“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.

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“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.

“Come on, God.”

FX

“Uh, no, I know the darkness.”

Louis CK has a dim view of sex. It’s eternally tied to sadness, shame and failure. In the second season alone, Louie’s had sex with a crying woman asking for forgiveness from her “daddy” and Joan Rivers. His one chance for satisfying sex was a missed opportunity. It’s only natural that Louis CK dedicated an entire episode of Louie for defending masturbation, while marrying it with sadness, shame and failure. And flatulence.

The episode opens with Louie on a Fox News talk show. Louie is debating masturbation with a prim, young lady from “Christians Against Masturbation (CAM).” The entire segment is dreamlike, teetering between a fantastical, comic invention of a modern-day prude and the real-life absurdity of a cable news debate. The actress portraying the anti-masturbation activist is a little on the nose with her doe-eyed rhetoric on “purity” and the “crime” of self-abuse, but the scene manages to keep her from simply being a punching bag for Louie. It follows well-worn territory on debate in Louie’s universe: his logic is sound, but his tactics are all wrong.  In season one, Louie ends an Obama debate with Nick DiPaolo by calling the conservative comic a fascist. During season two, he’s tried to make deep observations about life to his daughters, only to abandon the point and teach them nothing. It’s an important distinction from most comedies with strong-minded writers, who use typically use debate as a way to set up comically-inept opposition to give the lead an opportunity to easily prove the writer’s point.

Even in a debate as silly as whether masturbation should exist, Louie manages to foul it up. After Louie condescendingly asks the anti-masturbation activist if she’s ever been married, she asks him if he’s ever been happy. She’s quickly found Louie’s kryptonite. If Louie hasn’t found happiness via masturbation, marriage or anything else he’s tried, how can he be trusted? It’s a faulty argument, of course. We know that Louie simply lives honestly in his unhappiness, which would undoubtedly be magnified by any life choice he makes. The host, Louie and CAM spokesperson sit in silence as he ponders the question about his lifelong unhappiness.

He finally responds with a delayed bit of childish rage. Her purity meetings sound like a “bunch of bullshit,” he says. He wags his finger at her, tells her that she doesn’t know anything more about being happy than he does. God probably hates people who try to tell other people how to live, he says. Then, Louie is forced to defend his existence during a debate on masturbation. It’s a fascinating, honest look at one man’s world falling in around him during a debate where logic is on his side. Television news in 2011 is a sturdy platform for self-assured, self-satisfied people with a consistent point over self-doubting, honest people who are wrestling with their own beliefs. Turn on cable news at any time of the day and you will likely find a talking head speaking with absolute certainty on an issue. The content is secondary to portraying a sense of certainty. Louie is a mess of uncertainty, self-loathing and doubt. He defiantly tells his anti-masturbation debate adversary that he will masturbate tonight thinking about her, then angrily removes his microphone and storms off the set. Louie wasn’t made for cable news.

The second act of this twisted morality play begins with Louie sharing an elevator with a pretty lady. The scene makes no effort to hide where it’s going. In an episode that begins with Louie defending masturbation (the only person willing to go on national television to do so, we’re told), there is absolutely no doubt that the elevator woman will return in Louie’s fantasies. While the setup is clear, the strange and surreal places the fantasy devolves into are some of the series’ highlights. Masturbation is a common theme in comedy, but the jokes normally lie in fantasies being interrupted by another person. Louie ruins his own moment of self-pleasure all by himself.

The fantasy elevator woman asks Louie to place a bag of penises inside her. Fantasy Louie peers into his plastic grocery bag, which is filled with penises. The bag of dicks device is a rare use of the series referencing one of Louis CK’s standup bits about, appropriately enough, a bag of dicks. Unlike Lucky Louie, which opens the entire series with an enactment of one of Louis CK’s standup bits (around the 7:30 mark of the video), Louis CK has been very conservative with his enactments of his standup material in Louie.  The use of “bag of dicks” as the first direct reference to his past standup material is such a perfectly-odd time to start. The fantasy elevator woman appears slightly annoyed with Louie throughout the fantasy, which progresses with fantasy Louie clumsily trying to fit an entire plastic bag of penises inside the woman’s vagina. If there is another show in the history of television that could produce the previous sentence in a straight-faced review, I have never seen it.

The fantasy continues with an elderly Asian man getting on the elevator and telling Louie that there is “no room” for the bag. Elderly Asian man then muses “American women–are very complicated.” The statement is the final straw in the fantasy that keeps spiraling down into a nightmare. Fantasy Louie and real-life Louie both give up. It’s an unforgettable scene that can’t been unseen–no matter how hard we may try–on a show that’s been full of uniquely-memorable moments. While I firmly believe that the fart joke from the season debut was the greatest moment of film or television flatulence, the fantasy in “Come on, God” is undoubtedly the moment by which all other comic masturbation scenes will be judged.

When we next see Louie, he has decided to attend one of the purity meetings he deemed “bullshit” earlier in the episode. It’s particularly telling that Louie’s attendance of an anti-masturbation meeting is in itself an act of self-abuse. The anti-masturbation activist begins to warm to Louie over a drink at a bar, where he admits that he has difficulty mustering up charm without the possibility of sex. It’s a great observation in an otherwise dreamlike episode. The woman tells Louie to pretend like there’s a possibility of them sleeping together. The pair begin talking about sex, which prompts Louie to share the story of the loss of his virginity, which ended with semen, flatulence and derisive laughter. If it’s a true story from Louis CK’s life, it likely explains why his material on sex has been a twisted mix of desire, embarrassment and disgust.

The conversation between the pair continues in her suite, where she changes into a silk nightgown and talks with Louie about her religious beliefs. The religious talk ends when Louie tries to kiss the virginal, purity lecturer. It doesn’t go well, but the moment begins a moment of fantasy for the CAM activist. The fantasy, which involves getting to know Louie and very slowly building toward marital consummation, reveals that her fantasy is just as twisted as Louie’s. It’s a fantasy of withholding pleasure that she’s clearly ran through her head countless times. She’s cruelly teasing him with the possibility of mythical shame-free sex blessed by the lord. The scene ends with Louie masturbating alone in a bathroom, where his delayed satisfaction is finally realized with the same shame–and flatulence–of his first time.  Yeah, he knows the darkness.

“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.