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Lucky Louie, Ep. 1.03, “A Mugging Story”

Lucky Louie, Ep. 1.03, “A Mugging Story”

Lucky Louie, Season 1, Episode 3: “A Mugging Story”
Written by Patricia Breen
Directed by Andrew D. Weyman
Aired on June 18, 2006 on HBO

From the beginning of Lucky Louie, the main impetus behind the project has always seemed to be to address issues which its stylistic progenitors couldn’t discuss. In the first two episodes, that meant issues of female sexual desire and pregnancy. As prior reviews have discussed, Louis C.K.’s results in these episodes were mixed, as he often teetered between laughing at the atavistic views of his male characters and endorsing them. The same inconsistency continues in “A Mugging Story,” but on a different subject: racism.

Before that though, the episode kicks off with a humorous cold open in which Louie plays a failed game of hide and seek with Lucy. The scene serves to illustrate Kim’s parenting superiority over Louie, as her willingness to play along with Lucy’s game symbolizes Louie’s larger flaws as a father. However, despite what it reveals about the relationship between the two parents, it’s ultimately burdened by the overwhelming feeling that writer Patricia Breen is trying too hard for a joke—the shot of Lucy hiding in plain sight is comical, but it doesn’t feel believable enough to be particularly funny. In contrast to the Lilly/Jane scenes from Louie, where the comedy stems in part from how real they feel, the cold open to “A Mugging Story” feels merely like a sitcom scene. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does keep the scene from being in the league of the best Louie jokes, which catch you off-guard due to their lack of traditional set-up and their resemblance to real-life moments.

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“A Mugging Story” does catch viewers off-guard after the opening credits, when Jerry’s penis pokes out from under his towel. As with the last episode, there’s something retrograde about the sexual politics here, as Jerry’s nudity can be played for laughs in a way one can’t imagine ever happening with Kim. While it’s refreshing to see male nudity, particularly on the female-nudity clogged HBO, the idea of a penis being inherently funny doesn’t do much in moving things forward. Although the shot of Jerry with the towel up to his chest makes for an amusing sight gag, it gets old quickly, and it’s undermined by the unappealing aftertaste of his nudity (with no further context) being treated as a joke.

Unfortunately, the retrograde politics in “A Mugging Story” only get worse, as Kim’s call to her mugger brings a blatant stereotype of a black kid on screen. Lucky Louie didn’t air that long ago, but it’s still hard to imagine a scene like this surviving Tumblr in 2015. Not only is the idea of making Kim’s mugger black offensive enough, but giving him poor English, baggy clothes, and an abusive parental figure (anyone remember Precious?) makes the scene downright shocking. Louis C.K. aims to pair the archaic style of his show with a modern sensibility, but the politics at play here are far more backwards than a laugh track. Once again, the scenario feels like an attempt to mock the prejudices of Louie and Kim, but the offensive caricature of the mugger overwhelms any possible subversiveness in the scene.

Breen’s attempt to laugh at racism goes better in a scene near the end of the episode, when Louie sits with Mike and Rich as they wait for the mugger to show up. They’re surprised by a different black man (Walter), and the joke effectively mocks their view of Walter as a black man first and Louie’s neighbor second. It doesn’t redeem the stereotype of the kid, but it does show that Breen isn’t wholly incapable of making an effective joke about race.

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Still, Louis C.K. is often at his best when he’s making fart jokes, and the one at the end of the episode is among the better ones in any of his shows. Rather than going for an easy observance of Chekhov’s rule with Rich’s gun (a la Birdman), the comical mishap in the scene stems from a noxious fart Louis lets out. The scene feels like a predecessor to the “upper decker” scene from the Louie season five finale, as well as the theme of that episode as a whole—no matter how far you get as a comedian, don’t lose sight of how funny farts can be. Despite its missteps, “A Mugging Story” makes it clear that C.K. takes that message to heart.