“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.

“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.

“Oh Louie/Tickets.”

FX

Louie managed one of its most surreal moments during “Oh Louie/Tickets” with a confrontation based on a real-life source of tension.  The show regularly dabbles in surreal moments–whether it’s an elderly woman angrily showing her naked body to Louie in a hallway or Louie’s mother talking about her newfound lesbianism and crying loudly in a restaurant. But while the basic premise of the show is based on a real-life scenario (Louis CK dealing with newly-single life after divorce and raising his two daughters), the bulk of the show is a farcical look at the world through Louis CK’s mind. A confrontation between Dane Cook, the biggest-selling comic of the moment, and Louis CK, the most talented comic of the moment, over real joke stealing was an unexpected, flawed effort.

Louie enters the encounter with Dane Cook as a beggar. After learning that his daughter idolizes Lady Gaga, Louie hears through his prepubescent agent that Dane Cook and Lady Gaga share the same management company.  Louie goes to a giant arena to meet with Dane Cook, a real-life comedian who really stole jokes from Louis CK and sells out Madison Square Garden by screaming and making funny faces for college audiences.  We’re not-so-subtly reminded of the joke stealing during a hamfisted scene with standup Jim Norton, who tells Louie that “everybody says he stole your jokes.” Immediately, he’s in Dane Cook’s world. He’s escorted through a series of giant hallways by men in dark suits wearing ear pieces and carrying walkie-talkies. The scene of Louie walking through the giant halls is a stark contrast from the unglamorous entrance we see Louis CK make to a small comedy club every week during the opening credits for Louie.

The scene between Louis CK and Dane Cook was particularly enthralling on a first viewing. There’s the initial shock that Dane Cook, who is almost unanimously loathed among comedians, agreed to come on the show written and directed by a comedian who is almost unanimously loved by comedians (his motivation for appearing on the show was no clearer after the scene, either). There’s also the excitement of fan service for comedy nerds like myself who have long followed allegations of joke stealing by Dane Cook, Carlos Mencia, Robin Williams and this guy. With the advent of Youtube, joke stealing has gone from allegations and shaming among comedy peers to spectator sport. People can upload video for millions to watch Carlos Mencia steal a famous Bill Cosby bit. The fact that the joke thief and victim actually MEET and discuss the sin on a scripted television program is unprecedented.

Dane tells Louie that he can “totally” get Lady Gaga tickets.  “Easily. I know Lady Gaga,” he says. All Louie has to do is upload a video to Youtube telling the world that Dane Cook did not steal his jokes.  It’s a preposterous request. Consciously or subconsciously (I lean toward the former), Dane Cook DID parrot Louis CK’s material. But Louie needs Lady Gaga tickets. The scene continues to unfold with Dane asking Louie why he thinks he would risk his reputation by stealing three jokes when he has “hours of material.” Dane gets to play the victim throughout the scene as he tells Louie that the year that he began selling out arenas was tarnished by allegations of joke thievery. Dane Cook was hurt by the fact that people noticed that Dane Cook  stole jokes. The conversation gives Dane every opportunity to make his case that he wouldn’t steal jokes, couldn’t steal jokes and—and—and– why would he steal jokes? The problem with his argument and the scene is that he did steal jokes. It tries to give Dane the upper hand, but he comes across as an emotionally manipulative creep with a martyr complex and millions of dollars.

While the excitement of the scene begins to build early, the dialogue between the pair ultimately falls a bit flat and feels too scripted. The problem may have been that the scene was between two standup comedians with limited acting abilities. It may have been some of the silly asides almost certainly thrown in to make Louie look petty–he bickers with Dane’s use of”Two-Thousand AND Six” and recommends he switch to a natural laundry detergent. It’s a heavy-handed way to try to even the scales between Dane and Louie, but it doesn’t necessarily work. I have only seen the episode once, but I can’t imagine that it will hold up as well on a second viewing. The potential for greatness was all over the scene, but ultimately, the scene will stand more on its spectacle than its skill.

“Oh Louie/Tickets” begins with Louis CK deconstructing the family sitcom. Louie stars in a TGIFesque sitcom called “Oh Louie.” He walks in to the scene to loud studio applause, huge laughs follow every joke and his attractive wife laughs off his bad behavior. The “Oh Louie” scene is stopped when Louie questions why his sitcom wife would say she loved him after he said something mean. It’s well-worn territory and unfortunately, the episode does little to add to the conversation. It feels a little like a rejected sketch from another show. There are laughs–the studio audience erupts with applause after he asks if they are “buying this shit” and Louie walks into the scene with a backwards hat befitting the schlubbiest character in television history. While the second half of the episode feels like a lost opportunity of great ambition, the first half feels a little lazy.  The biggest laugh of the episode came during the credits, when the words “Guest Starring Dane Cook and Bob Saget” appear on the screen for the first— but presumably, not the last— time in television history.

“Subway;Pamela.”

FX

The rhythms of Louie are so gleefully unconventional that it’s almost shocking when the show does a conventional episode.  The bulk of “Subway; Pamela” may be the most conventional episode of the series so far. There are moments of dark, purile fun between Louie and Pamela, the only two recurring characters on the show other than Louie’s daughters, but the focus of the episode is unrequited love.  It’s certainly not a unique story, but it was one that felt earned, well crafted and believable.

The relationship between Louie and Pamela is the only relationship of any permanence on Louie outside of the father-daughter relationship. Louie’s relationships with his brother, sister and mother are typically one-episode stories that rarely feel like they are a part of the real world. In addition to its permanence, Louis CK has treated the relationship between Louie and Pamela as one of the few peer relationships on the series. Typically, other characters are on Louie to convey a broader point about society and give us insight into Louis CK’s mind. When Pamela appears on the show, it’s rarely as part of a plot device. She’s there for us to watch Louie and Pamela hang out. It is fitting that the first time we’ve seen a deeply vulnerable Louie came with Pamela.

Pamela begins the day with Louie accusing him of bringing her to a fancy restaurant to impress her. When Louie is forced to admit that it’s his first time at the restaurant, his attempts at subtlety start to unravel. The chemistry between Louis CK and Pamela Adlon, who played Louie’s wife in Lucky Louie, has been palpable throughout the run of the series. It started with “So Old/Playdate” in season 1, when Louie and Pamela connected after sitting through a series of inane complaints from self-absorbed parents at a PTA meeting at their kids’ school. Other than comedian friends and his contemptuous relationship with his physician friend played by Ricky Gervais, Pamela has been the only friend Louie has. The fact that he’s wanted more out of the relationship has been under the surface during all of their interactions.

When Louie makes a joke about the food being so good that he looked forward to eating his own shit, Pamela laughs, applauds and tells Louie that it’s the funniest thing he’s ever said. The exchange is probably the happiest we’ve ever seen Louie. It’s such a small, true moment for those of us who try to make other people laugh. Louie makes thousands of people laugh all the time, but this is different. There is such a sense of satisfaction in getting a genuine explosion of laughter from someone you love and respect. Louie is temporarily victorious. Of course, the power dynamics in the relationship are quickly restored when Pamela tells him that it was the first funny thing he has ever said. “You’re the unfunniest comedian in the world,” she tells him. Louie can only shyly nod.

Of course, the laughter is a curse. For those of us who often find acceptance and love through making people laugh, there can often be a disconnect between the intimacy of sharing a genuine laugh with a person and the actual reality of a relationship. I don’t know if I agree with the sad clown notion of comedy–that all funny people are sad on the inside. But I certainly believe that most attempts to make other people laugh come from a desperate place. Louie’s desperation becomes even more clear at an outdoor market, where he begs Pamela to listen to him talk about his feelings for her. She doesn’t want to hear them. She likes things the way they are. If she knows how he truly feels, nothing can be the same again.

And yet, Louie wants to finally express his feelings for her. It’s doomed from the beginning, but Louie plows ahead. The dynamics of the show are such that we’re expecting Louie to say something wildly inappropriate, shocking or sad, but he doesn’t. The monologue about his feelings for Pamela is particularly heartfelt, genuine and loving, which only makes it worse. Louie is hopelessly in love with Pamela. He knows the odds are against her feeling the same way, but he wants to finally put it out there. It’s a moment of identifiable pain for those of us who feel deeply, have a desire to express those feelings and immediately regret expressing them.

Pamela is flattered by Louie’s touching expression of undying love, but it’s not mutual. Louie can’t help but ask if there any chance that she could ever feel the same way. She doesn’t and she won’t. The fact that Louie keeps asking her if she’s sure about not loving him is one of the most tragic moments in a series full of tragedy. It’s also one of the most real moments. The entire exchange is firmly grounded in the real world. She pats Louie sympathetically and an embarrassed Louie regrets the vulnerability he was showing just seconds before. The entire dynamics of the relationship have changed. Louie promised that he would be fine with just being friends, but the sting of rejection is stronger than the desire to follow social code. When the two get to her apartment, Pamela offhandedly offers Louie a bath, which a scarred Louie rejects. The final scene of Louie screaming out of frustration when he learns that she wanted to share a bath with him is the first cliched comic moment of the episode. Despite the hobbled finish, the vignette is a familiar story of unrequited love told well.

While the second portion of the episode revolves around the power and pain of language, the first story in “Subway; Pamela” is virtually dialogue free. The vignette begins with Louie watching a talented violinist playing a beautiful song in the subway. Louie is transfixed by the loveliness in the unlikeliest of places. The concert is interrupted when a homeless man covered in garbage begins putting down plastic behind the man in a tuxedo playing a violin. The homeless man begins taking an impromptu shower by pouring water over himself. It’s yet another reminder that the beauty of the world can scarcely be appreciated without the ugliness of the world getting in the way. The same world that produced this beautiful piece of music produced the set of circumstances that led another human being to shower in a subway with a bottle of water.

The second part of the vignette features Louie on a subway staring at an unidentifiable puddle in a seat. Beautiful music begins to play and the screen turns black and white as Louie gets up and uses his shirt to soak up the puddle. It’s a well-shot moment of selflessness. The strangers on the train begin to smile lovingly at Louie, his faced is stroked by a large black woman and a middle-aged white man gives him a fist bump and nod of admiration. A pretty blonde lady stares at Louie and slowly kneels before a bewildered Louie, who is snapped back out of his fantasy. The entire vignette is well-worn territory and would probably fit better on a strictly sketch comedy show, but it’s so beautifully shot and executed that it works better on the show than it would on paper.

“Subway; Pamela” ends with Louie on stage talking about relationships. They’re cursed, of course. Louie talks about old married couples slowly developing a hatred for the person they chose to spend their lives with. Louie talks about old men who go on directionless walks—“he’s running out the clock on the rest of his life.” It’s a strangely comforting end to an episode about unrequited love. Even if his doomed plan to tell Pamela about his love would have resulted in mutual love, it’s still doomed.

“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.

“Moving.”

FX

“Life is shit wall to wall.”
-Louis CK, Hilarious.

It says a lot about Louie that one of the least dark episodes in the history of the show centers around a middle-aged man who tries to find a new home in a futile effort to absolve himself from the judgment of others, impress his children and purge the final connection to his ex-wife. All of the places Louie can afford are straight from an urban nightmare film of the 1970s, while the one place he sets his heart on owning is comically out of his grasp. The contrasts between the homes within his price range and the Former Home of Lenny Bruce are excellent examples of one of the underappreciated elements of Louie: the direction of the show.  The lighting, camerawork and music take viewers inside each of these homes with Louie. Every location looks and feels like it should.

One of the most poignant moments in the episode came with Louie walking in on a confused elderly man who will likely die alone. Soon. Louie has found regular sources of material in looking back. These scenes of young Louie have been some of the show’s best. We’ve seen young Louie terrified and taunted by religion and girls. We’ve seen a young Louie looking at present-day Louie with disgust. Now, we finish a tour of a depressing, filthy home with Louie looking ahead. And fittingly, the future isn’t bright. The lingering shot of Louie looking eye-to-eye with his future is equally fascinating and crushing. A man who is so clearly aware of his own mortality sees his future self as angry, alone, confused and in his underwear.

The episode was full of surreal moments: a homeless man exchange outside of the old man’s house, a spinning exchange between Louie and his Realtor and the increasingly filthy tale spun by Todd Barry to an oblivious Louie. The scene with Louie and Todd Barry sitting in a diner as a distracted Louie ignores his friend is a scene that has been done countless times in television and film comedies. The friend, tired of being ignored, says something outrageous. The distracted person misses it entirely. As usual, Louie takes the trope to new depths.

The journey ends with Louie sitting on a stoop in front of a home he’ll never own. His declaration that he will some day own this home sounded like a man approaching hopelessness who just wants to experience what hope sounds like when it comes out of his mouth. It didn’t sound right. Of course, it didn’t. Of course, he wasn’t going to own his dream home. We know this. Louis CK knows this. The final scene of Louie and his daughters painting the home he once shared with wife was one of the sweetest moments in a show bereft of sweet moments. But even the sweetness is underscored by the bitterness of failure. Louie started the episode searching for a new beginning, but ends it back where he started. Louie has accepted his fate.