I’ve got to give F/X credit. Even with being the cable cousin of Fox, a network where airing a show called Angry Hippos Chase the Obese would raise no brows, they’re brave to give Louie a shot (and Louis C.K almost complete creative control). Granted, they’ve kept It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on the air for half a decade, but the political incorrectness seen there is always tempered by a glaze of zaniness. What seems to be one of the crucial and distinctive qualities of Louie is its sincerity. At the start of “Poker/Divorce,” a group of comics sit around a poker table and spend several minutes of airtime discoursing about tamped-down dick diamonds, gay masturbation orgies and the origins of the word “faggot”. It’s typical TV-MA, but none of it is played for cheap, profane thrills. Sure, there are funny people saying funny things, but it feels legitimately organic. The scene slides between irreverent guy-talk to quiet seriousness more assuredly--without cheaply trolling for false depth-- than the show should have any right to. That level of craft being displayed this early in a show’s run is promising and very exciting.
That opening scene challenges what seemed to be the formula established in the pilot episode: stand-up, vignette, stand-up, vignette. It exists in isolation, neither led-in nor followed by any similarly-themed stand-up routine. But it has such a controlled pace and pitch that it works in isolation. Maybe that roundtable will be a recurring opening segment. I’d certainly be open to the possibility.
The bulk of the show features Louis freshly divorced from, as he puts it, the “really shitty time machine” of marriage. He tries to stay positive, but his brother stirs his well-established fatalistic pessimism: “You signed a paper that says you’re going to die alone in a room with a thin sheet of paper over you.” The following stand-up bit, consequently, has Louis acknowledging that his life will exponentially worsen from here on out. Louis’s optimism is a fickle thing.
While rummaging through some shoebox nostalgia, he comes across the yearbook picture of a bad-girl from his past. Cut to flashback of 14-year-old Tammy (estimate, but neither young- Louis nor young-Tammy look more than that) giving Louis her dead dad’s hospital bracelet because “it’s some creepy shit, right?” In his fantasy, Louis imagines adult Tammy as never having entered any sort of shitty time machine, fully recuperating her adolescent hotness in adulthood. So, he decides to play “couldabeen” and look her up on Facebook, which prompts him to remember a separate encounter in which a Peppermint Schnapps-buzzed Tammy implores him to whip it out. He meets her at her cluttered house, but the Tammy of today is still very much in that shitty box: haggard, overweight, anchored by the demands of being married with kids. She doesn’t remember him, but when he tells her he didn’t have the guts to whip it out back then, the two go at it like only two past-their-prime fortysomethings can. For Louis, it’s an acceptance of that exponential worsening. He acknowledges that, while things may be as good as they were, they’re also never going to be better than they are now. He might as well make hay while the sun’s still just partially beclouded. C.K’s punchline to that whole vignette is that, as editor, he decided to lead in the last routine over the visual of two overweight adults fumbling over each other with awkward fervor: “If nobody ever told me not to fuck animals…” Buttoning the episode with a bit advocating for (consensual) beastiality? Balls, Louis. Mammoth-grade.
- Louis C.K is succeeding in all capacities he’s assigned himself: star, writer, director, editor. He’s taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by a single-camera set-up, namely the ability for intimate back-and-forth close-ups, used in this episode for the hilarious transportation of adult Louis and Tammy into the “whip it out” flashback. He also made a jarringly effective cut from his first stand-up bit to his stone-faced and, for a couple seconds, motionless divorce lawyer. He’s demonstrating a deft hand for tonal transitions.
-I really respect the fact that, so far, none of the vignettes are direct translations of previous stand-up material not in the show. There have been some small moments, in this and the pilot, that evoke the ideas— Louis checking himself out in the mirror mirrors his bit about the only commonality between a 40 year old man and a 13 year old girl being the discovery of breasts—but on the whole he seems to be going in fresh.
-Nice touch: Among the items worth saving for decades in his shoebox: a measly 3rd place medal.