Louie 4×01-4×02 ‘Back/Model’: All connected

Louie 4x01_2 Cover

Life is suffering.  That’s a pretty odd way to start out a review for a comedy show, but Louie isn’t really a comedy show.  It’s not really any kind of show.  It’s simply one man’s vision of what the world is like, what people are like, and how hard it is to make connections in a world where we’re so engulfed in our own suffering.  It’s the lens of absurdity that makes the suffering so much easier to digest.  Louis C.K.’s standup routine has always been remarkably morbid, but there’s a certain element of humor to the morbid, especially when it is told to us in such a nonchalant manner.  When we see how messed up the world is through Louis C.K.’s comedic translation, it’s just a little easier to smile.

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Source: FX

Louie has been off the air for 19 months now, all because Louis C.K. needed the time to recharge his creative battery in order to churn out something fresh and interesting.  And this may be the best start to a season of Louie yet.  Not only is this new season remarkably dream-like and fascinating, it’s immensely complex, touching on themes of connection, loneliness, parenting, human suffering, and masculinity, all in the short vignette medium that Louis C.K. has established in his show.  It’s an incredibly strong start to what looks to be Louie’s most ambitious season yet.

“Back” served as almost a rebranding of the show.  Louis C.K. starts off the episode talking about the fear of aging and how age just sneaks up on you, and the rest of the episode followed suit.  “Back” is filled with existential dread as a result of aging, from Louie being unsure how to bond with his daughters to his casual conversation about masturbation around the poker table.  Those older comedians are so drained by life that even masturbation is a chore, that they only do it if they’ve made time for it.  And when Louie goes to go buy a vibrator because one of his comedian friends thought it was a good idea, he’s so uncomfortable because he feels out of place.  But he always feels out of place.  Being 46 years old means getting to the point where society doesn’t place a great deal of value on you anymore.  Even his daughter, when he rants to her about the value of feeling pain, doesn’t want to listen.  All of the value is placed on the young; Louie recognizes this and pinpoints it as one of the main driving forces behind his crisis.

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Source: FX

This crisis is amplified by the pain that Louie feels in his back.  Unable to really move, he stumbles around the city, trying to find a doctor to take away the pain.  But the doctor tells him that the pain is there to stay, that feeling pain when you’re older is because the spine wasn’t meant to be used vertically the way that it’s used.  And it’s there that we see the heart and soul in Louie.  He’s not just talking about his suffering, he’s talking about everybody’s suffering, how everybody struggles from an existence that isn’t really meant for them.  Nobody is living the life that they want.  Nobody looks or acts or feels the way that they want.  Everybody is living an imperfect life, and sometimes it takes realizing that to move past our own suffering.

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Source: FX

“Back” may have been a strong premiere, but “Model” was brilliant.  If there’s one universal theme in today’s television (yes, even comedies), it’s connection.  People have such a difficult time connecting with one another because they’re engulfed by so many different issues.  They try so hard to look for similarities, but all they see is difference.  When Louie goes to the benefit, where Jerry Seinfeld invited him to do a “clean” act, the odds are so heavily stacked against Louie that it feels almost absurd.  He can’t think of any funny clean jokes.  He shows up to the benefit late.  He shows up wearing a black t-shirt instead of a tuxedo.  He doesn’t know anything about these people other than, yes, they have money and lots of it.  And so he bombs his set, unable to think of anything that these rich people would like to hear.  He doesn’t bomb because he’s doomed.  He bombs because he’s too fixated on difference, on what he and his audience don’t have in common.

But then, after the show, an attractive patron comes out to whisk him away to her massive house on the water.  It’s almost dream-like how Louie goes from being in a bar in New York City to being at this beach house, but we’re brought back down to Earth by the beautiful way that Louis C.K. frames our experience there.  Consider the shot where the model Blake throws off her clothes and dives into the water, carefree and giggling while Louie just stands on the beach, watching her go.  It’s a stationary shot of her running farther and farther away, becoming more out of focus with each passing second, until she disappears into the water entirely.  All the while, Louie isn’t moving, just watching her go away.  It’s the epitome of Louie’s life, watching others run away.  He feels as if nobody is going to accept him, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Blake may legitimately like him, but she’s just too energetic for him, too youthful, too exuberant.  But maybe Louie just can’t think of a way to assimilate.  Maybe that way is out there somewhere, waiting for him.

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Source: FX

But until that day, Louie is simply unable to connect.  He ends up accidentally hitting her in the face after being violently tickled, after which he is fined $5000 a month for the rest of his life in order to keep the case out of court.  It’s another one of those moments so dismal that the surreal nature of it all is the only thing keeping it from veering too far into misery.  But it’s the episode’s framing device that brings it all together.  Louie starts off the episode being rejected by this waitress; now she’s showering him with attention because of his sob story.  And that attention only makes him smile.  Despite being unable to connect like he thinks he has, he’s able to connect through his own suffering.  He translates that suffering into a universal language that helps others cope, and he connects through that comedy.  It’s a marvelous ending to a masterful episode of television.

So we all strive for connection, for companionship, for intimacy, but there’s always something holding us back from experiencing the full beauty of the connection that we have.  Whether it be insecurity or fear or a combination of the two, we choose instead to suffer now to keep us from presumably suffering later.  But Louie argues that we’re all already connected.  There’s something in our nature that connects us all, whether it be suffering or humor, and we need to focus on that in order to be happy in a world that doesn’t care at all about us.  Because maybe if we’re actually able to focus on the connection that we do have, then we’ll finally be able to be love ourselves for the beautiful people that we are.

What did you think of the premiere?  Which episode did you think was better, “Back” or “Model”?  Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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