Louie: “Barney/Never”
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Louie: “Barney/Never”

“Barney/Never” is fundamentally concerned with trying to find the good, or at least the bearable, in people who are, objectively speaking, fundamentally terrible, whether they’re a dead man, a weird child, or, worst of all, a morning-zoo DJ. The episode begins on a downbeat note, with Louie walking across a cemetery in stark black and white before arriving at a funeral where he and a thankfully reined-in Robin Williams are the only mourners.

At a coffee shop, Robin and Louie quickly come to the realization that they each deeply despised the deceased, a sleazy comedy-club owner named Barney, to whom Robin had the misfortune of being related through marriage. They only attended his funeral because the prospect that a man, even a man as widely and apparently rightly loathed as Barney, might die completely unmourned is too much for either man to bear.

Robin and Louie bond over memories of Barney’s horndog ways and utter shamelessness. Robin tells Louie that Barney actually stole money from him to buy a boat (then begged him to go out on a boat with him), that he was a man who desperately wanted to be liked yet was loathed by the comedians he fucked over yet whose friendship he never stopped courting. The paltry turnout at the funeral betrays just how badly Barney failed in his efforts.

Barney was particularly insistent that his comedian “friends” accompany him to a strip club—appropriately named Sweet Charity—which seemed to be his second home. Williams and Louie never took the man up on his offer for obvious reasons but decide, as a lark, to posthumously favor his obsession with a quick trip to Sweet Charity.

The comedians irritate the strippers by turning down lap dances—because, honestly, who in their right mind would want a stripper to grind her thong-clad ass against their crotch with Williams and his bear-like hide a mere foot or two away?—but absolutely devastate the girls and the entire club as a whole with the news that Barney is dead.

It turns out Barney had antithetical reputations in the comedy and stripping world. In the comedy world, he was an asshole who would fuck you over, then try to be your best buddy. In the stripping world, however, he was a devoted patron whose generosity knew no bounds. Robin and Louie are surprised and morbidly amused to discover that Barney was secretly a twisted Robin Hood figure who would rob poor comedians to feed hungry titty dancers.

The first part of “Barney/Never” plays like the short-film equivalent of a killer anecdote. It’s funny and melancholy and quietly insightful about the different roles we play over the course of our lives: One person’s dickhead comedy club proprietor is another’s selfless benefactor. The segment has a nice ending where Louie and Williams promise to go to each other’s funerals to ensure they don’t end up like poor, shitty Barney, but it also feels unmistakably slight.

In the second half of “Barney/Never,” Louie deals with a much livelier assortment of impossible people. Louie begins the episode intent on scoring quality time with his older daughter before the mother of one of the children his daughter goes to school with approaches him with crazy eyes and an air of total desperation to beg Louie to babysit her son Never so that she can have her vagina removed. Yes, her vagina removed.

Never and his mother both send out crazy vibes that can be picked up from neighboring galaxies. Before she leaves, Never’s clearly batshit insane mother takes out the pin, then lobs the following conversational grenade at Louie: “Also, I need you to know I don’t say ‘no’ to him.”

Never trust a boy who wears suspenders and a bowtie, as Never does here as an external symptom of his internal craziness. Louie instantly comes to realize why his daughter can’t stand Never when the demon child causes a traffic accident by pushing a baby carriage into the street, vetoes sane food choices in favor of a bowl of raw hamburger meat, and asks Louie to wash him in the bathtub.

Louie can barely handle Never before another headache presents itself in the form of an interview with a wacky morning-zoo team in Kansas City. Morning-zoo DJs all seem to speak in the exact same cadence: They invariably sound so upbeat and delighted by everything that comes out of their mouths that it ultimately doesn’t seem to matter whether it makes sense or not. All that matters is that they sound like they’re having a blast and keeping the energy up. “Barney/Never” takes this tendency to a surreal, absurdist extreme when Louie’s interviewers literally start peppering their mindless happy talk with actual gibberish, with sounds and noises that literally make no sense.

There’s an interesting element of self-reference in this sequence, since two of the voices on the other end of the phone belong to real-life radio duo Opie & Anthony, a powerhouse team that has done an awful lot for Louis C.K.’s career. Meanwhile, the concept of people speaking complete gibberish others inexplicably understand (Louie has no problem comprehending the team’s nonsense) is central to C.K.’s film Pootie Tang

The morning zoo is tickled pink by just about everything until Louie makes the mistake of denigrating Kansas City. At that point the warm vibes turn icy cold and the offended party gets off the phone as quickly as possible so that Louie can deal with the horror of Never using his time in the tub to unleash a giant stream of diarrhea.

Louie ends the episode with a basic lesson in civility; he tells Never that if you’re weird and unpleasant and destroy things and create headaches for everyone around you then people simply aren’t going to like you, no matter how badly you want to be liked and accepted. That’s a lesson old Barney never seemed to have learned, though he was savvy enough to understand that in the right circumstances, approval and validation—hell, love even—can be bought, or at least leased, one lapdance at a time.

“Barney/Never” is a minor episode of Louie, a nice little breather following the claustrophobic intensity of the Parker Posey episodes, albeit one that toys around with the series’ structure in interesting ways. The episode eschews the usual opening credit sequence and stand-up bits in favor of a pair of nicely observed vignettes that are no less amusing for being comparatively modest, at least by Louie’s wildly ambitious standards.

Stray observations:

  • The other voices on the morning zoo call are Amy Schumer (of general awesomeness fame) and Jim Norton, who costarred with C.K. on Lucky Louie.
  • I continue to love C.K.’s apparently 12-year-old agent and the deadpan manner in which the character is played.
  • Other bit players from tonight’s episode: Artie Lange and J.B Smoove.
  • The episode-closing bit with the gravediggers also felt reminiscent of Pootie Tang
  • Another great throwaway detail: Schumer’s radio personality is apparently called “The Hole.” So very wrong yet somehow perfect.

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