Louie, Season 5, Episodes 7 and 8: “The Road” (Pts. 1 and 2)
Written by Louis C.K. (story by C.K. and Steven Wright)
Directed by Louis C.K.
Airs Thursdays at 10:30pm ET on FX
Louie’s fifth season has felt like a bit of a lark compared with last year’s ambitious, sprawling collection of stories, and now we have a better sense of why: a recent panel with C.K. and Adlon, moderated by Alan Sepinwall, revealed that C.K. had to go with a half-season when initial plans for a delayed shoot (C.K. had grown tired of shooting Louie in winter) fell through. Well, not so much “fell through”; actually, C.K. convinced FX the day before the delay announcement that he had a wealth of great material to work with, inspired by a particularly productive evening of recreational pot use. As it turns out, that material was something less than usable.
Whether the story is exaggerated or not, it jibes with the feeling one gets from watching this fifth season: it feels like C.K.’s been winging it this year. The benefit of having a series that’s 90% conceived and executed by a single creative force has been obvious throughout the series’ run; for the first time, Louie’s fifth season has underlined that having the weight of a series on just one person’s shoulders can have detrimental effects, as well.
Still, it’s a testament to C.K.’s relative wealth of ideas that the season has been far from a bust. “The Road,” the truncated season’s two-part closer, in particular, boasts about a half-dozen great sequences, even if some of its material feels a bit shopworn. (The presence of a Cinnabon gag sequence is especially troubling, recycling as it does a C.K. standup bit from several years ago.) “The Road” benefits from the specificity of its viewpoint: after 30 years of comedy, Louie is tired of road gigs. He wants to be at home with the kids, or at least not stuck in a town he hates playing to indifferent crowds. The things that used to make the road fun – indulging in wanton substance abuse, meeting strange new people, testing material, potentially getting laid – are no longer tenable sources of enjoyment. Now, road gigs are an endurance test, not to mention a reminder that the more successful Louie becomes, the more frustrating the old routine becomes.
To find relief, he has to go off the beaten track entirely, and in the best sequence in either episode, Louie wanders into a strange tent, adorned with a sign promising that he’ll “go back in time.” The shot wherein he breaches the tent and finds himself in a totally alien environment, surrounded by warm light and friendly faces evoking, indeed, a very different time, is one of the few moments this season to access the uncanny in the way that Louie has reliably been able to do in the sneakiest of fashion. The fact that C.K. never breaks from this scene to lean into an obvious joke – like Louie taking a pass at one or both of the women while swept up in the moment – aids that feeling of immersion immeasurably. (The closest it comes to a gag is when Louie finds himself dancing with the photographer, but that’s more of a passing bit of surreality.)
The looser feel of the season is a good match for this sort of subject matter, since at this stage in his career, Louie’s experiences on the road feel like a sequence of barely-connected vignettes, anyway. Still, it’s odd to have a season of Louie that doesn’t end on a note that connects strongly to what came before. There’s no Pamela, very little with the kids, and few (if any) continuing thematic material from the rest of the season. That’s not inherently a bad thing – this more ramshackle approach has resulted in some fine episodes – but the depth and breadth of last season fees quite distant at the moment.
The pleasures in this season are smaller; it’s in the details. The way the airport security guard talks about the bullets that need to be pulled out of the front of low-flying planes; the way the opening comic’s attempt to light a fart on fire serves as a sly “Into the Woods” callback; the photographer swaying to the music in the background, out of focus. Even in this more slapdash state, there’s still nothing quite like Louie, even if it’s worth wondering whether C.K. might be better served following his original instinct and taking a little extra time to handle the next round.
Another reason he might want to take a little longer next time: he’s starring in, writing and directing a (presumably self-financed) feature film this year, the sure-to-not-be-controversial-at-all I’m a Cop. He’s also involved in forthcoming TV vehicles for Pamela Adlon and Zach Galifianakis.
Louie’s opener at the Oklahoma venue becomes the latest casualty in Louie‘s increasingly long body count, and certainly the bloodiest. If this season has a lasting legacy, it’ll be its ability to take surprisingly starting turns, to degrees heretofore unseen (see also: the no-face man from “Untitled”).
Louie’s tearful ode to the comic power of farts really wouldn’t have worked a few seasons ago, and it’s a testament to C.K.’s progress as an actor.
Learning how the season came together also helps explain the relative paucity of guest stars, though, frankly, the lack of high-profile guests was actually sort of refreshing after the onslaught on the last couple of seasons.
Best of the season: “Bobby’s House,” followed by “A La Carte.” Yes, I’m a sucker for Pamela episodes. Worst: leaning towards the premiere, “Potluck.”
That’s a wrap for Louie season six. See you whenever C.K.’s got time.