'Louie': Funny sad
Two of the things I like best about "Louie" were on full display in tonight's episode, "Dogpound." For one thing, the episode nicely showed off how the show gets into the head space of its creator and star, Louis C.K. For another, it displayed how easily the series has created a whole world around its star, a world that consists of a few city blocks, admittedly, but one that feels rich and full of memorable characters. Where most shows struggle to make even one or two memorable characters, "Louie" has done such a good job of filling out its world with interesting people that when characters like Pamela or Louie's brother returned tonight, I knew instantly who they were, without the characters having to remind me. That's hard to do on a show with just one regular character and a number of recurring players who only turn up every few episodes or so, and it's nice to see how confidently the show is setting all of these pieces in motion.
This was one of those episodes that had more of a throughline than some of the earlier episodes, which had two stories that were almost completely disconnected. Granted, there were two separate stories here, but they both made sense within the same larger storyline. Louie's daughters have gone to spend the week with their mother, and he's feeling a little down, as he always gets when they're not around. In the first half, he tries to lift his spirits by hanging out with his downstairs neighbor and smoking some pot. In the second half, he awakens from his night with the neighbor, groggily makes his way to get some coffee, then decides to get a dog to assuage his loneliness. Then, at the end, his daughters return. That's pretty much it.
But it's everything that comes in between those little moments that makes the episode so memorable. TV drug trips are a dime a dozen, but "Louie" made its version unexpectedly funny by having little details in the background shift around. (Wasn't the stoner's wife asleep before? And not wearing a terrifying rabbit mask?) The biggest laugh of the episode comes when Louie takes a look at the stoner's dog again -- after just two hits of pot, no less -- and sees a completely different dog, then has a long conversation with his new friend about how there's a different dog there at this moment. (His neighbor matter-of-factly informs Louie that maybe the dog is so different because his mom died "just a few minutes ago.")
TV drug trips can be tedious because they get so wacky, so fast. "Louie" makes fun of this by having Louie, who used to get high quite a bit, he says, lose himself so immediately and so completely and with such bizarre consequences. When Louie seems to be headed out on some sort of bad LSD trip or something, it's clearly the show mocking other shows that do plots like this and mocking its main character for becoming so straitlaced that he can't handle even something like this anymore when once he could more than handle it. I also like the way the sequence captures how a night like this can spiral out of control far too quickly, as the neighbor takes Louie to show him something special ... which turns out to be the neighbor chucking giant water bottles out of a window to crush the roofs of the cars far below. It's a sublimely goofy sequence, where the panic in Louie's eyes is overridden by a druggy desire to just see how all of this turns out, as though pitching water bottles at cars is the most natural thing in the world.
A big theme of the episode is the way that Louie immediately brings down everyone around him when his daughters are out of town. He complains that, yeah, he feels depressed, but there's a great sequence early in the episode where he tries to fight off the demons of sitting still in his apartment and waiting for the girls to come home by simply not buying the ice cream he really wants at the corner store. Naturally, he acquiesces, and that cues an ice cream-eating sequence that's just as horrific as the pot-smoking sequence, concluding with Louie passed out on his couch, empty containers of food scattered around him on the floor, leaking away. It was a great visual summation of just how quickly depression can seize hold of someone who starts out their day with the best of intentions, and it dovetailed nicely with Louie just deciding to hang out with the neighbor, if only to get some social interaction.
But it also went along with the way that Louie pushed his way through the crowd of gibberish-talking coffee shop patrons, simply trying to get his coffee and start his day. This whole sequence -- leading up to the moments where Louie adopts the dog -- was so good at telling us just what was going on inside of a depressed Louie's head that it could stand in for pretty much everything else the show has done. He's just a guy who wants the world to more or less leave him alone, but he's also a guy who keeps finding the world waiting to irritate him at every turn. Symbolizing his inability to comprehend just why he was up so early in the morning by having all of the people surrounding him speaking a language that sort of sounded like English but was actually just random syllables was a nice touch too.
And then he goes to the pound to get a dog and is talked into checking out an older dog by the cute girl working there. It's obvious as she talks about how much she likes the old dogs and how sweet and charming they are that Louie hopes she'll be talking about him, so, naturally, he adopts one of the older dogs and really goes all out, trying to turn his apartment into a dog-friendly zone. Now, those of us who've seen the whole season know that C.K. has a pretty dim view of the joy that adopting a dog will bring to people, and, of course, the dog dies within a few minutes of Louie having it in the house (cut to animal control officer walking out of Louie's apartment with an irritated sigh, carrying a trash bag). Louie's so depressing that he seemingly even brings mere animals down to his level.
I won't be surprised if lots of people don't like "Dogpound," which is, after all, pretty hard to take in its misery in places, but I thought it was one of the show's funniest episodes yet. Louie's attempts to navigate a world where all he wanted was a return to normalcy was terrific, and so were all of the reactions of the people he met to his glum outlook. Furthermore, I hope we get to see Louie's neighbor and the dog pound girl again, as both were fun characters that enlivened the scenes they were in. "Dogpound" pulled off the difficult trick of being both funny and kind of miserable, without making the audience want to kill itself. It just might have been the most consistent episode of "Louie" yet.
Some other thoughts:
- * "Why does everybody think I'm depressed after knowing me for, like, a second?" "Because you're a bummer."
- * "Where did that dog come from?"
- * "Everybody who comes in here wants a puppy, but we have a bunch of old dogs in here that nobody wants."
--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)
Photo: Comedian Louis C.K. performs a bit of stand-up in every episode of "Louie." (Credit: FX)
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