“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.