Like "Night Out," the finale of last season, “New Jersey/Airport” is fundamentally about the contradictions inherent in being a single parent, or rather, in being single and being a parent. It’s about Louie leaving the reasonable daytime world of parenthood, with its schedules and routines and endless gauntlet of responsibility and self-denial and entering into the shadowy world of the night.
Like vampires, stand-up comedians are inveterate creatures of the night. They make their living entertaining drunken strangers in dark, sad, intimate little comedy clubs during the night, then sleeping during the day. They maintain vampire hours as they rove from city to city, never staying put for long, always angling for that next big break, that opportunity that will change everything.
It is, in other words, no way for a parent to live. That’s especially true of a single parent. “New Jersey,” like “Eddie,” finds Louie grudgingly trying to reconcile his current existence as a single father with a family to care for and a career to cultivate and protect with his fading need to live the stand-up life of booze and sex and nighttime misadventures that can be alchemized into killer bits.
The episode opens with Louie onstage describing the ecstasy of sleep—one of the few hedonistic pleasures still readily available to the responsible single father—in overtly sensual terms, as a “goddess whore” in a “gold helmet,” sucking him off with 40 depraved tongues while secretly slipping heroin into his cock.
After his set, Louie heads to the bar, where Steven Wright, looking and sounding for all the world like a homeless man, tells him, “I didn’t really see (your performance), but they sounded happy through the door.” “They sounded happy through the door” is such an exquisitely Steven Wright way to say, “You fucking killed.”
“Suburbs” amusingly casts Wright as the unlikely demon on C.K’s shoulder baying to him that after a show like that, it is his inalienable obligation to the gods of comedy to go out and get laid. “After a set like that you own every woman in the place,” Wright tells Louie in a manner that’s almost convincing.
Louie is understandably skeptical, but upon leaving the club, he’s propositioned by a hot blonde of a certain age in an expensive car who tells him that she enjoyed his show that night and wants to show him her pussy. Louie is understandably flummoxed and responds in what he hopes is a reasonable way to an unreasonable offer: by thanking her for the praise and wishing her well.
The groupie isn’t discouraged, and Louie soon finds himself headed to New Jersey with a woman he was never too sure about in the first place and is growing less certain about by the moment. Having casual sex with a possibly mentally ill stranger is one thing; traveling to New Jersey is another matter entirely.
The plot thickens when Louie arrives at the woman’s home and discovers that he’s supposed to be one-third of a threesome involving the woman and Oscar-winning thespian F. Murray Abraham (who, it should be noted, is not playing Oscar-winning thespian F. Murray Abraham).
When Louie objects as diplomatically as possible, the couple turns hilariously defensive and self-righteous. When he stumblingly declares he thought he was just going to have sex with the woman who propositioned him, Abraham rages indignantly, “What right did you have to assume that?” When he asks if they do this kind of thing often, Abraham absolutely kills with the line, “That’s a bit of—none of your business!”
Louie's unwillingness to have a threesome with Academy-Award-winning thespian F. Murray Abraham leaves him in an unenviable position—stranded in New Jersey. So he does what we all do in a crisis: He calls up Chris Rock, who is rich enough to be able to live in New Jersey with some measure of dignity.
Rock plays himself as a moral arbiter who chastises Louie for leaving the normal, respectable, responsible world of parenthood—a world that he inhabits whether he likes it or not—for the nighttime world of groupies and one-night-stands and boozy hook-ups.
Rock is like Pamela Adlon’s character in that he’s onscreen primarily to give Louie shit and force him to man up. In an interview I just did with C.K. that will run soon, he said that he was proud of Rock as a comedian but felt he never reached his full potential as a dramatic actor. C.K has written a nice dramatic role for his friend and sometimes collaborator; he’s the voice of wisdom and experience at the end of a long, hellish night, rather than the overly caffeinated shtick-slinger of his stand-up and film appearances.
If Rock emerges as the voice of experience and caution, his unseen wife comes off more like a cartoon shrew; we very deliberately never see her face. We only hear her voice as she takes Louie to task for being a fat, corrupting failure as a friend and as a human being. It’s an overt caricature on a show that seldom settles for them.
When I spoke to C.K., I asked if he was worried that his character’s relationship with Pamela Adlon's character might fall into the “will they or won’t they” trap. He replied that he honestly didn’t give a mad-ass fuck if the show embraced certain show-business conventions as long as they felt real.
Accordingly, the final, heartbreaking segment of Louie’s second season explores Louie and Pamela’s relationship in a way that feels both conventional and real. It begins with Louie driving Pamela to the airport. She’s headed to Paris to see if she can make a go of it with her son and her son’s previously deadbeat dad, but that doesn’t keep Louie from holding out hope where none should exist.
We open with a great bit of character business: Pamela asks for permission to smoke in the car without requiring permission or really even needing or wanting it. He tells her she can’t smoke, then she lights up anyway. That’s the essence of their relationship: She does what she wants to do whether he likes it or not. She has all the power in the relationship, and that can be a very strange and awkward (as well as awesome) position to hold.
Women seldom look more beautiful than when they’re shattering your illusions. Pamela has never looks better than when she’s telling Louie, “Why do you keep making me say mean things to you?” after he persists in saying things like, “I think we’re supposed to be together,” even after she has gently and not so gently tried to disabuse him of his romantic delusions.
“Airport” ends with an elaborate bit of physical comedy; from beyond the airport gates, she yells out, “Wave to me!” which Louie purposefully mishears as “wait for me” in spite of all that she had just said. Louie ends the season in a state of delusional hope. Little does he know that heartbreak lies just around the corner. Contentment is fragile, while misery is built to last. That is happiness in Louie—the split second before all your hopes and dreams and aspirations are shattered conclusively forever.
While not quite as moving as the quietly epic final shot of last season’s premiere, “Airport” ends a superb season on a perfectly bittersweet, open note. “Duckling” would have made for a more epic conclusion, but then part of Louie’s charm lies in its intimacy. It’s a show about the way one man’s mind makes sense of an insane world that just keeps getting better. Season three cannot come quickly enough.
- Chris Rock did such a fantastic job of dramatic acting that I hear Abraham grew insanely jealous and is now actively conspiring against him
- "We have to be up early! The children have soccer tomorrow!"
- "Brown liquid that makes people feel differently than if they didn't drink it."