Season Three, Episode Six: "Barney/Never"
Season Three, Episode Seven: "Ikea/Piano Lesson"
We've talked about this before, but one of the things that makes "Louie" so unique is that it's a half-hour comedy (from a stand-up comedian, no less) that's quite happy to go an episode without making you laugh. Sometimes the stand-up inserts will add a few gags, but some of the most memorable episodes have been closer to drama than straight-up sitcom (a description which barely ever fits the show). And certainly, this season, from Louie's trip to Miami to his date with Parker Posey's character, Louis C.K. hasn't been shy of just letting his stories play out organically without forcing jokes in.
But the last couple of weeks (apologies for the absence of a recap last week, due to unforeseen circumstances; we'll cover it below) have seen "Louie" reconnecting with his funny bone in a big way. The episodes haven't necessarily been stuffed with laughter, but often built to one big, major one, with four sharp vignettes across two episodes.
Last week's episode, "Barney/Never," started with one of Louis C.K.'s more Woody Allen-ish moments; a black and white credit sequence (up front, replacing the usual opening) accompanied by a mournful score, as Louie walks through a graveyard to a burial with only one other mourner, Robin Williams (looking somewhat like a Civil War general). Later, the pair (who it would appear have never met before) meet up again in a coffee shop. The funeral, it turns out, was for a comedy club owner, the titular Barney who, after a hilarious scene as the two try to feel out each other's opinions of the guy, it turns out they both hated (he stole $100,000 from Williams).
It turns out they came to the funeral for the same reason; they've been haunted by the idea that Barney might go into the ground without anyone there. Deciding to visit the strip club he loved so much as one last nod to his memory, they break the news to the dancers, but it turns out that he was much loved at the club. The strippers burst into tears, and Barney is described by the DJ, as he dedicates "Sister Christian" to the deceased, as a "good and generous man." It's essentially an extended sketch, but a profound one, and a strip club full of mourning strippers is one of funniest images C.K. has ever come up with.
Well, until "Never," the second part of last week's episode, which took a serious left-turn into the surreal. Emotionally blackmailed by a fellow parent into looking after her son, who's named Never, while she has her "vagina removed," Louie finds his own daughter Lily horrified by the concept of spending time with her portly, bow-tied classmate. He finds out why quickly when Never pushes a pram into the street, causing a pile-up and a chemical leak, which Louie scurries away from.
Back at home, Lily locks herself in her room, while Never wreaks havoc, pushing Louie's rug out the window, demanding raw meat in a bowl as the only thing he'll eat, and asking Louie to bathe him. The reluctant babysitter lets the kid take a bath while he does a radio interview (a little rote, to be honest both in the upbeat DJs — real-life radio figures Opie & Anthony — and in Louie's bashing of Kansas City, although partly redeemed by the way in which the DJs literally descended into gibberish), only to be met with a horrible smell, and in a gloriously disgusting climax, is told by Never "I diarrhead in the tub."
It's one of the broadest and silliest vignettes that the show has done, but it's redeemed slightly by Louie clearly realizing the kid has issues, and trying to have a heart to heart. The kid's response — that his mother has told him "Any choice I make is alright because I love myself," certainly rang true with regards to some of the little shits we've seen brought up by parents who want to be their kids' friends. Things close off in black and white again, with a cameo from "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star J.B. Smoove, as one of a pair of gravediggers, in a slightly flat coda. But it may just be that what came before was so good that it didn't matter so much.
This week's episode, "Ikea/Piano Lesson," didn't quite hit the giddy heights of the one before (indeed, it might be the low point of the season so far, with that being a relative term for a series of such consistent excellence), but still had plenty of pleasures in there. The first segment, and by far the briefest of the four, was "Ikea," which served as something of a sequel to last season's "Blueberries," with the return of fellow parent Dolores (Maria Dizzia), with whom Louie had a typically awkward and disastrous one-night stand.
She claims she has "residual feelings," and after failing to convince Louie to come to therapy with her, offers to trade a blowjob if he'll accompany her to Ikea that weekend. Louie vaguely tries to be a gentleman, but agrees. As anyone who's ever been knows, Ikea is the place that relationships go to die (we loved the young couple promising that they'll never become like that), and Louie becomes a sort of surrogate husband for Dolores, the two slipping into essentially a marital argument, leaving her crying in his arms. Her character is such an obvious train wreck of a human being that it felt a little meanspirited in places, but was partially redeemed in an ending with the two finding a kind of easy truce in the van on the way back, with Dolores telling him, business-like, "Notify me when you want me to suck it."
In "Piano Lesson," Louie wants to learn how to play, even at the age of 44, but the titular event is cancelled when Louie gets a call from Maria Bamford, his one-night-stand from a few episodes ago telling him he has crabs, which sends Louie off to the pharmacist. Recovering at home, he stumbles upon a program showing stand-up clips from the 1980s, including him and Sarah Silverman. He calls her, two old friends catching up, but things are thrown a little when he also sees footage of Marc Maron (now best known as the host of the WTF Podcast), who he fell out with ten years earlier and hasn't seen since.
Louie realizes at that moment that he was at fault and decides to put things right with Maron. He goes over and apologizes, only to be told by a boxers-clad, somewhat baffled Maron that C.K. had already apologized five years ago. It's a riff on the real-life relationship between the two, and C.K's appearance on the podcast last year, but while the final gag was a good one (and an honest one; showing that sometimes, too much water has gone under the bridge), it felt a little flat in comparison to their real-life interview, and may have been a little confusing to those unaware of the real-life backstory.
After the extended two-part "Daddy's Girlfriend" storyline, it was good to have something of a palette cleanser, even if this week's episode wasn't as sharp. At the mid-point of the season, we're not sure if the show has come out with a solid-gold classic to match something like "Duckling" last season, but it continues to be thrilling to see how "Louie" shifts and changes week to week.
"Ikea"/"Piano Lesson" [B]
Bits And Pieces
– It was nice to see Robin Williams turning up in the show and giving a good little performance. We're not sure if the two are close in real life or if, as in the show's universe, they only met recently, but we'd still be keen to see a spin-off where the two team up and solve mysteries.
– If you recognize Maria Dizzia, it's most likely from "Martha Marcy May Marlene," but the actress has also appeared in films like "Margin Call," "Lola Versus" and the upcoming "Keep The Lights On." While we have our reservations about the character, she's pretty terrific.
– If you've never heard it, Maron's WTF Podcast is pretty much a must-listen every week, and the two-part interview with C.K. is one of the highlights. You can download it here or subscribe to the app to get the complete archives. Maron doesn't have much acting experience ("Almost Famous" is his most prominent role to date), but he acquits himself well here, which bodes well for the "WTF" sitcom co-starring Ed Asner, which will air on IFC next year.
– Maria Bamford continues to kill it in her appearances. Her kiss off, "Fuck you, or sorry," was the biggest laugh in this week's episode. We hope she keeps cropping up.
– Holy shit, young Louis C.K.! We had no idea he looked like that in his 20s, and that was kind of terrifying, however Sarah Silverman looks pretty much unchanged.