses him.

The one scene in this episode that didn’t quite work for me was the vignette with the homeless man. Thematically it made sense: Liz pushes Louie’s offhanded philanthropic impulse to its scary extreme—plus the guy’s severe mental illness provides a kind of comparison or contrast to Liz’s milder but still disconcerting demeanor. But it all resolved rather neatly: We learn way more about this gentle homeless man in two or three minutes than seems particularly plausible, and they have no trouble providing him with real if temporary help. I have never done anything of the sort, so perhaps I don’t know what I’m talking about, but somehow I imagine such an encounter wouldn’t go down so easily.

But then the episode rebounded with that great ending on the rooftop—which I thought was the highlight of C.K.’s own performance in this episode: His fear when he thought she would fall was palpable. And her reply to that fear, saying that he’s afraid “because a tiny part of you wants to jump, because it would be so easy,” and that she’s not afraid because she doesn’t want to jump, is a masterful bit of total bullshit. Then the drastic swing from “I’m having too good of a time” to that melancholy look she has before telling Louie her name was beautifully done. I went from wondering whether this show could do longer narrative arcs to being supremely disappointed that next week’s episode isn’t called “Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 3.” (It’s called “Barney/Never” and co-stars the marvelously named McKinley Belcher III.)

One last thought: Has it struck either of you just how focused this season has been, so far, on Louie’s love life?

I love to pine for North Dakota,

David

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