So, up front, I have only seen a small amount of Louie previously, but judging by the recaps and background stuff plot isn’t really Louie’s thing. What I do know is that he’s a supremely funny guy, and that he is proving that culture can be distributed en mass without middlemen for a reasonable price, and was unbelievably up front about what he was doing with the million bucks he raked in. More fanboying later. So the actual show is 22 minutes of weird little vignettes that explore reprehensible aspects of the Louie character that I can’t recall seeing so bluntly exposed in any other show.
The Louie that meanders through this week’s episode is at a base level a familiar version of the stunted emotional child/aspirational machismo consumer, but with an unusual degree of empathy: some real hard work has been done to explore the root causes of his mindset, and to present them in terms of good, sound logic mixed with a heady cocktail of advertorial pressure. The opening scene is just a great chunk of stand up about getting old and wanting a replacement penis, which later turns out to metaphorically be his ill-fated motorbike, because Louie employs a GoTian level of thematic unity.
So the actual dramatic parts of the show give us a very different dude than the one who seems so gregarious and generous on stage. Sitting in a café, looking distracted and upset (CK can muster probably the most put-upon face of any comic operating today), and waiting for his casual girlfriend April (Gaby Hoffman). In a wonderful bit of theatre, the dynamic of their relationship is played out in the space of a thrilling couple minutes, as Louie fails to own up to his own motivations, and waits for April to go through a series of potential issues until she touches upon ‘you want to break up with me’. Louie’s face changes from one kind of discomfort to another, and a series of silences do the rest, Louie relying on the emotional sensitivity of his partner to do the heavy lifting for him. It’s an incredible scene, and that’s without even talking about the ice cream. Dear god. It’s a bit of contextual genius to have Louie order ice cream for lunch, just because he wanted it, in a scene where he proves incapable of basic emotional maturity. When April says “Please don’t eat that ice cream right now,” we’re saying it with her, and that is a rare gift. At the close, Louie sighs as if at the end of some major exertion.
So he goes to buy a motorbike. Another terrific scene of subtle cues and twisted logic. One suspects the script has as many stage directions as actual lines. After the seller shows off a series of horrific scars, all it takes is the sticker price and its mpg to sway him to the realisation that buying a motorbike is actually smart. The scene in the hospital when it’s revealed that there’s nothing wrong with him but his own stupidity is made by its attention to detail, with the beds in the hall and the old lady crying for help, eventually from President Obama. And a quick note on his ex-wife being played by Susan Kelechi Watson: who cares. The show is full of surreal things, and Watson plays her brief scene perfectly: the transition from concern about his being hospitalised to dismay at the motorbike element makes the scene worthwhile. It’s another set-up scene, but it hides its function well. It’s been noted that Louie’s kids don’t look much like him either, and I’m more than willing to overlook logistical problems when it works for the show.
The payoff is when April comes round to Louie’s flat to get her laptop and, upon seeing his injuries, instantly goes into mothering mode, though this time Louie has learned to keep the exact nature of said injury imprecise. After he’s been tucked in on the sofa and she goes to leave, he blurts out ‘stay’, half-demand and half-question and entirely unfelt. April’s exasperation is vented beautifully, challenging Louie’s bullshit and taking it to its logical conclusion: if he comes to her parents’ house for thanksgiving they will be a real couple, so if he’s not committed, then growing a pair and dumping her now will save them five hypothetical years of loveless marriage. When even that doesn’t prompt him to express an opinion, April dumps herself again, and the show ends with Louie lying in a puddle of his own inability to engage with the world revolving around him.
I’m really looking forward to watching this season. There’s a real sadness in among all the absurdity, like when his car gets crushed by workers who can’t explain what they’re doing or in the rather sweet moment he shares with another motorist in trying to puzzle out a parking sign in broader cultural terms, ‘but green means go, right? Red is bad.’ The stand up segments go a long way to balancing out the feeling that the world is confusing and complicated and understanding even the people you love is difficult, and the fact that the show doesn’t hide from these problems (even if its lead character tries his hardest to do so) makes it compelling stuff. How much of yourself do you recognise, and how much does it – like Rilke’s Apollo – does it make you want to change your life?