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'Louie': Family day

August 4, 2010 |  7:15 am

20091215_louie-12-16-09-jpegs_LOUIE-0220  About halfway through Tuesday night's episode of "Louie," "Double Date/Mom," Louie says in his stand-up act that if you've ever really loved someone, you've probably hated them at one point too.

He's referring specifically to anyone's mother, to the woman who brings you into the world and takes care of you from childhood, the woman who is often the first person any of us truly, truly loves. Then, of course, as time goes on and we mature and grow apart from our parents, there's less room in our hearts for Mom. We still love her, of course, but she's not what she once was to us.

This is, of course, part of the healthy process of growing up, but some moms never get over it, and neither do some children. Love and hate are so close to each other and so carefully intertwined. Honestly, the idea that if you love someone, you probably hate them too could be mistaken for the theme of this episode, if not the whole series.

The first section of the episode (well, after another visit to Louie's stunningly unhelpful psychiatrist) features Louie and his brother working out at a gym. Up until this point, the series has mostly avoided talking about Louie's family, outside of his daughters. We've heard mention of his ex-wife. We've spent plenty of time in his love life, both past and present. And we've met most of his comedian friends. But so far, the idea of his family beyond his daughters has pretty much just remained an idea. This episode, then, is one of the more cohesive episodes yet in the show's run. Though both tiny story lines are separate, they both focus on bringing Louie's family members into focus, often hilariously.

The segment featuring Louie's mother is probably more successful than the one featuring his brother, which just feels like a long shaggy-dog story. It's not that it's bad, but it's very much a typical "Louie" vignette, if such a thing can be established. Louie's brother has met a new girl. The girl wants to have sex with two different guys at the same time. Louie's brother extends an invitation to Louie. The look on Louis C.K.'s face as he contemplates this offer and tries to keep from smashing his brother in the face is great, but the scene is so slight that it never takes hold like it should. It's funny, but it feels like an appetizer for something bigger to come. Fortunately, the very next segment -- the one with Louie's mother -- is probably the funniest segment the show has ever done and also is peppered occasionally with some of the funniest stand-up bits the show has ever done. (I particularly like the one about how sex between two men makes sense to Louie, but sex between two women doesn't. It's borderline offensive without crossing the line and always very funny.)

Louie's mom -- who maintains that she only slept with his father twice, once for his brother and once for Louie -- has discovered, late in life, that she's a lesbian. That's the central thrust of the scene and the thing that's most easily memorable about it when trying to recall it later. But what's great about the scene is how much time C.K. and actress Mary Louise Wilson take on their time to that revelation. There's always the fear that the scene, which revolves around an old woman being passive-aggressive toward her son, will fall back on stereotypical "this-person's-mother-is-awful" jokes. But although it does have those kinds of jokes, they're funnier than the average joke of that type. Wilson is so good at delivering the lines when she browbeats her son for not fixing her lunch when she arrives unannounced and he's heading out the door somewhere else that you forgive the clichéd nature of the setup.

But then, of course, the revelation hits, and things go even further into craziness. The scene where Louie stands and berates his mother for how she makes him feel while mom slowly devolves into weepiness is one of the show's funniest and most cringe-worthy so far (I love seeing all of the other diners at the restaurant try to look away but finding themselves unable to). And Louie's indignation about how his daughters didn't have a very good Christmas, seemingly because of his mother, is also very funny. What is more important is that the scene isn't all about how Louie's mother being a lesbian weirded him out, as other shows might have done (followed by a late scene where he realizes she's still his mom and he still loves her). He doesn't care if she's a lesbian. All he cares about is that her method of revealing it to him is just the latest sign of her own self-absorption. It's broad comedy but also subtle,  and I'm not sure how C.K. and Wilson pull off the acting challenge.

From there, though, things get even weirder, as Mom invites Louie and his brother out for dinner to meet her new wife, who turns out to be a ridiculously attractive young woman whom both Louie and his brother are obviously attracted to and confused by. Her name is Jasmine, and the way the scene shifts from, again, the weirdness of all of this happening to the long standoff between Louie's mother and brother over whether Mom will tell the brother that she loves him is, once again, great. There's something in the show's DNA that lets it switch very adeptly between funny moments and more heartfelt or uncomfortable ones. C.K. and his actors are never afraid to push for something a little bit more risky than most comedies, and it's that sense of daring that has elevated the show beyond most other comedies on the air. "Double Date/Mom" is maybe the most consistent episode of the show yet, and it proves that "Louie" can be funny and fascinating no matter what sort of emotional territory it covers.

Some other thoughts:

  • I assume all of you saw this (because you read the Show Tracker "Louie" blog compulsively), but the show has been picked up for a second season of 13 episodes, to debut in summer 2011. Hurrah!
  • If you think you've seen Mary Louise Wilson before, she's guested on many, many TV shows, and she also was in the Broadway show "Grey Gardens."
  • As you can probably tell, I've run out of episodes on screener, so these are going to have to go up much later than they have been. Look for them on Wednesday mornings in the future (and, indeed, you already found this one, so good for you).
  • And, hey, let's get some talk going on again in comments. I always like to hear what you guys have to say.
  • "I really deep down believe that if you murder somebody, and you never get caught, it's fine. You kinda didn't do anything wrong."
  • "I am hungry, and I don't like fending for myself."
  • "It's wrong. Not morally. Just geometrically."
  • "Is that all you boys do? Get fat and die?"

-- Todd VanDerWerff (follow me at twitter.com/tvoti)

Photo: Louie (Louis C.K.) contemplates the many ways that family can drive you nuts on "Louie." Credit: FX

Related articles:

FX renews "Louie" for 13-episode second season

"Louie": Slices of life

Complete Show Tracker 'Louie' coverage


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