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'Louie': Slices of life

July 28, 2010 |  6:50 am


Both segments in Tuesday's episode of "Louie," "Louise" and "Heckler/Cop Movie," play off the inherent differences between reality and reality as presented through the lens of entertainment. In the first, Louie runs into a woman who's decided to not pay attention to his stand-up act on stage and simply plunge forward with her own conversation. The two get into a tense confrontation, which ends with a too-cute button. In the second segment, Louie is offered a job on a remake of "The Godfather" starring Matthew Broderick. (Don't worry, it makes far more sense in the course of the episode.) After he and Broderick get into a similarly tense confrontation (over Louie's lack of acting ability), he wanders into a convenience store to buy a snack and ends up in a standoff with two criminals that resolves itself via the fact that, well, everybody in the store is playing one part or another. Heck, the episode ends with a tag that shows Louis C.K. (the director) giving direction to the actress playing his heckler. It's all a big show, put on for our amusement.

But then, that's true of all filmed entertainment. And the best of it can get at the sorts of things we hold to be most true anyway. This episode of "Louie" was probably a little more about the inside world of being a comedian or the inside world of show business than would be preferred by a lot of people, but it was also a big step up over last week's miss of an episode. The first segment, in particular, was willing to blur the lines between the protagonist being in the right and being a big jerk in a way that not a lot of shows would be capable of. He's really, genuinely mean to the woman who talks over him, in ways that are arguably completely inexcusable, disproportionate responses to what she does.

But at the same time, Louie has a point. When you go to see a stage presentation, whether it's a musical or a play or a stand-up comedy act, there's this unspoken agreement that you won't interrupt the on-stage talent, no matter how bad they are, out of respect, as much as anything else. All of these entertainments are completely dependent on the illusion of the stage being a different world from the one we're sitting in, even if that reality is simply one where a man stands in front of people and says funny things all day. Stand-up comics typically react very, very angrily toward hecklers, and that's because if they don't go nuclear on hecklers, there will be more of them. It's preemptive deterrence, and what I like about this segment is that it makes it absolutely clear just why Louie thinks doing this is absolutely necessary, while still leaving room for us to be horrified at the language and jokes he breaks out to take the heckler down.

The most interesting thing here is that what the woman doing doesn't even rise to the level of heckling before Louie starts picking on her. She's simply talking to her friend. It's rude, but she's not shouting insults at the stage or hurling obscenities in Louie's direction. Once he starts going after her, she tries to give as good as she gets (and mostly fails), but the whole thing crackles with a kind of weird sexual tension. It's an unsettlingly funny segment, and I like the way that it makes it clear that none of this will come with an easy answer or pat solution.

I'm less pleased with the ending of the whole segment, when Louie's comic friends point out that he could have hooked up with the woman if he had played his cards slightly differently. It makes the whole thing feel like it was one long joke, really, and that slightly cheapens a bit of what happens. I don't think it's the worst ending ever, but it would have been nice if the closure had been less about that and more about the weird understanding the two characters come to. I liked Louie talking about how he and the other comics have lives that suck and that getting up on stage is the only thing that gives them pleasure in their lives, and I think that might have been a better ending point. At the same time, it wouldn't have had the punch of the ending as it stands, so what do I know?

In the second segment, I loved the way that C.K. and his crew captured little slices of real life amid the weirdness of shooting a Hollywood film. In particular, I liked Louie walking into the little shop and encountering the cat in back, then trying to communicate with it via a series of meows and barnyard noises. He was clearly doing it just to be goofy, but it's the sort of thing every one of us has done when coming across an animal where we're not expecting to find one, and it was a nicely whimsical moment amid the craziness of the film shoot. Naturally, this is followed by two guys trying to stick up the store and Louie trying to stop them (though I love that he sets down his treat and licks off his fingers before drawing his gun), and the "both guns are fake" capper was a better punch line than the one in the first segment.

I'm also impressed with how game Broderick was to play along in this scenario. His increasing exasperation at the way that Louie is unable to deliver the line "Your father is dead" is terrifically timed, and his ability to react perfectly to Louie's strange and uncertain facial expressions made every moment of this funnier and funnier. In this case, Louie was the one with a certain lack of respect for the profession of the person he was interacting with, and the way that the episode subtly flips the scenario around to show the other side of it is one of its biggest strengths. Obviously, Louie isn't a trained actor, but his seeming inability to get into a serious head-space to deliver one line suggests he could have been trying harder. It's an already funny idea, heightened by two funny performances.

The slices of life are the best things about "Louie" at the moment. They make it feel like the show doesn't take place in TV reality but in a weird corner of our reality. For every scene in which Louie has three cab drivers fight over him or watches a date run off into a helicopter, there's another in which he stops to try to have a conversation with a cat or has a frank discussion with a woman he's seriously angered. "Louie" succeeds through keeping its comic rhythms unpredictable, and the show's greatest strength is the fact that it can go from screamingly funny to unexpectedly poignant in a matter of a few moments. "Heckler/Cop Show" is a good example of both ways the show pulls off its central mission.

Some other thoughts:

  • "Somebody bought the rights again, and they're making another 'Godfather.' But it's set two minutes into the future, and it's all Jews."
  • "They don't give you guys real guns?"

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

Photo: Louie (Louis C.K.) explodes at a heckler in "Louie." Credit: FX


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