Getting the south.

Foot Fist Way

AP

I have been thinking a lot recently about portrayals of southern characters in popular culture. The thoughts were sparked after I listened to Louis CK’s commentary on the “Travel Day/South” episode from the first season of Louie. During the commentary, Louis CK defends himself against criticism from southern viewers who took offense at the cartoonish characters portrayed in the episode, which features a visit to Alabama. His defense is essentially that he portrays characters from New York as jerks and he’s never heard complaints from New Yorkers about their portrayal on the show. It’s an interesting point, but one that’s ultimately short-sighted.

The central premise of Louis CK’s argument ignores the fact that southern characters are almost always treated as buffoons, racists, kind-hearted simpletons or something else less than a complete human being in popular culture. This has been the case for decades. While New York certainly has its share of film or TV caricatures, there are 100 New York characters who are simply portrayed as identifiable, regular human beings for every portrayal of New Yorkers as rude, self-centered and violent. This isn’t the case with southern characters. The distinction is an important one.

The major problem I have with most southern characters in pop culture is not simply that the portrayals are condescending, contemptuous or worse, it’s that it gets shit wrong. While there are countless embarrassing examples of southerners on TV and film, it does feel like there are more recent examples of TV shows getting shit right. Few television shows or movies get the south better than Danny McBride and Jody Hill have with Eastbound and Down and Foot Fist Way. McBride typically plays a dunderheaded loudmouth from the south, but the portrayals are dead on. The mood is right, the supporting characters are right and the surroundings are right. Even the dumbest characters are given a humanity beyond their accents or status as “the other.”  McBride’s characters are terrible people of mythical proportions, but they’re not simple cartoons. They are awful people who really exist in the messy, confusing world of the south.

Justified is a good example of a show that’s hit-or-miss on southern characters. Walton Goggins, the greatest southern actor today, nails the southern pathology, accent, psyche and wit. Goggins is a delight and brings a level of grit, naturalism and authenticity that regularly brings to mind Warren Oates. A more recent influx of characters in season four have been a bit more suspect, including an atrocious attempt by Patton Oswalt to shoehorn his brand of clever nerdy references into an impotent law enforcement hanger-on with a godawful southern accent.  Oswalt’s accent borders Walking Dead for its inconsistency and laughable attempt at hitting certain words (“PO-lice” for Oswalt) extra hard as a substitute for finding a natural, consistent accent for a character. Joseph Mazzello has some charisma, but doesn’t appear to have spent much time in the south before portraying a snake-handling tent preacher. It’s an unfortunate turn for a show that gets characters right more often than not.  The show’s sense of place has always felt a bit phony as Pittsburgh and California are silly stand-ins for rural Kentucky. It never reaches the laughable location depths of a show like Memphis Beat, but it frequently misses the mark.

I certainly don’t claim to be the ultimate arbiter of all southern portrayals; there are much more important battles to fight. But it’s something I have trouble watching when it’s done wrong. On the bright side, there aren’t any real cartoonish portrayals on the level with Beverly Hillbillies or Dukes of Hazard that come to mind in 2013. In film, Winter’s Bone featured an excellent performance from Jennifer Lawrence, who felt right from the beginning of the movie until the end. However, I do think it’s important to demand some level of accountability from performers, writers and directors when portraying a group of people, particularly when they clearly aren’t familiar with the subtleties of that group of people and fall back on easy caricature. It’s why Louis CK’s comments are so difficult to stomach. While you could argue that the portrayal of Alabama on Louie was purposely over-the-top as a way to show us the world through the eyes of an outsider like Louis, there’s still something patently false about it. In the end, I don’t think the south should receive any hand-holding from creative people. I just think it’s about time more people got it right.

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Dan Le Betard is Highly Questionable, a great show on an increasingly bad network.

ESPN

Sports television has become a joyless parade of blowhards, phonies and piss-poor provocateurs. ESPN, the Grand Marshall, has become the sports equivalent of Fox News, a popular destination for easy opinions where a regular viewer can somehow know less about the topic at hand than before they tuned in. Superstars are created, dissected, destroyed and mocked. Highlights are quick, context-less and backed by horrible music. While most programming for many cable networks has been considerably smarter in the last 10 years, ESPN has grown more ignorant in its old age.

At its worst, the network is a shit sandwich made from the essence of bad sports talk radio and the growing influence of public relations on sports. Every morning, you can watch Skip Bayless and some other dolt dissect the most recent cliché uttered by a sports superstar (God save the poor athlete in 2012 who has the gall to actually say something interesting). It’s a draining experience that has little to do with sports and even less to do with the fun parts of sports. Talking heads treat athletes like they’re not human beings, while athletes are trained to shield all humanity from the public. It all ends with a well-packaged music video featuring sports cyborgs performing amazing feats mixed with the sound of interchangeable newspaper numbskulls and former athletes sucking all of the life out of sports.

Dan Le Batard is Highly Questionable is the welcomed exception to the soul-crushing ESPN rule. The show featuring the Miami Herald columnist and his father has easily become the most interesting show on the network. The show manages to be light, unpredictable and substantive. It’s cleverly packaged to look remarkably similar to the slightly tired Pardon the Interruption, godawful Sportsnation and dead-on-arrival Around the Horn, but that’s where the similarities stop. While other shows thrive on fake controversy, reactionary “debate” and up-to-the-minute inanity, DLHQ often takes the long view. Opinions are thoughtful, sports are treated like games, athletes are treated like human beings and pomposity is delivered with a laugh.

While the show bears the name of the younger Le Batard, the star of the show is Gonzalo (“Papi”), a 68-year-old Cuban immigrant who is thankfully unfamiliar with the slick, boring rhythms and clichés of sports television. There is no one on sports television like Gonzalo. In fact, there is no one on television like Gonzalo. He is shamelessly old and unmistakably Cuban. On a network that has seemed to grudgingly embrace the growing Hispanic population in America with a few isolated soccer goals accompanied by hapless play-by-play from an anchor who mispronounces the names, Gonzalo is a wonderful addition. English is clearly his second language. He bungles names of sports stars and sometimes teams (the Memphis Grizzlies are the “Grizzles”), but adds a wonderful flair and sometimes, wonderfully unnecessary rolling Rs to the names of Hispanic athletes.

Gonzalo’s sports opinions are often those of a fan–he loves the Miami Heat and hates the Chicago Bulls. He mocks the horrible Miami Dolphins and seems to love almost every quarterback in the NFL except Aaron Rodgers. He obviously doesn’t follow sports with the kind of joyless constancy of many on the network. Because of his casual sports knowledge, Gonzalo talks about it with an infectious excitement and lightness that’s impossible to find anywhere else on ESPN. Tune into Around the Horn and you’re likely to see dozens of passionate, “provocative” arguments for points from people who couldn’t give a shit, but Gonzalo’s occasional sports rants feel natural. His chemistry with Dan is delightful to watch and unlike so much sports talk radio and ESPN, the laughter never feels forced. His age, broken English, passion for food and family stories are regularly fodder for laughs. Occasionally, the show will stop in its tracks for Dan to call his mother to confirm an embarrassing anecdote about his father.

DLHQ, which is filmed in the Cuban and Cuban-American heavy city of Hialeah, Fla. near Miami, is also the only show on ESPN with a sense of place. Because the network is headquartered in nondescript Bristol, Conn., programs on the network regularly reflect the generic studio environment of its signature program, Sportscenter. DLHQ is a Miami show. Miami sports stories are given prominence and Miami sports stars occasionally wander through the show’s silly, fake kitchen studio. When New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham became one of the best at his position last year, Dan and Gonzalo recalled how terrible the breakout football star was on the Miami Hurricanes basketball team. The benefits of having a show SOMEWHERE was highlighted earlier this year following controversial comments from Ozzie Guillen, firebrand manager of the Miami Marlins who said he “loved” Fidel Castro. It was discussed endlessly on the network by dozens of dullards with little or no political or local awareness, but Gonzalo’s heartfelt story about leaving Cuba for America was a rare bit of insightful and moving context.

The show truly shines in its daily interview segment. Interviews on DLHQ are markedly different from other ESPN interviews, which almost exclusively focus on history no older than 24 hours and rarely treat athletes like human beings. Dan seldom, if ever, asks athletes about the recent or upcoming game. He asks about their childhood, their fears, their families and their beliefs. As the intersection between sports and naked capitalism continues to separate athletes from fans, DLHQ is one of the few places where athletes are presented with a level of humanity.  The best example is the show’s interview with former Penn State/NBA journeyman John Amaechi. Amaechi, who should have his own show on the network, tells Dan about the difficulties of being a gay man in sports.  Amaechi talks about the scorn he faced after coming out publicly. It is a genuinely emotional moment for Dan, who seems to be holding back tears. Seeing a gay man talk about his struggles while a straight sports columnist listens with real empathy is almost shocking to see on a sports network. It’s undoubtedly important.

Another great example of the strength of DLHQ interviews is this discussion with Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, who I had no idea was such an interesting person.

That’s not to say the show focuses exclusively on Roy Firestone-esque sentimentality. It also gives athletes the chance to be funny and flawed in public without judgment. It’s a highlight in a show that thrives on the delightful parts of sports and draws attention to issues bigger than the game. That perspective is something severely lacking on ESPN’s programming (save the channel’s wonderful 30 For 30 and ESPN Films productions). ESPN needs it. In the dispiriting sports environment of 2012, we sports fans need it.

“New Jersey/Airport.”

FX

Louie’s second season has been a dark experiment. It managed to turn the simple premise of a one-man show with a standup comic at its center into something far greater. The darkness, drama and perceptiveness packed into a 30-minute FX comedy scripted, directed and led by one man  has made Louie the greatest creative overachiever in American television history. The first season gave Louis CK an opportunity to begin laying the foundation of his fucked philosophy–the second season cemented it. AV Club Editor Keith Phipps proposed that the second season was “one of the great seasons” in television history. It’s not an overstatement.

“New Jersey/Airport” fittingly concludes with a story of painfully unrequited love that initially appeared in one of the season’s strongest episodes. The episode begins with Louie running into Steven Wright after a successful set. Wright tells Louie that he should use the momentum from his standup set to “get some tail.” He’s married, so Louie choosing to go home immediately after the set is a waste, Wright says. The plea for vicariously sexual satisfaction is a bit unnerving coming from Wright, whose stage persona is the polar opposite of sex.  Louie wanders around aimlessly looking for a potential sex partner with little luck. He walks out of the club, where he’s confronted by a woman who says she loved his show. She also says she was waiting “because I want to show you my pussy.” It’s a desire she repeats numerous times in their short time together. The entire exchange is a bit dreamlike, which would partially explain the actor’s robotic, odd delivery of each line.

The pair get to her house, where it’s revealed that she’s a married woman hoping to “share” Louie with her older husband. The dreaminess continues in an utterly absurd exchange where Louie politely asks to leave the surprise ménage à trois and the husband angrily tells Louie to leave. It’s not a scene that has any foot in reality. The scene feels more like a rejected Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. Louie calls Chris Rock to ask for help, which results in anger from Rock’s off-screen wife. Rock, who has worked with Louis CK since the 1990s, lectures Louie about the direction of his life. “This is 30-year-old shit, not 40-year old shit,” he tells Louie. The scene is punctuated when Rock’s angry wife calls Louie his “fat friend.” It’s a weak story in comparison to some of the excellent second season episodes.

The stronger part of the episode comes in the final eight minutes, when Louie and Pamela arrive at the airport. Pamela is going to Paris to see her ex-husband, who has recently reconnected with their son. She’s decided to try to make the relationship work. Louie admits that all of his hopes for love are pinned on Pamela, who has repeatedly told Louie that she does not feel the same way. She tells Louie to move on. Louie tells her that he thinks they’re supposed to be together. Pamela laughs and asks why Louie keeps making her “say mean things” to him. The dynamic between Louie and Pamela is an odd one in pop culture. Unrequited love is certainly well-worn territory, but Louie still has hope that it will work out. If we do see unrequited love where one person carries false hope, it’s typically played for laughs. However, this unrequited love isn’t particularly funny. It’s a broken man seeking a fulfillment he’ll never have from a person he may never see again.

Louie transitions from expressing his feeling that love between he and Pamela is a cosmic inevitability into a pragmatic lecture about the moral shortcomings of her ex-husband. She deserves better, he tells her. She acknowledges that her husband is a piece of shit, but that doesn’t mean she wants to be with Louie. It’s an important distinction–she doesn’t know she loves her ex-husband, but she knows she doesn’t love Louie. Louie genuinely doesn’t believe her. “I have a hard time believing that I feel this way and there is nothing coming back,” Louie tells her in a heartbreaking moment. It’s a ridiculous sentiment, but one that cuts to the heart of what unrequited love is all about. We believe that if we feel something deep enough, the object of our love can’t help but share those same feelings. He firmly believes that the universe wouldn’t allow him to have these deep feelings for no reason. We believe that too. The way we talk about love is influenced heavily by our sense that the universe loves us and seeks to make us happy. Louie, if anything, has taught us that the universe has no order. There’s no happiness waiting for us. The fact that Louie doesn’t recognize this fact with Pamela only magnifies his pain.

Pamela laughs at Louie’s notion that she is somehow unaware of her romantic love for him, but Louie rejects her pleas for him to move on. He would rather wait for her. She leaves when Louie begins to tear up. Louie doesn’t stop staring at her as she walks away. The season ends with a besotted Louie misunderstanding Pamela’s request for him to “wave to me” as a request to “wait for me.” We see a triumphant Louie march out of the airport with a wrong-headed notion that the universe has smiled on him. It’s a sweet moment but it’s also one of the most crushing. Louie has gone through this series with an understanding that life is a debilitating series of disappointments. He wants to believe that things are about to change. But they’re not. He’s doomed. This time, he just doesn’t know it.

“Niece.”

FX

The second season of Louie has focused more on the perils of parenthood than any other single subject. It’s been a natural progression–even for a show with no real continuity from episode to episode. The first season ended with a beautiful scene of Louie spending time with his two daughters as the sun begins to rise in the background.  Throughout the season Louie has tried and largely failed at teaching his daughters life lessons, giving them lifelong memories and providing them with whatever they want. Even when he fails, it’s clear his daughters love him. “Niece,” a well-made but forgettable episode in a stellar season, is the first time we’ve seen Louie interact with a child who doesn’t love him.

Louie gets the unexpected job of watching his 13-year-old niece Amy when his sister drops her off at Grand Central Station. She tells Louie, who believed he was getting a visit from his sister and niece, that she needs to go back to Philadelphia and “I need her not to be with me.” Amy, wearing headphones and looking miserable, immediately wanders off. They make it to Louie’s home, where Amy walks into the bedroom and slams the door. Louie waits hours before cautiously opening the door to check on his silent niece. She tells Louie that she wants to go to an indie rock club, which sets up a great crowd shot of an out-of-place Louie in the middle of a crowd of hip and attractive people half his age. Louie looks incredibly uncomfortable and tries to protect his niece from a guy bouncing along to the music.

After leaving the club, Louie tries to convince Amy to eat something. The pair are in Chinatown and surrounded by plenty of delicious options, but Amy wants no part of it. She tells Louie that she won’t die if she doesn’t eat. Of course, she will. The exchanges between Louie and Amy are stilted and odd throughout the episode. It’s likely a function of an intentional awkwardness between the two characters and the fact that neither Louis CK or Gideon Adlon (daughter of Pamela Adlon, consulting producer and Pamela on the show) are very good actors. The relationship also lacks authenticity. Amy is clearly troubled, but the portrayal is oddly broad in its depiction of an emotionally damaged teenager.

The few moments that justify the episode’s plot largely deal with an unseen history with Louie, his sister, Amy and her absentee father. The first of these moments comes when Louie tells Amy that her mom “had a hard life.” Every moment in the episode that features a reference to Louie and his sister carries a large amount of emotional baggage. Amy eventually convinces Louie to take her to see him do a standup set. They arrive to see comedian Godfrey, who Amy deems to be funny. Louie tells her that Godfrey is doing crowd work, which he says is “easy.” Louie takes the stage and tries to do his own crowd work, but fails. It’s a scene that lacks credibility. We saw Louie bomb earlier in the season in Las Vegas and both scenes did not feel like Louis CK bombing as Louis CK. They felt like Louis CK playing a less interesting, less funny comedian. It might work if we weren’t regularly reminded of the charisma and wit that Louis CK brings on stage.

Amy and Louie join Todd  Barry and Nick DiPaolo for dinner. Todd Barry asks Amy a series of generic questions, then immediately gives up the attempt at conversation in one of the episode’s few comic moments. Nick DiPaolo declares that by age 16, girls either “become people or they become whores.” It’s an unfunny, reactionary comment from an unfunny, reactionary comedian. It fails to shock, but manages to give a dullard like DiPaolo an opportunity to play the role of an unafraid truth teller. Only it’s not true.

Godfrey joins the group and connects with Amy. She likes Godfrey, who asks her about how much she hates Boston (“very”) and reminds her that she will need her mom some day. Louie is shocked by Godfrey’s ability to connect with his niece. When quizzed about how he did it, Godfrey tells Louie that his girlfriend’s daughter is the same age and offers a tip. “You’ve got to learn to talk with people who are not like you–it’s called empathy, man.” It’s the episode’s most memorable moment and a wonderful quote, but it hardly feels earned. Louie has tried to talk with Amy and Godfrey’s only real advantage is that he’s younger and hipper than Louie. There is nothing in this particular  episode that tells us that Louie lacks empathy–he’s simply cast in the caretaker role for Amy, while Godfrey gets to be the cool, older friend.

The pair are walking together on the street when Louie gives money to a homeless man. Amy tells Louie that giving money to homeless people is “condescending.” She tells Louie that her father says that people who do charity do it to better themselves, not help others. “And then he ran out on you,” an exasperated Louie tells her. He carries her home and puts her to sleep back at his apartment. A woman from a hospital in Philadelphia calls to tell Louie that his sister was taken to the hospital after acting irrationally in a fountain. The woman from the hospital recommends that Amy continue to stay with Louie. It’s a recommendation that I hope the show does not take.

“Duckling.”

FX

Great art can sometimes be better defined by what it chooses NOT to do as much as by what it actually does. Most Pixar films are great in their own right, but they also benefit from viewers seeing countless hours of soulless children’s films full of cheap laughs and one-note characters. The fact that many Pixar films are full of heart, treat viewers with a level of respect and refuse to go for the easy laugh elevates them from forgettable time-fillers to films that can be taken as seriously as their live-action counterparts. “Duckling” is a very good hour of television on its own merits, but it’s elevated to a great hour of television by what it chooses NOT to do.

The episode begins with Louie picking his daughters up from school, where he learns that it’s his turn to take care of the classroom’s baby ducks. It’s yet another example of Louie going head-to-head with the bureaucracy of the public school system and finishing second. He tells the teacher that he can’t take the baby ducks because he’s going on a USO tour of Iraq and Afghanistan. Louie’s reasonable excuse is met with a shrug and a shake of the head from the teacher–a theme throughout the series. After returning home with the ducks, Louie tucks his daughters into bed before denying repeated requests from his younger daughter for “just one duckling” and trying to assure his older daughter that his USO tour is safe. The onslaught of ducklings and questions is followed with a shot of Louie sneaking a cigarette in the bathroom. It’s yet another reminder of Louis CK’s smoking-as-freedom philosophy of parenting I mentioned in the previous episode review.

The bulk of “Duckling” is better experienced than retold since very little actually happens on the hourlong episode, but some of the people we meet in Louie’s USO tour are:

  • Keni Thomas, a friendly, patriotic country singer and former U.S. Army Ranger;
  • a religious cheerleader;
  • and members of the armed services.

The first two characters are almost always the kind of person who would be satirized or openly mocked on another “smart” series with a liberal creator, while the third group of people are universally pitied, unrealistically idolized or patronized on television. The greatness of “Duckling” lies in rejecting all of those one-note story arcs. It treats characters whose traits are almost set in stone in pop culture as complete human beings. It’s beautifully simple, yet almost shockingly unfamiliar. You keep waiting for the patriotic country singer to reveal his real intentions, but the moment never comes. You keep waiting for the religious cheerleader to receive her comeuppance for her stringent beliefs, but that moment never comes. You keep waiting for the armed services members to be placed on a pedestal as something other than young people in a perilous situation, but that moment never comes. All three characters are brimming with humanity.

The USO portion of the episode goes for few, if any, laughs outside of Louie’s standup material, which the religious cheerleader dubs “disgusting.” The moment comes while the pair are eating. The young cheerleader asks him why he can’t say “Christian things” and be funny. Louie is bewildered by the silly question, but he refuses to go into the blind rage that marked his interaction with a strange religious person in “Come On, God.” In a war zone, arguing about religion or masturbation seems less important. After showing the cheerleader a duckling his daughter concealed in his bag and making an offhanded comment about the animal not protecting them against an RPG, she smiles and tells him that now he’s being Christian and funny. It’s an artfully nonjudgmental interaction. The cheerleader is undeniably naive and simple, but it all feels real. The fact that Louis CK never uses the interaction as a source of satire or easy comedy is an accomplishment.

One of the stops on the tour is a small camp in the mountains, where the group are forced to take cover during a rocket attack. The soldiers laugh off the unsuccessful attack, while a terrified Louie is shocked by a world where a potential life-or-death situation is met with laughter. Louie begins to emcee the event in front of about 15-20 armed services members. When one of the soldiers tells Louie that he’s never heard of him, Louie quickly shoots back– “I’ve never heard of you either, dickface.” It’s such an unexpected exchange. It’s clear throughout the episode that Louis CK respects the armed services members, but he refuses to treat them with kid gloves or a deferential sympathy. He simply sees them as human beings in a shitty situation.

“Duckling” culminates with a tense standoff between a group of gun-toting Arabs and the U.S. armed services members. The standoff appears to be headed for disaster before Louie tries to grab an escaped duckling and stumbles to the ground. The two groups stop shouting and begin laughing at Louie’s sad attempt to save the baby duck. Louie’s daughter packed the duckling for his safety and that’s exactly what it provided. The episode ends with Keni singing as the two groups–who were likely seconds away from mutual destruction– sit together peacefully in a circle. It’s a fitting end to a remarkably earnest, heartfelt episode. Louie traveled around the world to a combat zone and discovered more humanity than he ever sees–or notices–back home.

“Halloween/Ellie.”

FX

Fear is an instinct that has marked many Louie episodes. There have been explorations into the implicit fear associated with religion, sex, parenthood, dating and simply living in the world.  “Halloween/Ellie” deals with the fear of parental failure and fear of professional failure. It’s not the series’ most successful episode on the topic, but it includes several of the memorable moments that have made Louie the greatest show on television.

The episode starts with Louie taking his daughters trick-or-treating. Louie’s youngest daughter is dressed as a fairy, while his older daughter is dressed as Frederick Douglass. The Frederick Douglass costume is there for visual impact and a single half-joke (“she read a book on him”), but it’s not an ongoing source of story. This is one of the elements that separates Louie from shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, which would have squeezed 28 minutes of material from a young, white child dressed as an old, black historical figure. It’s a beautifully strange touch. It may also be the first time I’ve seen a character on television in the 21st century in non-outrageous blackface. The costume feels perversely respectful.

Night begins to fall and Louie is ready to go home, but his daughters talk him into a few more minutes of trick-or-treating. A few quick scares from costumed adults are met with comforting words about people just having fun. The fun ends when two men in costumes begin following Louie and his daughters, who, despite his best efforts to hide it, begin to sense their father’s fear (“Why are we walking faster?”). It’s an astute observation about the remarkable intuition of children. Precocious children are a dime a dozen on bad sitcoms, but the daughters’ instinctual understanding of their father’s uneasiness feels wholly fresh.

The inevitable confrontation comes when the trio think they have lost the two creeps. They round the corner, only to find their pursuers waiting for them. The men appear genuinely disturbed and Louie is lost. It’s a parental nightmare that’s fittingly made to feel like a horror movie. Louie is caught between fight and flight. Fighting two large men may not necessarily be the best choice for himself or his daughters, while running away doesn’t seem to be possible.  He appeals to their better angels, but these two guys appear to be without such encumbrances. When Louie’s youngest daughter angrily yells at one of the men about how Halloween is supposed to be fun, Louie grabs the closest thing to him and smashes a store window. The broken glass sets off an alarm and the two jerks run away.

His daughters assume that Louie planned the moment the whole time. Their dad knew exactly what to do. While they sensed the fear in Louie earlier in the episode, they still believe in their father as being able to save them from any situation. And up until this point in their lives, he has. It’s such an accurate, sweet observation. I can remember my dad confronting a big group of guys outside of a fast food restaurant when I was a kid. We were on vacation and the guys had yelled at me, my sister or my mom–I don’t remember who. My dad told us to get into the car. As I peeked out the back window of our car, I could see him walking up to the group of guys, pointing at them and I could hear him yelling. I was alarmed by the whole situation at the time, but it never particularly occurred to me that anything bad could have happened to him. Looking back, I would be much more upset by the situation today than I was then. My dad is still an amazing guy, but I know now that he is just a guy. He could have been killed. But all of my life leading up to that moment made me think that my dad knew what he was doing. Maybe that’s why teenagers so rarely get along with their parents–it’s the first time you see that your parents are just people. Flawed people with contradictions, problems and failures. That moment hasn’t come for Louie’s daughters.

After the thugs leave and Louie sits with his adoring daughters, he picks up a half-smoked cigarette laying on the pavement and takes a long drag. It’s a memorable moment. He can’t show his daughters the terror he felt just seconds before. Smoking is a recurring activity associated with parenting on Louie. When Louie confronted and bonded with the abusive father in season 1, the pair sat on the porch and smoked. When he spent time with Pamela, the pair shared a sneaky cigarette near a window. This time, the cigarette is a solitary experience, but it’s the most needed puff so far.

The second half of the episode deals with Louie’s professional failures. It begins with Louie in a room full of comedians summoned to punch-up an upcoming movie. It’s an activity that’s been a regular source of discussion and material for comedians like Patton Oswalt, who are brought in to make an unfunny movie funny in a few hours. Louie suggests a change to the opening scene in the cop movie he’s brought in to spice up. A middle-aged white woman of importance asks her colleague who Louie is. The brief bit of silent discussion between the pair, which requires a little lip reading on the part of the audience, is one of the episode’s best shot moments.

Louie agrees to go to lunch with the middle-aged white woman of  importance, where she reveals that she’s a bigwig at Paramount. She doesn’t just want to make one of Louie movie ideas, she wants to make ALL of them. Louie begins to tell her his best idea for a movie, which revolves around a man who works a sewage plant (or “shit factory”), makes one bad decision after another, meets a beautiful girl and his life just keeps getting worse and worse. It’s almost certainly a heightened version of real meetings Louis CK has experienced. It says something about the high quality of Louie that after hearing his terrible pitch of his terrible idea for a movie, I immediately wanted to see it.

“Eddie.”

FX

I wrote in the review on the season premiere about Louie being a meditation on the fucked nature of existence. Every week, we watch Louie suffer through the pains of living and dealing with other people. “Eddie” is the first glimpse of another person whose life is more gloriously fucked than Louie’s. In fact, Louie appears well-adjusted and happy when standing next to a disaster of a human being like his old pal Eddie.  The episode feels like a reminder from Louis CK that while he’s all too familiar with life’s dark corners, there’s a giant chasm between surmising that life is “shit wall to wall” and deciding that it’s not worth living.

We’re introduced to Eddie backstage at the Comedy Cellar, where Louie finishes a set to loud applause. Eddie quickly gets into an argument with another comic, who innocently asks if he works in Los Angeles. Eddie immediately decides the other comic is a “phony New York piece of shit” from the innocuous question. The tension builds early in the episode, but it really starts to accelerate when Eddie casually mentions that he’s “done and done” with life. The slow build to Louie, the least likely spokesman for the joys of life, being forced to talk his old friend out of suicide is inevitable. Louie is cast into the role of apologetic friend in a liquor store, where Eddie gets into another argument–this time with a racist argument with a liquor store clerk.

Eddie insists on going to an open mic in Brooklyn, where we see Louie being amused by his sweaty friend’s bits about sex being boring and gross. The second season has been full of shots of Louie laughing at other comics. It’s a tired device for the show. Louie doesn’t have a laugh track, but the constant shots of him laughing at other comics almost feels even more manipulative. It’s a brief stumble in an otherwise quality episode.

A series of flashbacks show us that while Louie worked for success, Eddie was too busy searching for an unobtainable, undefined version of artistic purity. It’s perfectly illustrated when Eddie berates Louie for drinking water. Louie responds by telling a bemused Eddie that “when you find yourself railing against water–get a grip, man.” It’s a wonderful human moment between the two. Eddie continues to heap guilt on Louie from the moment they reconnect, when he derisively mentions Louie’s “career” to mentioning that Louie abandoned his “fat” wife.

Truth be told, Eddie is an asshole. He eventually confesses that Louie, his old friend who he holds in complete contempt, is the only person he has left. He’s lost everyone and he doesn’t want anyone else. It’s all over for him. “You get to a point that you think that maybe it’s time to put a period on whatever this was,” he tells Louie. The confession leads us to the inevitable moment when Louie is forced to talk Eddie out of killing himself. Louie pauses when Eddie asks why he shouldn’t end his own life. The moments of Louie trying to quickly think of something he can say to convince his friend that life is worth continuing are some of the most painful in the series’ run. It’s painful because we, as viewers, can’t think of any reason he should go on living. From everything we’ve seen on this episode, death may be Eddie’s best option. Now, that’s a dark concept to introduce on a television comedy.

Louie responds with anger toward Eddie. He should. Louie hasn’t seen Eddie in decades and his old friend isn’t asking for help. He just wants to dump his pain and hopelessness on someone else. Louie angrily tries to tell him that he should try again tomorrow like everyone else, which Eddie sarcastically calls “tough love.” Louie makes one more stab by telling him that life is bigger than him. It’s something you “take part in, something you witness.” It’s a better argument than I could think of, yet Eddie responds with laughter and accuses Louie of being excited that he gets to talk someone out of suicide as a way to feel better about himself. In the middle of the intense exchange, they pause to see a young couple arguing and share a laugh. The exchange ends with an embrace between the two and Louie slowly walking away from his friend, who he will likely never see again. Louie has to pick up his kids in the morning. Tragedy is all around, but life goes on.