Normal television shows are plot-based. People love stories in their scripted shows, and while some filmmakers are willing to allow aspects other than plot to drive their flicks,TV’s a much more inherently commercial medium, so plot has always come first. But Louie is different from practically every other narrative television show in that its plots are relatively unimportant, at times even non-existent. There’s a sense in which it’s always been a series of vignettes, short films not too different from those Louis C.K. had been working on for decades. They’re edited together in order to fill up an FX timeslot, and the show’s aggressively non-narrative structure makes it closer to a sketch show than anything else.
What drives Louie instead is a combination of thematic ties and the creator’s sense of what works well together. There’s also an element of just plain whimsy—the show is deliberate, but no Kubrickianly so, such that it always leaves space for accidents. “Something Is Wrong” centers around Louis’ inability to express himself (largely due to fear), and the problems this causes. It’s not a terribly strong tie, given that communication problems are to some extent what Louie has always been about, but that’s not really important. Even Seinfeld at its most rule-breaking extremes had more of a plot than that, but with Louie this small jumping-off point is enough to give the episode the modicum of coherence it needs.
“Something Is Wrong” begins with Louis telling standup, and it’s not until two scenes (“sketches” in a way, but with Louis the term seems inappropriate) later that the episode’s real throughline appears. However, the contrast between the Louis C.K. we see in the first scene and the Louis we see in third is striking. On-stage, Louis is free to speak his mind, and he’s brilliant and unencumbered. This is his element, as usual. In a diner, though, he literally cannot speak and resorts to grunts, half-hearted assertions and a naive hope that his girlfriend can read his mind. Unsurprisingly, they break up, though whether he broke up with her or she broke up with him remains a difficult question to answer.
Leaving the diner where they met, his car is crushed by a construction project that seems to have erected around it for the sole purpose of demolishing his vehicle. Seeing a motorcycle shop, he purchases one on the spot based upon completely misreading or at the very least ignoring the store clerk’s message that it will definitely injure him. Hospitalized, he gets his ex-wife to pick up their children and meets with his now ex-girlfriend for another terrible meeting when she arrives to pick up her laptop from his apartment. Once again he won’t verbalize what he thinks about their relationship and how he feels about her, and a few moments later she leaves him, clearly in wonder of what she ever saw in the comedian.
The funniest part of the episode was also the one least related to the rest. In it, Louis and some other random person attempt to read a parking sign. This goofy bit is actually the heart of the episode, and is returned to as the credits role. The series of signs erected in order to make clear when a parking spot is available instead serves to baffle them and gives several messages at the same time. It’s a bit that feels like it could’ve come straight from an early Woody Allen movie (which comes as no surprise, given the immense influence Allen’s works continue to have on Louis), absurdity that’s also straight to the point.
One of the best things about Louie is that even though its episode had a focus, the show by no means felt the need to beat us over the head with it. The scenes work perfectly well in and of themselves, but together they do add up to something more because of the way they piggyback off each other. The silent accumulation of meaning is something Louie is best at, just letting things sit, well aware that its metaphors don’t need to be understood in order for them to be enjoyed. After an episode of Louie, even an intelligently written show like Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire feels like it’s trying too hard with its symbols, holding its audience’s hands. Louie’s maturity is much of why the show always feels so alien, so much closer to film than anything on TV.
The show didn’t return to the air with guns blazing, letting loose with a torrent of hilarious moments, neither did it really try something new. As much as there can be one, this was a complete return to form for Louie, a first episode that seems concerned with delivering the same rewards as the past two seasons. However, because the show features so many different types of content, this doesn’t feel as stale as it would on other scripted comedies. Instead, it was just refreshing to see that the show hasn’t lost its spark, an opening that makes it clear that season three will likely be as good as the first two.
•I can’t be the only one who just enjoyed watching a bulldozer crush a car like an empty soda can.
•”So it’s actually smart to buy a motorcycle.”
•The woman screaming for help in the hospital was a great detail.
•I feel like I should at least mention the way Louis cast his wife in the show as black despite their children on the show being as white as he is. It’s a choice that consciously calls attention to itself and is intentionally distracting, but here’s my question for you: was calling into question show casting like this a good thing, or did it distract too much from the episode at hand?