'Louie' recap: A little sentiment for the road
After a season when the show wandered all over the tonal map, "Louie" ended its first year with an unexpected bit of something very like sentimentality, as Louie and his daughters greeted another New York City morning by getting an early breakfast. Louie had spent much of the previous half hour heading out into the night to find a little companionship, but the more he tried to find it, the less successful he was. The climax of the season, for all intents and purposes, came in a surprisingly heartwarming monologue from the comedian at one of his sets, where he talked about how divorce is freeing, but also like finding yourself having to reintegrate into society after a long prison term. It's disorienting, isolating and just a little bit scary. When it came down to it, Louie realized he was good at two things. One is unprintable here. But the other was raising his kids. So he was going to concentrate on that for the next little while.
As the final hour's worth of "Louie" episodes unspooled, I had to wonder just how the show was constructed. Most of the episodes might have had little connection between the vignettes that made up their running time, but there was always a sort of thematic base level for the show. The episodes that have been the most successful in this terrific season (which will hopefully get some Emmy attention) have been the ones that find a way to tell two or three wholly different stories that nonetheless have a link more substantial than just the presence of Louis C.K. at their centers. The ones that haven't worked have often felt like C.K. filmed a bunch of material before the season began, then tossed it together into a handful of episodes, sometimes based on a thematic link and sometimes based on just needing to toss the material somewhere.
The first half hour tonight skewed a little too closely toward that junk drawer approach, though all of the material in that episode (which was more full of ideas and sketches than usual) was very funny, which saved the half hour. The episode veered from a half-dozing Louie dreaming that the news anchor on TV was saying some unexpectedly dirty things, to a stand-up routine about taking his daughters to use the men's room at a busy airport, to a scene where he tries to ask out the mother of his daughters' friend on a date, to an extended riff on getting his daughters to school, to a painfully funny workout routine, to his arrival at the hospital after collapsing from the workout, where he's again greeted by Ricky Gervais' doctor character.
That's a lot of stuff to fit into one episode, and it doesn't all sit comfortably next to each other. Granted, it was all very funny, so I liked it more than the episode a couple of weeks ago with similar problems, but it still had a slightly chaotic feel, as though C.K. had a bunch of material he wanted to fit into an episode and an ever-decreasing number of episodes to cram that material into. It certainly helped that I love the Gervais character on this show and find his whole shtick -- of being a doctor who gives his patients dire-sounding diagnoses before cracking up and admitting he's just making them up -- really funny. It also helped that the news anchor bit was just strange enough to work, and the story about the restroom might have been the funniest stand-up bit in the whole series. (In particular, C.K.'s riff on the experience being a multicultural one for his daughters was inspired.) I also liked the scene with the daughters' friend's mom, because what straight guy hasn't tried to ask out a female friend and realized just how little she thinks of that idea? Yet the episode, funny as it was, didn't sit alongside the very best the series has to offer because of just how centerless it felt.
On the other hand, the second half hour was one of the better episodes the show has ever done, sentimentality and all. I honestly don't know that I would have predicted the season would end with Louie and his daughters eating breakfast while a singer-songwriter-type song played on the soundtrack, with the camera then panning over to see the sun slowly rising in the east, but it felt, after a full season of gloomy misanthropy, like "Louie" had earned this brief moment of the light literally piercing the darkness. Over the course of the year, the world of "Louie" has been so perfectly built and thought out that I was actually a little sad to have to leave it until next summer, and this little pan across Louie's neighborhood was a good reminder of all of the stories that have been told there.
Naturally, the rest of the episode was full of great moments. The character of Louie's babysitter, a woman who cries when she thinks about how alone and depressed Louie must feel, was a great one, and I hope she comes back next season. Furthermore, scenes of old men trying to act hip out at clubs with young people will always be funny, cliche as they are, and the scenes of Louie hanging out at the club with the young comics and the girls they'd picked up were some of the better riffs on this in a while, nearly wordless and filled with throbbing music and great physical gags. And that scene of Louie trying to help his daughters fall asleep by telling them a very boring story (that involved a bunch of animals and an old woman waiting for a bus that never comes) was funny but also got at the frustration of parenting that the show often nails so precisely.
At the same time, the final half hour functioned almost like a mission statement for the Louie character and for the show in general. After a season when we've seen so many crazy and occasionally hurtful things, why would anyone get up in the morning to go have pancakes at the local diner? Well, this episode seemed to argue, there are little moments that make life worth living, moments when your kids get up early and make you realize how much you love them or moments when you find an unexpected connection with a stranger or your babysitter. The world may be a dark and depressing place at times, at least on "Louie," but there are always those moments when the sun peeks over the horizon, and they make everything all the better.
Some other thoughts:
- * Was that the first time we've seen the "Created by Louis C.K." credit? It sure was on screen for a while, so it must have been. (Usually, we just get "Written and directed by Louis C.K.")
- * I mentioned the Emmys above, but nominations for writing, directing, series and lead actor are all probably impossible, given the Emmys aversion to FX. The best the show can possibly hope for is maybe a stray writing or directing nomination for C.K.
- * It's been a great pleasure talking about this show with you folks this year. It developed from one of my favorite pilots into one of my absolute favorites of the year, and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.
- * "You wanna sleep with me!" "Or ... well ... have dinner!"
- * "You haven't got a body, as such. You've just got a collection of big, mashed-up organs in a ginger, sweaty skin-sack."
- * "Daddy, birds are like paintbrushes that make colors in the sky!"
- * "You gotta be like that. You gotta be confident ... black ... handsome ... not boring ... not wear that shirt."
--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)
Photo: Farewell to "Louie" and its star, creator, writer, and director, Louis C.K., until next summer. (Credit: FX)