Louie, Ep. 3.05: “Daddy’s Girlfriend” has the manic pixie blues

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Louie, Season 3, Episode 5: “Daddy’s Girlfriend, Pt. 2”
Written by Louis C.K.
Directed by Louis C.K.
Airs Thursdays at 10:30pm ET

If it wasn’t already clear, the second half of “Daddy’s Girlfriend” makes it so: Louie is just about ready to leave comedy behind completely. The standup segments that have appeared in every episode have gotten trimmed to the point of being nearly perfunctory (lately, they’ve been appearing at the top of the half-hour and then never again), and the principal “plot” segments are more exploratory and loose than ever before.

If you’re not fond of that development, “Pt. 2” is unlikely to change your mind, but for us converts, it’s a hell of a way to spend 22 minutes. After scoring a date with the almost suspiciously pretty Liz (Parker Posey) in last week’s episode (resulting in a climactic fist-pump), Louie meets her outside of the bookstore she works at in order to have their first (and last?) date. Louie is traditionally generous with its guest stars, but this episode takes it to new heights; Louie barely gets a word in edgewise for the entire episode, with Liz rambling left and right about her family history, her near-death experience as a teenager, and whatever else might be rattling around in her brain at any given moment.

The episode walks a fine line, and I’m willing to bet CK knows it. Liz is clearly a variant of the dreaded Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the quirky archetype that exists purely to facilitate the personal development of a male protagonist. “Daddy’s Girlfriend” manages to cannily dodge the icky implications of that cliché, both despite and partially due to its TV-mandated truncated runtime. Liz is quirky, sure, but she’s also genuinely troubled, in ways we never quite get a handle on. (That’s reflected in the bar sequence, in which a bartender turns her away after noting her overindulgence in nights past.) And unlike, say, Garden State, there’s no reason to think that Liz could ever lead Louie to some greater happiness. Their date is mostly a marathon of embarrassment, and even if it leads to a beautiful rooftop view of the city, we never get the sense that there’s real understanding between them.

Louie‘s indie-film aesthetic has never been more prominent. The episode has an intoxicating on-the-fly feel; the cameraman’s shadow lurks behind Liz and Louie as they walk and talk, spiralling around them as Louie’s hopes for their date fade with every new conversational tangent. Their almost bacchanalian buffet at a fish market is lovingly edited with quick cuts and chamber music. Most touchingly, the black-and-white end credits sequence, in a probably homage to Stardust Memories, adoringly trains itself on Posey’s face.

What’s odd about “Daddy’s Girlfriend” is that even though Liz is alluring and beautiful, the episode as a whole actually feels less hopeful than the giddily debauched “Set-Up” segment from a few weeks ago. If Liz really is a MPDG, Louie is clearly not the one who’ll benefit from her peculiarities. “I’m 44 and I have clogged arteries,” he complains before they take off on a neverending climb to the aforementioned rooftop. He’s outgrown the strange form of courtship she seems to employ, even if he’s occasionally mesmerized. The key moment of the episode is one of the most indelible the show has ever pulled off: Posey sits on the edge of the rooftop, terrifying the skittish Louie, until Liz convinces him that she’s in no danger because she’s “having too good of a time.” The jazzy score – unusually elaborate for Louie, with its wordless vocal harmonies – perks up, and Louie smiles warmly. But the moment passes, Liz’s face darkens, and it becomes clear again that they’re not meant to share more than a brief time together. Thus ends the dating ritual, one more time.

Are you laughing yet?

Simon Howell

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