“Country Drive.”

FX

To truthfully tell the history of America, we have to acknowledge that virtually every anecdote that could inspire pride or devotion is inextricably linked with an even greater level of ugliness. Any person with a shred of intellectual honesty has to acknowledge that this country was brutally taken from its inhabitants, built by slave labor and forged into a superpower by an virtually-unending series of bloody wars. That’s why we’ve always lied to kids about our nation’s actual history.  Whether living in a fantasy as a child is preferable to being told hard truths is beside the point. It’s what we do. It’s what we’ve always done. “Country Drive” is the best illustration of that predicament that I’ve ever seen.

It’s not an easy task. Portraying the repugnant elements of our nation’s history has inspired countless ham-fisted artistic efforts. Most attempts are brutally didactic or self-righteous. The fact that Louie managed to humanize the dilemma in such a small, beautiful way is an amazing achievement. It may be the show’s greatest triumph.

The episode, which starts with a wonderfully abridged version of the theme song that immediately jumps into the car with Louie and his children, is a road movie at its core. The first sounds we hear are Louie’s daughter repeatedly saying that she is bored. Bored. Bored. Bored. Louie’s response is perfect and similar to one of Louis CK’s greatest standup bits, Everything is Amazing and No One is Happy. The entire premise of the bit runs so counter to one of the central premises of standup–trying to connect with your audience. Even comics who pride themselves on being “truth tellers” base their bits on either easy targets or targets that are outside of the audience they’re playing to. The other. Everyone but us is dumb. All of the things that you, audience member, already think is dumb is duuuumb. The central argument of Everything is Amazing and No One is Happy is that things aren’t dumb–WE are dumb. It makes no effort to relate to the audience, yet it works in a way that few do. It’s one of the only standup bits that has actually changed my life and the way I look at the world around me.

Louie responds to his daughter’s boredom by telling her that her very existence is a miracle and seeing a vast, incredible world that she’s never seen is a blessing. How can she be bored? She is. The fact that we should be more appreciative runs throughout Louis CK’s work. So much of his comedy is based around the notion that things we love are actually temporary and silly, while the things we hate are actually amazing. It’s a wonderfully subversive concept being spread through the wonder of basic cable.

During the road trip to Pennsylvania to see Louie’s aunt, an extended and animated singing of “Who Are You” makes for one of the best single scenes of pure joy on television. It’s so radically dissimilar from anything else in the entire run of the series. Louie is almost always observing the world in the show. During the singing, it’s the most free/excited we’ve seen Louie in the run of the show. It goes on and on with no particular punch line. Of course, we’re waiting for the “who the fuck are you?!” line. But it’s much more than a single swear-around-children joke. His children are amused, then a bit troubled by their father’s outburst. After the crazed singing along with Roger Daltrey, Louie sits quietly in the car with his daughters before telling them to look at geese. Car singing has been shown numerous times in TV and film, but I’ve never enjoyed it more.

Louie’s daughters are thrilled about meeting his 90-something-year-old aunt after he describes her as a walking history book. Unfortunately, she is. The elderly, frail woman warmly welcomes the children and Louie into the house before casually offering them a Brazil nut. Louie quickly cuts off his daughter from asking why her aunt would use that word. The conversation goes downhill from there. When Louie mentions that he lives in New York, his aunt uses the same ethnic slur in an even more disgusting context. The young girls try to speak up again, but are rebuffed by a nervous Louie who doesn’t want his daughters to upset his elderly, hatemonger aunt.

For some, the scene may have felt like a farce. On a personal level, it brought back memories. The first time I remember hearing the n-word used was by a sweet, elderly aunt. It sounded like a swear word of some kind, but I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. I can remember using context clues and being very troubled by it. You’re constantly told when you’re a kid that you should worry about strangers, but there are moments when your young brain begins to understand that even adults you know and love can be really horrible people. And yet, she was still my aunt. I was a little kid. What could I do?

When the aunt leaves the room, Louie’s daughters ask why they couldn’t say anything. “I don’t like that word,” one of the young girls says. Louie is caught between teaching his kids that the word is unacceptable, while still worrying about unsettling his elderly aunt. It’s such an interesting dilemma that I think is fairly common, yet I’ve never seen it depicted before. He eventually tells his daughters that they can ask her why she used the word. They can ask her anything. Of course, they can’t. This is Louie. She dies before making it back.

The main story of the episode is perfectly capped by Louis CK performing a bit about the tragic history of the United States, which he somehow compares with showing his 8-year-old penis to a girl with Down Syndrome. It’s one of the most disturbing metaphors about American history I’ve ever heard, yet so spot-on. We may be older and wiser now, but the horrible things we’ve done don’t just go away. We’re still those people.

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9 Responses to “Country Drive.”

  1. ryan says:

    I wasn’t so nuts about this one. The Who singalong went on long enough to feel a bit indulgent, and ending with an entire segment of standup (good material though!) made it feel like he had to stretch time in order to fill the episode. The casual racism element of his Aunt was an interesting element, but even it was presented slightly awkwardly, with Louie stepping off the perfectly precocious questioning of his daughters to get to the point he wanted to make. And then, as expected, the old woman dies, a trope that’s been done time and time again. How much more interesting would it have been if they had actually questioned her on her beliefs, and it turned into some kind of awkward back and forth, his elderly aunt getting more irritated and vitriolic, and Louie eventually having to yell her down?

    Maybe I’m just playing Devil’s Advocate here, but I wasn’t feeling it. Love your reviews though! hugs and kisses

  2. memphiscreep says:

    Yeah, I loved the Who singalong largely because it went on too long. Obviously, I really liked it from the beginning–but when it kept going and going, I was completely sold. I also appreciated the fact that he really WENT for it. I was glad he didn’t edit it down.

    Yeah, I assumed she would be dead when they got to her house. The fact that she didn’t was a surprise. As soon as she stepped away, I didn’t think she would come back. I just like that he finally made peace with letting his daughters grill the old lady, then she dies without any sort of resolution for anyone.

    To be fair, the episode hit almost ALL of my personal sweet spots: road movie, car singing (to The Who no less!) and trying to deal with nastiness/racism from an elderly person. I still feel like it was one of the best episodes yet.

  3. cvalentino says:

    I know this episode was meant to shock with the old lady saying the N word, but it’s just so commonplace where I’m from, even within my family, I just wasn’t very struck by it! I know that’s crappy that I’m so used to casual racism from family members and acquaintences that it seemed commonplace. Doesn’t everyone have racist old grandparents where we’re from? And I always thought the slang she used for Brazil nuts was for Cream Drops. That was actually the most shocking part of the episode for me. The term for Cream Drops being used on Brazil nuts. I thought at first that Louie had just gotten that tidbit incorrect, but it turns out that term is used in various ways depending on region. WHO KNEW?

    I’m honestly ready for another episode where Louie tries to get laid.

    • memphiscreep says:

      Yeah, I knew the slang very well. I literally just discovered a couple years ago that they’re called Brazil nuts. Obviously, I knew that wasn’t the actual name for them, but I don’t eat them, so I never had to ask for them anywhere. That was the only thing I’ve heard them called.

  4. cvalentino says:

    Also, you should review Wilfred.

    • memphiscreep says:

      I am not sure if I like it enough and/or have enough insight into the show to do it. However, I would love it if you wanted to do guest posts about it. I watch the show, so it would be cool to read.

  5. cvalentino says:

    Also, once I heard my grandma call someone a “mongoloid” like that was just a common description and not wrong at all. I’m not even sure what she meant, but I tried to let her know that word had gone out of fashion.

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