By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist June 29, 2012 at 10:05AM
Since "Louie" was last on the air, its star and creator, Louis C.K. has been having a moment. He won the AFI Award for best TV series, got two Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Lead Actor in a comedy, and has broken ground in terms of cutting out the middle man, selling tour tickets and his stand-up special directly to consumers (and in the latter case, giving much of the money to charity). All that, and he's been cast in Woody Allen's next film too.
And the influence of Allen, always a key one, felt particularly prevalent in the excellent second season finale of his show. For the newcomers (and the show is essentially stand-alone week-by-week, so it's easy to jump in at any moment), C.K. plays Louie, a slightly different fictional variation on himself, namely a stand-up comedian of moderate success, divorced, with young children. The shows are usually bookended with stand-up sequences, with one or two short films usually on a semi-related theme in between.
The opener, "Something Is Wrong," essentially told one story, and that's always when the show's at its best, giving it a little more room to breathe. After an amusing (if not quite A-grade) stand-up set about the favorite theme of masturbation, we find Louie's been in a vaguely "Manhattan"-ish relationship with the significantly younger April (former child star Gaby Hoffman, herself an Allen vet from "Everyone Says I Love You") for some time. Neither are clearly happy; they meet in a cafe, and she's a little prickly, and he's pretty much incapable of saying anything.
She quickly works out that he wants to break up with her, and cajoles him into (sort of) doing so through his silence. Feeling a little unmanned, and his car smashed into the ground after a run-in with some obscure parking conditions and a digger (the episode's comic highlight), Louie ends up impulsively buying a motorbike, and an encounter with a wheelie-happy bike gang sees him crash almost immediately, ending up in the hospital. Returning home, bruised, but ok, April comes over to pick up her laptop, and looks after him, causing him to ask her to stay, but again, she accuses him of not being "enough of a man" to actually break up with her, and leaves again.
All in all, it's not what you'd call a classic sitcom plot (it's extraordinary to think the show's now airing on the same night and network as the wretched Charlie Sheen vehicle "Anger Management"), but as ever, the devil is in the details. For all of C.K's unfussy, naturalistic direction, the show doesn't take part in anything like the real world; from the out of nowhere motorcyclists to the hilariously unmotivated trashing of his car (a lovely little performance as the head of the road crew by Adam Sietz) to the screaming old lady at the hospital, unseen until her final line -- "What about Obama?" -- there's a surreal tinge of chaos to the whole thing. Even the cab that he flags down at the hospital -- stopping just beyond him, then driving off -- seems designed to torment him, placing Louie somewhere between Larry David and Woyzeck.
All in all, "Louie" hasn't skipped a beat since its superb second season (which we named one of our favorite shows of the last year a few weeks back), and it's as strong a return as we could hope for, and word is things only get better from here. [A]
Bits And Pieces
- This episode marks the first time we've seen Louie's ex-wife, played by African-American actress Susan Kelechi Watson. Given that his kids have shown no sign of being mixed-race in the past, it's another lovely touch to remind us that this isn't quite the real world. We suspect that we'll be seeing much more of her, and her boyfriend, played by Gary Wilmes, as the series progresses.
- The moment as Louie bonds with a stranger over the contradictory, befuddling parking scenes was a lovely one, and was certainly recognizable for anyone who's ever desperately tried to find a spot.
- C.K. becomes a better and better director as time goes on, it would seem; his handling of this episode seemed particularly confident. We've said it before, but if someone were to step up and give him the same one-movie-a-year, total creative freedom arrangement that Woody Allen has, we'd be delighted.
- This is something of an experiment, but if we see that the demand is there, we'll be covering the rest of the series each week. So if you want to see more, let us know.