One thing of which you can only on the rarest occasion accuse Louis C.K. is going for the easy laugh. Sometimes he doesn’t go for one at all. After last week’s fascinating investigation of one podgy-looking dude’s quest for romance, this week C.K. and yet another guest star, Parker Posey, go on the 40-something equivalent of the manic pixie dream date, with Louie‘s patented dash of deep emotional sadness and desperate need to be loved. This episode is equal parts touching and brutalising, and packs as much complicated relationship information into its 22 minutes as many quirky indie feature films.
The episode starts in unsettling fashion, as Louie meets Liz outside her bookstore where she very confidently gets the name of her coworker wrong. It’s a small, almost insignificant moment, but just unbalances us enough to shake our confidence in the character Louie put so much effort into wooing. Sure enough, moments later when they head to a bar, the bartender refuses to serve Liz Jagermeister on account of recent behaviour. Rather than pursue the matter, or even challenge it, Liz decides she doesn’t want a drink after all and takes Louie to a thrift store, where she convinces him to wear a second hand ballgown, kissing him on the lips in validation.
The whole evening is a study in ambiguity. Louie’s motivations are not uncertain in the least; he wants to impress the pretty lady who he imagines might be daddy’s girlfriend. But Liz is such a buzzing hub of unfocused energy and impulse he is often left staring at her in confusion or trying to talk her down. Their interaction with a homeless man struggling without his medication is an extension of an existing skit about trying to convince an out-of-towner not to talk to a homeless man. Liz either genuinely cares about the man, or cares enough about appearing to genuinely care that her request that Louie buy his prescription and check him into a Comfort Inn is literally irresistable.
The final scene is simply one of the most electrifying few minutes of television I’ve seen in months. Liz convinces her Charlie Brownish date to climb an obscene number of stairs to the roof of a mid-level skyscraper (‘wasn’t that worth it?’ ‘not really.’), where she perches precariously on the waist-high ledge. Louie is spooked as hell and retreats to a safe distance – heights freak me out and I felt genuine unease at the idea of Liz being so close to such a high drop – and begs her to do likewise. She tells him there’s no way it would happen, and that the only reason he’s scared is that some little part of him wants to jump. Seconds later, something crosses her mind, her smile fades and she wants to go home. Louie takes one last look at the skyline, closes the door, credits roll. Wow.
This week’s episode is back to the more surreal nonsense variety of Louie episode, featuring two extended skits, “Barney” and “Never”. The first kicks off with a moody b&w opening in a wintery graveyard where Louie meets Robin Williams (of course). After a few awkward moments Louie bravely offers that ‘Barney was a piece of shit’, whereupon Robin’s relief is palpable (‘oh, he was a prick and an asshole’) and have a glorious little conversation about all the dickish things their former acquaintance did. One of these is visiting a strip club, where Louie breaks the news to the dancers, who are genuinely heartbroken, and the dj plays a track in memoriam. Outside, Robin and Louie burst out laughing and say their farewells. Nice little piece here, mostly a study in how to properly use Robin Williams’ surprisingly piercing blue eyes for atmosphere.
The second is largely batshit. One of Louie’s daughter’s classmate’s mother wants him to look after her son, Never (that name should be a tip that things are somewhat askew) while she has her vagina removed. Okay. Seconds later Never pushes a pram into traffic, causing a multi-truck pile up that releases ‘dangerous chemicals’ into the street. Louie sighs at this workaday vicissitude and takes the kids home, much to Lily’s dismay. There Never (perfectly cast, by the way, that kid has an amazingly hateable face) only eats raw meat, throws Louie’s rug onto the street and shits in the bathtub. Meanwhile Louie gets on the phone to a Kansas City local radio station (arranged by his apparently teenaged agent), and I have no idea if local American radio is accurately represented, but it is a nightmare of yelling, product placement and innuendo that is shut down when Louis gives his honest opinion about Kansas. The episode ends with Louie giving Never some advice about staying safe in his crazy relationship with his mother, and maybe not turning out like Barney Ross, friend of strip clubs.