Although there’s fundamentally very little difference between television and film, episodic storytelling is vastly different on the smaller screen. Louie is a show that is ambitious enough to shoot every episode as if it were a mini-feature. It draws its influences primarily from Woody Allen, Robert Downey, David Lynch and John Cassavetes rather than, say, Seinfeld, and unsurprisingly falters often when it comes to long-form storytelling. That being said, every season of the show has become more and more serial, for better and worse, and a lot of the problems that have cropped up in the fourth season have come as a result of Louie trying to tell a feature-length story in chopped up bits that don’t quite work as individual episodes.
I admire Louis C.K. for growing his show, for trying to give it more continuity and dwell on decidedly unfunny events, but the “Elevator” storyline has been rather rough. It has improved as it’s continued, though, and “Elevator Part 4” and “Part 5” were both stronger than what we’ve seen before, even though that’s grading on a bit of a curve. Particularly effective was the therapy session that took up much of last night’s first episode. This segment managed something Season Four has consistently had trouble with, walking the tightrope of dealing with the real issue of where Jane is supposed to go to school and both treating it seriously and finding some modicum of humor. Instead of the tone deafness we saw earlier, here there’s black humor as Louis literally screams outside during the middle of their therapy session, yet things continue onwards. The actual therapist herself and her wonderfully illogical advice was a great way of beginning the wrap of the story, not to mention it was well-matched by the parents’ somewhat confused conversation downstairs.
The second half of the episode, which flashed back to the night of Lilly’s conception, was much more mixed. As it’s a flashback, it’s only natural that other actors were used to play Louis and Janet, but once again, Janet’s race had changed, which calls attention to itself in a self-congratulatory way. It’s a political move that felt almost as much of a lecture as the many speeches we’ve seen this season. That being said, my issue with the flashback was that it felt far too neat, far too perfect a way for this family to have formed. That Janet became pregnant after the pair had decided to divorce felt like the cliché of the cop getting killed one day before his retirement. It’s the type of easy irony that I feel Louie used to make fun of yet now has made a habit or returning to.
Was that story so interesting that it needed to be told with a flashback? It deepens our understanding of Louis and Janet’s history, but part of what made them so compelling in the past was that the show didn’t need to show this. This question seems particularly relevant given the anecdote that begins in “Part 5” after a couple minutes of other material. I was rather enchanted by Todd Barry’s dull story of triumph, as it felt like the old Louie to me, particularly the wonderful crowd that gathers around to hear about the way he corrects this miscommunication. This pointlessness is the point here, but to me, the flashback from the previous episode, while more obviously relevant, was in fact that one that would’ve been better left untold.
The second half of “Part 5” has Louis once again rescuing Evanka from an elevator, and afterwards she asks him how serious he is with Amia. Finall,y this storyline manages to make the Amia romance feel more real, to give it stakes and take it away from the realm of being just another quirky rom-com, but the scene’s weirdly retrograde politics kept me from entirely enjoying this. First. there was the implication that a relationship has to be about sex in order for it to be meaningful, which was then followed by the equally irritating point that this sex immediately ruins what had been there before. It’s a weirdly puritanical view on sex and love that I just wasn’t comfortable with. I enjoyed giving Amia more of a personality in this episode than before, but the direction it’s headed has been neither surprising nor funny (nor particularly entertaining).
In both episodes, there were some wonderfully strange things that felt more fitting in an episode of Louie. The doctor’s hatred for being bothered at his apartment even to rescue a dying woman and the weather reports about a devastating hurricane were strong material. But moments like these were infrequent, and Louis C.K. as creator seems to believe that he’s just as good at creating compelling drama as he is at surreal comedy. Unfortunately, he isn’t, and the continuation of these storylines hasn’t done much to improve their content. Instead, it’s made ideas that felt unfit to take up the focus of one episode expand over much of the entire season.