The final sequence of “Ikea/Piano Lesson,” last night’s “Louie,” felt if not quite on par with still certainly akin to the great, uncomfortable episode last season in which Louie (and Louis C.K.) sat down to talk to “Dane Cook” (and Dane Cook) about the accusations that the latter stole his some of his jokes. Like that, the scenes with podcaster extraordinaire and future IFC series star Marc Maron are instances of comedian inside baseball, demanding the context of the real life relationship between the two people on screen to be fully understood. The beef between C.K. and Cook was more public, contentious and easily graspable — a clash over lifted material and perceptions of integrity. The ties between C.K. and Maron, who were once very good friends, is more complicated — fortunately, these details are available at a download.
So Louie’s whimsical attempt at self-improvement via piano lessons is nipped in the bud by a very grown-up and non-whimsical problem — crabs, the news delivered by Maria Bamford in a callback to episode four of this season with a base-covering “so *bleep* you… or sorry, I don’t know which one.” After watching a woman at the pharmacist go through a humiliating “consultation” about the quality of her bowel movements, he treats the problem and then settles in for the consolation of TV, where he catches an ’80s “Retro Comedy Showcase” featuring young incarnations of him, Sarah Silverman and Maron.
The show places that archival footage in the background while in the foreground Louie looks at his present-day self via his laptop webcam, showing how much time has passed while emphasizing in its choice of material that the comedian’s voice has been pretty consistent. There’s a definite melancholy to the moment, and Silverman, who he calls when she comes on screen next, seems able to handle this look back into the past a bit better — “‘I was so cute, and I didn’t know better!’ — it’s a lot of those kind of jokes,” she points out. And then Maron comes on, prompting Louie to reflect on the fight they had ten years ago and to realize it was actually all his fault, and that he’d like to make amends.
Where the scene in Maron pales a little next to the one with Cook, I think, isn’t in the stakes being lower — Cook and C. K., as far as I know, still aren’t friends, and there’s a frisson of genuine antagonism and begrudging truth-telling to that earlier sequence — it’s that Maron is the one getting stung here. The Cook scene found C. K. allowing himself to be taken to task for playing the artistic martyr and letting other people battle Cook on his behalf, and there was an element of self-critique and self-examination to the conversation, of things being said that had previously only been thought out in private. In last night’s episode, the roles were switched, with Louie taking on the role Maron played in the actual equivalent to their on-screen talk, the epic two hour podcast conversation he had with C. K. in which the two hashed out what happened between them.
The apology Louie offers is sincere and heartfelt, but in some ways empty in that it’s only that — on “Louie,” Maron points out that Louie had come over five years ago and did the exact same thing once before, something he’d forgotten, and that their relationship has apparently been unchanged since. If you really want to reestablish a friendship, you have to do the work of actually being a friend, asking how someone is, going out to coffee, spending the time — being a friend. In real life, C. K. revealed that he felt abandoned by Maron, who confessed to being resentful over his success, during his divorce when he needed support. Whatever the issue between the two comedians fictional equivalents, it’s obviously not as important as the sense, for C. K., that an apology by itself can be a selfish or at least self-concerned act. It’s a solid point, but even if Louie is made to be the bad guy on screen here, there’s a sense of finger-pointing that’s unusual to the show, which typically makes its main character and the man playing him take the hardest knocks.