Louie recalls the free-form playfulness of Steven Soderberg’s Schizopolis, another tour-de-force by a bald writer-director-star with total creative freedom and nothing much to lose. That’s especially true of Bummer, the first half of the second episode of Louie’s second season. Like Schizopolis, Bummer cannot refrain from constantly deconstructing both itself and the elaborate charade that is the contemporary courtship ritual.
The underlying theme linking Bummer, the episode’s first half, and Blueberries, its second, is sexual pragmatism. In Bummer, that sexual pragmatism is twofold. After the stand-up opening, Louis CK asks a reasonably attractive actress out. He nervously stumbles his way through the process, tongue-tied and self-conscious. On the other side of the phone line, the object of CK’s superficial affections sports a look of cold calculation before acquiescing to going out with CK for purely pragmatic reasons.
Explaining the phone call to what appears to be her boyfriend, she relates bemusedly, “Louis CK just asked me out I guess,” before reasoning, “He could be something at some point. It couldn’t hurt.” There’s an element of cold-blooded careerism in the statement but the show doesn’t judge her overly harshly. Both sides hope to get something out of what may or may not constitute a date; she wants to reap the benefits if CK does, in fact, turn out to be something—in the real world, he’s already there—and CK hopes to push the evening firmly into the date realm in hope of getting laid.
On his way to the movie theater, however, CK is quite literally bum-rushed when a crazed homeless man runs towards him, CK spins out of the man’s way and the homeless man is crushed by a vehicle that pops his head right off. When I spoke to CK recently, he talked about how the Jesus episode of Louie broadened the parameters of what audiences would accept. It’d be hard to imagine another show that could get away with something as utterly surreal as having its protagonist watch a man’s head pop off his body, then continue to go on about his day, shaken but still intent on making his quasi-semi-sorta-would-be date.
Even more remarkably, the segment’s detour into absurdism doesn’t break with the melancholy, jazzy mood of the rest of the episode. People on dates invariably attempt to present the best version of themselves as possible. But there comes a time when the role-playing and posturing subside and we’re finally able to honest with the other person. CK reached that place by watching a man’s head roll down the street.
CK’s brush with destiny leaves him with no tolerance for social niceties. He no longer wants to impress his quasi-date so she’ll let him fuck her; no, now he has matters of life and death on his mind. CK’s mishap didn’t render him more profound, only more pretentious. So his lofty talk about Americans not respecting the thin line separating life from death feels like pretentious college blather more than hard-won wisdom.
CK’s patter about what really matters seems even more hypocritical considering CK’s trauma didn’t keep him from trying to get laid. The actress is at least comfortable with her superficiality. CK labors under the delusion that he has wisdom to dispense and an audience hungry for it. For all her vapid self-absorption, the actress sees through Louie’s righteous pose. To his credit, Louie does as well.
The second segment, “Blueberries”, plunges even deeper into the sticky morass of quasi-romantic entanglements. The episode begins with Louie having a tedious conversation with a quietly soul-sucking fellow parent who is just attractive enough to make the prospect of no-strings-attached sex seem moderately appealing, if not terribly attractive.
After some awkward banter about school matters, the woman gets right to the point: she hasn’t gotten laid in forever and proposes a no-strings-attached, uncomplicated sexual affair to begin that very night. It is an offer Louie can and probably should refuse, but the penis wants what it wants (namely, to get laid) and CK swallows his pride and acquiesces to a sexual relationship with a woman who never stops tossing out red flags, especially during sex.
When CK visits the woman’s home, she transforms an already sad situation into something creepy and tragicomic by first proposing “intercourse” (Is there a word in the English language less sexy than intercourse? Yes, there are, but that’s pretty unsexy) and then by changing into the least sexy garment imaginable: a shapeless, asexual nightgown. To make an unsexy situation even less sexy, she then begins applying lotion in a way that makes her seem at least seventy years old.
CK should run away screaming but his cock has other plans so he diligently endures a parade of humiliation as he scours the city for the items his future lover needs. It sort of feels like the world’s worst, most depressing treasure hunt. I don’t want to give much more away but the segment is a masterpiece of deadpan understatement—CK’s looks of increasing mortification are priceless—and comic escalation.
Just when it appears that CK’s hook-up cannot get more soul-crushing it plummets to a whole new low. After plunging even further into Todd Solondz’s territory once actual sex enters the picture, “Blueberries” ends perfectly. The segment begins with CK and hopefully the saddest woman he’s ever had horrible, horrible sex with approaching each other wearily as parents. It ends the same way, only now both parties have a much deeper understanding of the other’s terrible shortcomings. Hell truly is other people; primarily the other folks in the PTA.
—I liked the understated Graduate homage as the woman applied lotion to her leg
—“They die in a disease thing”
—“You could be shot in the face by a gun guy”
—“Do you want to have intercourse now?”
—I liked that the woman even seems to be glowering coldly from the portrait she had framed
—“Yes, my vagina is irritated. No. You are not buying my Vagiteen. I just want you to pick it up. And also can you get blueberries”
—The delivery of “We ain’t got no blueberries” was a thing of beauty.
—Why are the blueberries so much creepier than everything else on that list of the damned?
—“Have you thought about middle schools?” So wrong. So right.