It’s unfortunate how quickly an agenda can ruin a perfectly good episode of Louie. It’s a problem that’s occasionally creeped into the show since the beginning, but last night’s episodes were far and away the worst, delivering its message with a level of subtlety that would embarrass a public service announcement. It was so obnoxious that ignoring this aspect of “So Did the Fat Lady” is impossible, as to a large extent there’s little else to the episode. Everything built to those last couple of minutes, and once they hit, they eclipsed everything that came before, sucking the fun out of a room like a man getting up in the middle of a dinner party and refusing to sit down again until finishing a lengthy speech.
It’s especially unfortunate because what came before in the episode was great. Louis ignores the request for a date by an overweight waitress working at a comedy club, then goes with a friend for an afternoon of “bang bang.” That is to say, they have an entire meal at one restaurant, then repeat this at another right before they go on a diet and begin exercising (which, needless to say, never happens). It’s a sort of bachelor party for their stomachs, and while both men clearly enjoy this, Louis couldn’t be more embarrassed to admit it to another waitress, one who happens to be an attractive fan of his. It’s all pretty entertaining, and while it underscores Louis’ weight problems with a somewhat disappointing blatancy, it also does so through with a story. The waitress at the club has to entice Louis to date her through a pair of very expensive hockey tickets, and there’s interesting things going on with regard to gender role stereotypes and weight. All of this plays very well, but once the pair goes on a date, it isn’t long before things come to a screeching halt.
When the waitress mentions to Louie how difficult it is for a fat woman to date in New York, he responds by saying that she’s not fat. At this point, both she (and the camera) unhinge and the episode grinds to a halt. Up until the credits roll and the titular joke arrives, the next five minutes of “So Did the Fat Lady” consist of her ranting about how difficult it is to be fat. Apparently this PSA is so important to Louis C.K. that he wanted to devote an entire episode of television to it and hope that the message is anything less than grating. Getting beyond the fact that it’s a man ventriloquizing his opinions through this woman (which, I should add, is pretty difficult if not impossible to ignore), there’s the dawning realization that this entire episode has just been the way Louis chose to convey his message, and as such, this is barely even an episode of television at all.
This is exactly the type of didactic, rhetoric-spewing that I hate in any work of art, be it literature, television, music etc. I am not saying that this monologue has no merit to it, or that this is something not worth addressing. The method being taken here is both infantile and condescending to the audience. It’s difficult for me to separate from the PSA metaphor I used earlier, because ultimately, that’s what the entire episode is reduced to. I was reminded of something Douglas Adams wrote in response to a question about the meaning of one of his novels, to which he responded, “No message. If I’d wanted to write a message I’d have written a message. I wrote a book.” Here, Louis C.K. wanted to write a message, but instead of just typing it up on Twitter, he told it in a 22-minute television spot on FX and showed absolutely no respect for his audience. Rather than the joke, I would’ve preferred it if the episode ended with a “The More You Know” tag.
After being disappointed by the last two episodes of Louie, I was looking forward to “Elevator Part 1” because it was the beginning of a long arc and might take Louie away from some of its creator’s bad habits. It surprised me, partially because of how long it took to get to the elevator half, and partially because of how little humor it had. Instead, the first half of the episode features Louis dealing with a crisis when his daughter runs out of a subway car and onto the platform. It was tense, not funny, but still enjoyable and a bit strange due to his daughter’s conviction that all of this was a dream. There’s some situational ridiculousness, but it was undercut by the ferocity of Louis and his ex-wife yelling at his daughter. Largely, I ended up wondering why Louis wanted to tell this story, but it was less a misfire than an interesting short film that doesn’t fit terribly well with Louie’s usual tone.
Upon returning to his apartment building, Louis finds the elevator stuck—and with an older woman stuck in it. When he goes to retrieve her pills, he runs into her niece sleeping on the couch and startles her while trying to tell her about her aunt. In short, it’s a Louie-style meet-cute, which is fitting considering that the “Elevator” storyline is six episodes long, which is to say that it’s really a chopped up feature film. However, there isn’t much besides an introduction here, and not a particularly enticing one, either. There were a handful of funny moments (particularly Louis’ trip to the bathroom), but nothing that was really special. This episode will probably play better when connected with what comes afterwards, but as the first part of a serial, it wasn’t terribly enticing.
I always want to root for Louie because I have such respect for the way the show is made, not to mention its desire to keep changing and pushing its own identity and rules. However, after the first episode, this season has been pretty tone deaf to me, rarely humorous and more concerned with making its points than telling compelling stories. That doesn’t mean it will remain that way, but this pairing, at the very least, was a disappointing double-feature, and one of the more frustrating things I’ve seen in a very long time.