While there are a number of excellent television episodes that …
Louie returns Thursday for a fifth season of life lessons and awkward experiences. The loosely structured yet acclaimed FX comedy, given free reign by the network, comes back true to form while still finding the ability to surprise its audience anew. After a Season Four filled with some mini-arcs that missed the mark Season Five returns to the episode model of earlier years, deploying episodes and through lines in a seemingly random order that still finds a way to make perfect sense. The show doesn’t go as far as completely abandoning the abbreviated story arcs CK has come to rely on, but after a stretch of almost looking like a more traditional half hour cringe comedy Louie is back to its old ways.
The contemporary culture around TV viewership is one that favors binge-watching over moderate consumption. Whether you’re catching up on an older show or checking out the latest series from a streaming service, binge viewership has become thought of by many as the default mode (when possible) for enjoying TV. The verb form of the phrase (i.e. “to binge-watch”) was shortlisted for the 2013 Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.
Season four of Louie has been an unusual one, even compared to the other seasons of this unique show. After seasons of standalone shorts and only a couple multiple-episode arcs, Louis C.K. dove in head first with three large-scale stories, “Elevator” (parts one-six), “In The Woods”, and “Pamela” (parts one-three). While each is distinct, these three pieces all explore connection and communication, both verbal and nonverbal. “Elevator” sees Louie pursuing and enjoying a relationship with Amia, with whom he is unable to verbally communicate, but it also shows him becoming involved in the lives of his neighbors and confronting the lingering damage of his divorce, to himself as well as his ex-wife Janet and their daughters. Throughout “Elevator”, Louie assumes. He’s so wrapped up in his experience and his fears that he projects all of his onto the women in his life, reading his insecurities in their silence. He attempts to overcome communication barriers by speaking louder and more emphatically and in the process, doesn’t listen to what those around him are trying to say.
Louie isn’t really a “comedy” any more, is it? Sure, it’s still peppered with hilarious moments (like in tonight’s episode, where a simple camera pan gives us the hilarious image of a teenager taking a pot-addled nap), but this fourth season of Louie has aspirations far beyond the show’s first three, where the lines between comedy, indie film, and surrealist drama were already greatly blurred. In many ways, “Into the Woods” is the culmination of that new direction in season four – and although it only retains the slightest of connections to most of the season’s overall themes, stands as a climatic moment for the season, and the series as a whole.
The end of one multi-part story and the beginning of another airing back-to-back unsurprisingly makes for a slightly jarring viewing experience in this week’s Louie episodes, one that pauses to reflect on a relationship ending, and another attempting to fill its place. And although its some of Louie’s messiest writing and film-making of the season, there’s a lot of fascinating material to contemplate in both episodes, from love and heartbreak, to Heaven and unwanted sexual advances.
“Elevator” continues its dreamlike examination of Louie’s psyche this week, with our increasingly insecure lead pushing his relationship with Amia to the next level and losing it in the process. Louie spends quite a bit of these two episodes validating his romance with Amia to other people in his life and as they voice their doubts, Louie grows more and more self-conscious. At the start of “Elevator Part 4”, Louie and Amia are out at a hockey game, having a great time; Louie practically glows when Janet asks about his new leading lady. It’s sweet and just like Janet, viewers will be happy to see our sad-sack protagonist in a positive place, emotionally.
Things can always be better – and then again, things can always be worse. It’s the great balance of our weird existence, this constant need for us to both seek happiness and express dissatisfaction, often in the same breath – and in the fourth season of Louie (much like the third), this idea’s come through with Louis C.K.’s examination of his relationships with women, the singular forces on our planet that (speaking as a man, of course) both give life and enrich it, bringing beauty and giving definition to a world that would otherwise be dominated by bang-bangs, homoerotic jokes, and penis-measuring contests.
Louie came back with a beautiful, impressionistic bang last week with two fantastic and very different episodes. This week that trend continues, with “So Did the Fat Lady” exploring body issues and shaming by building to a masterful soliloquy from guest star Sarah Baker and “Elevator Part 1” splitting nearly evenly into a stressful depiction of every parent’s worst nightmare and a sedate, comedic extrapolation of a well-intentioned misunderstanding.
Louie is utterly unique to the television landscape. There are very, very few shows of which this can be said. It’s part standup, part experimental film, part character study, part whatever else Louis C.K. wants it to be, and in its first three seasons, the series that started out well grew increasingly confident, playing with form and stretching C.K. as a filmmaker and storyteller. After C.K. decided to take 2013 off, some viewers may have been concerned he wouldn’t be able to recapture the magic of the first three seasons. Fortunately, with “Back” and “Model”, C.K. picks up right where he left off, as sure and relaxed as ever.
There have been some excellent episodes of Mad Men this season. “The Flood,” “Man with a Plan,” and especially “For Immediate Release” have all been varying degrees of great, but “The Crash” is the first episode to leave me dumbstruck with awe the way so many season five episodes did. It’s an episode in which every scene seems precisely crafted to achieve an effect. What is that effect?