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'Louie': Missed (or fleeting) connections

 "So Old/Playdate" is all about the relationship between the sexes and the relationship between parents and their children. It's, predictably, very funny, and it includes a lot of material that continues to suggest "Louie" is going to try all sorts of different things in telling its stories. The only thing that's been remarkably consistent among all four episodes is that the show has used stand-up segments between the other segments to provide rough connective material.

Tonight, though, the first story is very, very short, the second story sprawls all over the place, and the episode uses Louie's visits to a psychiatrist who offers mostly unhelpful advice as more framing material. Honestly, there's so much stuff going on throughout the episode that it shouldn't work, but it somehow does. I don't know what's in the DNA of this show that makes it so good, but I remain impressed by how often it hits the mark.

I think the best thing about the show right now is that it's built almost completely around relationships. Some of these relationships -- like the two connections Louie makes with women in tonight's episode -- are fleeting. Some -- like his relationships with his friends in the past few episodes -- are ones that stick for years and years. But the show is less interested in telling wildly hilarious stories (though it can do that) and more in showing us snippets of this man's life and meeting the people he cares about. There have been insane stories told -- like Louie's date with the woman who ran off to the helicopter at the end -- but for the most part, this is a quiet, low-key show. It's rather like hanging out with friends at someone's house after the bars close and just talking about whatever comes to mind. More than any other show on TV, "Louie" captures the feel of a 3 a.m. after-bar gab session.

What I like is that the show realizes that fleeting connections are often as important as lasting ones in city life. Living in a giant metropolis can feel a little dehumanizing, what with the millions upon millions of people who don't know you from Adam and the gleaming skyscrapers that make you feel tiny, but all of the people living in that city are just that. Those moments when you meet someone and forge a connection with them in a few minutes' time can be just as important as the time you spend with your best friends or your partner or children. It's a nice reminder that despite how it might feel like you're just another cog in a machine, everybody around you is feeling the same thing, is wondering how to get through this life without going crazy. 

"So Old/Playdate" is built around two of these encounters. In the first section, Louie meets a much younger woman (26 to his 42) who wants to get him into bed because she's attracted to older guys (though not for a relationship). It's not played for anything but uncomfortable laughs, as Louie spends most of the encounter baffled as to why this woman wants anything to do with him. And when it's clear she never wants anything to do with him again after their one-night stand, he does seem a little disappointed (well, who wouldn't be?). But the bulk of the encounter is just hilarious riffing on the idea that Louie's age is what excites her, as his pillow talk consists of telling her things like how he remembers smoking on planes and that he's older than every Major League Baseball player except for one guy who might still play for the Phillies. There's nothing terribly sophisticated here, but it's a nice look at how it's possible to make a random hook-up like this in a city like New York, where it might not be possible elsewhere.

It's the other segment that really gets into what makes this show so good. Louie meets a mom at the first PTA meeting he attends, and when he tries to set up a playdate with her, she thinks he's trying to hit on her rather than just set up something between the kids. He confirms it's not the case, and everything goes about as predicted from there. Now, the material at the PTA meeting is hysterical (C.K. has a really good sense of the kinds of parents who get over-involved in their kids' lives and how they can make life awkward for their kids' teachers), and the scene where the two hammer out the playdate and turn down another woman who wants her kid to attend and immediately feel awful about it is also very good. But it's the latter scenes, the scenes that involve Louie and the mom just sitting around and talking about their lives, about their failed marriages, about their hopes for their kids and awful thoughts they've had about them, that really hit home.

At its best, "Louie" is about the differences between the dreams we have for our lives and what life actually is. Early in the episode, Louie goes on a stand-up riff on how humans have made sex about more than what it actually is, which is how we procreate. He imagines animals observing human sexual behavior and finding all of it odd, since so much of it wouldn't produce any offspring at all. But because we're emotional beings, because we tend to attach feelings to just about everything, it's essentially impossible to make sex a consistent, mercenary action, one that exists only to have babies (even if it's that idea lurking in our subconscious that gives any of us a libido). The reality is that this is just a way to make babies. The dream we've built up around that reality -- the necessary dream, really -- is that this is a way to connect with another human being, to not feel so alone.

It's not that "Louie" is high-minded on its face. But it does tend to deal in these ideas of what it means to be living one life and wish you were living another. Louie is old enough now that even though he mostly likes his life, he can look back at the path leading to it and have regrets. He loves his kids, and he does the best he can for them because they're the best shot he has at making up for the mistakes he made in his life. Except, of course, his kids will make their own mistakes and find their own unhappiness and the cycle will continue. When I put it that way, "Louie" doesn't sound like much of a comedy. But I think that's the ultimate triumph of the show. It's grim and bleak, yes, but it's also deeply, deeply funny. Like no show since "Seinfeld," "Louie" has internalized the inner philosophies of its star's stand-up comedy and made them the central idea of the show.

Other thoughts:

  • Remember: It's more fun if I know what you think too! So get into comments and tell me how you're feeling.
  • "I have sex just sit in the car and hope someone gets in. It's not drive."
  • "You fill them with academics. You don't tell them who they are!"
  • "Who still teaches math anymore?"
  • "I feel like you shouldn't ask anybody about anybody, just to be sure."

--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)

Photo: Louie (Louis C.K.) has another frustrating day on "Louie." Credit: FX.

Related articles:

'Louie': Getting older

'Louie': A funny, funny man, all alone in the big city

Complete Show Tracker 'Louie' coverage

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Comments () | Archives (6)

Although these two FX shows are wildly different in form, quality, competence, and (here's hoping) longevity, Louie reminds me of Starved - shows dominated by a singular auteur, cataloging his insecurities and travails in situations frequently caused by his idiosyncrasies and loneliness. Now, Starved was by all accounts a miserable exploration of Eric Schafer's narcissism (I only watched a few episodes when it first aired and thought it had potential to be something special, one day - but I was also a callow young college dropout happy to find another miserable narcissist successful enough to get a show on television, providing a role model of sorts at a time I desperately needed one, and I hadn't seen anything Schafer had done before. After catching "If Lucy Fell..." I realized how silly it was for me to expect anything from Starved).

They seem to let Adam Reed do pretty much what he wants with Archer, although I'm hoping the sprawling world of international espionage will continue expanding and weaving bizarrely though a more serialized narrative when Archer returns. And Denis Leary and Peter Tolan must not have much in the way of oversight, because Rescue Me is more like a perplexing M.C. Escher sketch than a work of traditional narrative fiction at this point.

It just makes me happy to see a network willing to give people with uneven track records chances to make exactly the kind of thing they want to make, so long as there's a little bit of cursing and sex crammed somewhere in there.

I am really enjoying your recaps of what is my new favorite show. The opening scene with the psychiatrist (nice to see David Patrick Kelly!) was so brief and so hilarious, just perfect. The casting on this show, like everything else, has been excellent.

Do I need to start watching Californication now? Because I love me some Pamela Adlon after seeing her in this episode.

Louis CK is a genius, and I love FX for giving him this show.

While I wouldn't have been able to so eloquently describe it... I definitely feel/have felt that there's something incredibly deep and interesting, as well as funny, about this show.
On top of the smartness of the show... Louis CK is probably the funniest man alive. It just works so well.

I'm with you on all accounts, Todd. I really appreciate how you appreciate the show. I just discovered CK's work a month or so ago, and I've been gobbling up everything (and there's a lot) posted on the web. CK's is the most interesting commentary on life I've encountered in a long time, and I think he an auteur, an artist with a full-bodied vision for his work. Certainly the terms he's been given from FX allow for that kind of creative control. But I'm very concerned that 'Louie' is simply beyond most viewers. Not only is the show thematic, rather than linear -- alone a big stretch for many -- but it is also multi-layered in its treatment of each theme. You get the stories, the glimpses at touchstones in life. Then you get the standup, which is not a direct amplification of or expansion on the stories, but is often a satirical commentary on the underlying meaning of the stories. And CK's is a twisted, indirect meaning. To really get what's going on here, you've got to be bloody smart. Add to that the very fun (for urbane 40-somethings like me, of course) Woody Allen/70's American drama look/sound/tone and the voluptous take-your-time-to-explore-the-nuances-of-the-moment speed, and you've got a "you either love it or hate it" piece. I love it. And I think "Louis" is going to be a tell for me in the same way NPR or Monty Python or Miles Davis is -- if you're into it, I know I'm gonna be into you.

Great show. Good on FX for giving it a shot - and was I one of the only ones that actually loved his cancelled HBO show?

I'm a big fan of Louis CK. This show to me is a great vehicle for him so much better than his previous show. What I think makes him and the show a good one is his ability to examine the interesting yet mundane aspects of life which most people don't really notice. I hope this show is able to stick around for sometime.


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