I have a friend who went to a punch-up meeting a few years back for a film from one of the more reviled filmmakers of the past century. He described it as being one of the most soul-crushing and lucrative days of his life. Everyone there laughed far too loudly and unconvincingly at the dire script the room of highly paid mercenaries was being paid excessively to improve. At the end of the day everyone left richer and filled with an enduring sense of shame.
It was, in other words, an experience not unlike the only Louie has on tonight’s episode of Louie. In “Ellie,” Louie is one of a room full of guns-for-hire being paid $5,000 apiece to try to make a terrible script marginally less awful. My friend described his punch-up room as being largely the domain of angry geeks in designer glasses who never got laid in high school and never quite got over it. That’s more or less exactly the demographic in Louie’s punch-up room as well.
The punch-up begins with the very first page of a script that broadcasts its derivativeness and shameful lack of ambition from the very beginning. Louie is a mercenary among mercenaries as the assembled hacks jockey for position and spitball ideas that only amplify the overdriven emptiness of what they’re finessing. It’s a trademark case of a committee making something already bad worse through group-think.
They’re all attempting and failing to hide the essential ugliness and tackiness of what they’re doing with the exception of one scribe who has the bad manners to bray about every hackneyed cliché they’re recycling; that actually makes him far more obnoxious than peers who at least have the decency to pretend they don’t loathe what they’re doing.
Louie’s work wins him the attention of Ellie, a Vice President who represents a very specific Hollywood type: the “creative” executive with a flair for the dramatic. She’s the kind of woman who makes every sentence a grand pronouncement. There are no small gestures, no subtle moves. Everything must be bold and cinematic.
Ellie hones in on Louie as if he were the only human being in the world. For he is that rarest of creatures: an original. That is exhilarating in theory and terrifying in practice for executives, so a very familiar dynamic plays out in her quickly abandoned professional seduction of Louie: She hooks her fangs into Louie because he’s smart and funny and different and offbeat.
Then, when he expresses ideas that are smart and funny and different and offbeat or just plain uncommercial, she suddenly loses interest and develops a rapt fascination with everything other than Louie as he spills out a miserablist premise for a film about a man who begins with almost nothing, then proceeds to lose even that en route to a bleak reckoning.
The executive couldn’t be less interested though I couldn’t help but feel like the downer Louie was describing could have been half the films I’ve seen at Sundance over the past five years. That’s indie film plot #1: sad-sack loses everything. It’s not revolutionary, it’s cliché, and “Ellie” is savvy enough to satirize Ellie’s voraciousness and Louie’s art-film pretensions equally.
The first short film of the episode centered on a recurring theme in Louie: social barriers being transgressed in a way that challenges Louie’s manhood. In the first season, a teenaged bully brought out the scared little boy in Louie. Here, a pleasant evening spent trick-or-treating with Louie’s children takes a dark turn when a pair of assholes taunt Louie and his two daughters in ways that are less fun than mean and unsettling.
There’s something inherently disturbing about adults menacing children; “Halloween” cultivates a genuine air of creepiness before Louie’s daughter angrily demands that the two bullies stop behaving like assholes for no discernible reason.
I enjoyed tonight’s episode of “Louie,” but after the last two episodes, especially the Doug Stanhope episode, it couldn’t help but feel a little inconsequential and slight. It’s also one of the only times in recent memory where the stand-up comedy made more of an impact than the short films.
The stand-up comedy segments explored two of CK’s obsessions: the insane entitlement of white Americans and masturbation. Louie has elevated the art of the masturbation joke, but after last week, he might want to cut back on the onanism-themed humor.
This is one of the weakest episodes of a season that’s shaping up to be even stronger than the first. What do you guys think? How do y’all think this season compares to the first? If “Halloween/Ellie” feels a little weak that’s only because the bar has been set so prohibitively high. And we still have an hour-long episode to look forward to. Sweet blessed Lord, Louis CK does not make it easy for himself, does he? And the world of television is richer for it.