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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Louie Season Two

October 3rd, 2014
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I am a huge fan of comedian Louis C.K.’s stand-up work.  I think his recent stand-up films: Hilarious, Live at the Beacon Theater, and Oh My God, are among the finest stand-up performances I have ever seen.  I really dug the first season of his FX show, Louie (click here for my review), but it took me a while to get to season two.

I can’t believe I waited so long, because season two is amazing, and my wife and I tore through it in just a few days.  (The season is just twelve short 21-ish-minute episodes, so it’s easy to watch very quickly.)

For season two, Louis C.K. has stuck with the show’s great opening credits sequence (the plotless sequence in which we see Louie walk through the streets of NY, scarf down some pizza, then head into the Comedy Cellar, all while the great song “Brother Louie” by Stories plays on the soundtrack) as well as the show’s basic structure.  Just like Seinfeld, the show is a mix of Louie’s raucous, ribald stand-up and a depiction of his day-to-day adventures as a working comedian.  But any similarities to Seinfeld end there (other than both shows being great).

Louie often lets his stand-up bits go on for far longer than ever happened on Seinfeld, when they’d be used more as zippy zingers.  Louie often lets us get far deeper into his bits.  And whereas Seinfeld was a very tightly-plotted show, with intricate inter-weaving story-lines, Louie is the exact opposite.  The show has a dreamy, almost stream-of-consciousness feel.  It’s boldly unconcerned about any sort of continuity, either between episodes (in one notable example, Louie has to take custody of his niece at the end of episode 12, “Niece,” but then the girl is never seen or heard from again) or even within an episode (in which the episode’s first half often has nothing whatsoever to do with the story of its second half).  I love this about the show.  It’s as if we stay with the stories for exactly as long as Louie felt they’d be interesting, and not a moment longer.  It’s like the “best parts” version of a TV show.

The show also has something of a fantasy feel, as if we’re watching Louie’s dreams more than his actual life.  Episode 5, “Country Drive.” really nails this point home, and shows the way the show can dig deeply into the minutiae of life that most shows would ignore, and then veer into the wildest of fantasies.  In that episode, Louie takes his two daughters on a long car-trip to meet his great aunt Ellen.  As the drive goes on, there is an amazing sequence in which Louie hears The Who’s song “Who are You?” on the radio, and proceeds to rock out and sing along loudly to the song, to his daughters’ amazement/embarrassment.  The sequence goes on and on, for almost the entire length of the song.  It’s incredible, so funny and also so honest and human.  It’s a tiny real-life moment that the show mines for a great sequence.  Then the episode takes a left-turn into crazy-ville as Louie and the girls meet the elderly Aunt Ellen only to find that she is an enormous racist… and then she drops dead in the kitchen.  This part doesn’t feel like real life, but more like we can see Louis C.K. spinning us a yarn and thinking to himself: “Well, what would be funny/surprising to have happen next??”  I could see this being off-putting to some, but I loved it.

The season starts off with a band with the episode “Pregnant,” in which Louie’s sister shows up to stay with Louie, then wakes up in the middle of the night screaming in agony.  It’s a sequence of escalating craziness, as Louie tries to figure out how to get his sister to the hospital and also take care of his daughters, all while she continues to scream and scream.  We meet Louie’s neighbors (who are so great — I wish we saw more of them after this one appearance!) and the whole thing ends with a hysterical punch-line.

Episode 2, “Bummer/Blueberries” is also amazing, as Louie goes on a weird non-date with the mom of one of his daughter’s classmates (played incredibly by Maria Dizzia from Orange is the New Black) and winds up in another hugely weird situation.  The best part of the episode is when she sends Louie to the local convenience store to buy lube and blueberries, and Louie has an extremely funny interaction with the unflappable dude who works there.  (“We ain’t got no blueberries.”)

I loved that Pamela Adlon, who played Louie’s wife in his ill-fated first TV show (the HBO sitcom Lucky Louie), popped up in season one, and I was thrilled that she also appeared here in season two.  I love Louie and Pamela as a couple, and wish that the show would allow them to get together.  It’s not to be, but boy watching the two of them together is dynamite fun.

Because this is a show about a divorced comedian with two daughters named Louie, Louie often feels very autobiographical, and really keeps the audience guessing as to how much of this might have actually happened to Louie.  Of course, the show is fiction, and so we know that very little of this stuff truly happened to the real Louis C.K., but nevertheless there’s a great energy to be found when the show steps into “did this really happen?” territory.  The two most notable examples from this season are “Oh, Louie/Tickets” and “Duckling.”

In the first part of “Oh, Louie/Tickets,” we see a flashback sequence set in the making of a TV show that looks very, very much like HBO’s Lucky Louie, and we see Louie trying to film a scene but railing against what he feels to be the falseness of the sitcom story cliches.  I really want to know how similar this scene is to something that might have happened in the course of making that show.  Then, in the episode’s second half, we see Louie meeting up with Dane Cook (played by himself).  In real life, Louis C.K. and Dane Cook had a very real, very public feud over the accusation that Cook stole some jokes from Louis.  Watching these two men, playing themselves, act out a scene that hashes out the very real issues that they actually had with one another is mind-blowing, and amazing television.

Then there is “Duckling,” possibly the high-point of the series so far.  In this double-length episode, Louie goes on a USO tour to Afghanistan.  The episode was inspired by the real-life USO trip that Louie took (and he cast several of the people who were actually with him on that trip, such as cheerleader Lilly Robbins and singer Keni Thomas), and though the events with the duckling are fiction (in the episode, Lilly’s daughters sneak a duckling into his bags thinking that it will keep him safe), the episode is so steeped in what clearly were Louie’s real experiences that it’s fascinating and very powerful.

Other thoughts on the season:

I love the scene in “Moving” in which Louie’s poor accountant has to spell out for his addled client just how little money he has saved, thus making it impossible for him to buy the expensive new house he just looked at.

In the episode, “Joan,” Louie winds up at a casino where Joan Rivers is playing, and the two have a lengthy, wonderful scene together in which she tries to convey to Louie some of the lessons she’s learned in her years in the business, most notably: “Never quit.”  It’s a fun episode and Joan is great, and I love seeing the two comedians interact.  Poignantly for me, I watched this episode the night before I read in the news that Joan Rivers had gone into a coma.  (She would pass away a day or two later.)

The beginning of “Subway/Pamela” has two amazing moments.  First is the hysterical (and sad!) contrast between two different people who Louie sees while waiting for the subway: the man playing beautiful music on his violin, and the homeless man washing himself.  Even better is Louie’s dream, once he gets on the subway, of heroically wiping up the pee that is pooled on a subway seat.  Such great moments!!

I loved seeing the great F. Murray Abraham as the husband of a swinger who Louie picked up in the season finale “New Jersey/Airport.”

This was an amazing season of television, so unique and so funny.  Even though season four has already aired, I don’t think season three is available on DVD yet.  But I believe it’s streaming on Netflix, so I can’t wait to check it out!

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