Watching a screener for the first four episodes of Louie I experienced the feeling every critic lives for: the thrill of discovery, the boundless joy of encountering something new and wonderful and original that you love instantly and will return to over and over again in the decades to come. I felt like I was watching a show that reinvented television comedy. Louie has precedents, to be sure, but I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Now we are at the end of a very wild ride and I can say with certainty that Louie has lived up to the promise of its first four episodes. The first season of Louie sets the bar prohibitively high. It will be fascinating seeing where the show about everything goes next.
The second-to-last episode began on a dizzying surreal note, with our trepid hero in a cocoon of lazy self-loathing, watching television absent-mindedly when the newswoman very matter-of-factly announces that the mayor “is expected to smear his shit all over my fat natural boobs.” This, naturally, gets C.K’s attention but it’s only the beginning of a long string of taboo announcements that fuck with C.K’s often-wavering grasp on reality.
Soon, C.K is sitting next to the sexy newswoman with the fat, natural boobs and is also a child. I love the show's deadpan surrealism: it segues from slice-of-life observational comedy to insane, profane absurdism so naturally and organically that it can be a little jarring. I think it’s important to bear in mind that about eighty percent of what transpires happens in the outside world and about twenty percent happens only in C.K’s perpetually over-active imagination.
At a park, C.K reconnects with a single mother played by C.K’s Lucky Louie co-star Pamela Adlon. Louie sometimes seems to be setting her up as a potential love interest for C.K—they have terrific, dyspeptic chemistry—but it is a show that delights in subverting and defying expectations so when C.K stumblingly asks Adlon out she quickly disabuses him of any delusions by announcing that she will not have sex with him, no matter what. Isn’t that what all date requests ultimately amount to? Isn’t asking someone out a polite preliminary way of asking them to have sex with you? No? I withdraw my observation then.
I’m glad “Gym” was the second-to-last episode of the first season instead of the finale because it felt awfully slight, even with a return visit from Ricky Gervais as the doctor who has apparently taken a Hippocratic oath to fuck with C.K at every conceivable opportunity. The first episode tonight was funny but it didn’t rank among the best of the season. Besides, when you have Tom Noonan traumatizing children with the graphic details of Jesus’ crucifixion everything that follows is doomed to feel like a bit of an anticlimax by comparison.
I was much more satisfied with the second episode of the night. Louie is, ultimately, a show about aging, about the death of youth and the decay of the human mind and body. Tragedy is never far beneath the surface. That was especially true of a season finale that found C.K’s distraught babysitter begging him to go out and get laid instead of staying at home like a pathetic sad sack and setting a terrible example for his daughters.
C.K faces a dilemma many of us face: he feels he should go out and be social and try to meet somebody and attempt to alleviate the unrelenting loneliness and horror of his life for at least a couple of hours but all things considered, he’d rather be at home on the couch, eating ice cream and jerking off.
Parenthood makes dating immeasurably harder; even the single mother C.K goes out with sees his parenthood as a deal-breaker. Yet in the spirit of adventure, C.K nevertheless goes out and, in a desperate bid to get laid, hangs out with some cool, confident black comedians at a nightclub.
In a long, dialogue-free sequence, C.K lingers uncomfortably around a nightclub that is as foreign and inhospitable to him as the Saharan desert. He sees smiling people but they might as well be aliens. C.K and the beautiful people around him are separated by age, by experience, by hope, by physical attractiveness. C.K’s body may be in a nightclub but his mind is somewhere else.
The episode, and the season, ended on a lovely, lyrical note. C.K returns home. His role-playing ends. He doesn’t have to pretend to be a single guy on the prowl or a sexy nightclub denizen or a cool guy because he has a role that he loves and believes in and embraces to the core of his being; father. If that sounds sappy, it might be - but the final scene was anything but; especially a gorgeous shot that traveled from a revitalized and deeply happy C.K playing with his daughters to a gorgeous tableau of New York at sunrise. It was the perfect ending for a groundbreaking season of television.
Even more remarkably, Louie wasn’t cancelled! On the contrary, it’s got all kinds of momentum going into its second season. Maybe God exists after all.