In previous TV Club entries I lauded the almost unparalleled, unprecedented unpredictability of Louie. I’ve praised the show’s mutability, the way it seems to shift shapes every episode like some sort of shape-shifting television comedy on FX.
Now, however, the show is becoming a little easier to codify and while it’d be reductive and unfair to peg it as Louie C.K’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, the similarities are hard to ignore. That was especially true of tonight’s episode, which trafficked extensively in the comedy of discomfort and pushed agonizing social interactions to their breaking point and then beyond.
In the first short film of the episode, C.K is performing stand-up at the Comedy Cellar and grows enraged by a patron who treats his set as little more than background chatter. Few interactions are as tense or trainwreck-fascinating as a prolonged heckling but C.K gave as good as he got.
Hell, he gave more than he got. When the heckler tries to transform C.K’s set from a monologue into an agitated conversation, C.K goes on the offensive and subjects her to a long, drawn-out, incredibly bleeped-out tirade. As is the often the case, a certain sexual tension lies beneath the mutual antagonism. It's verbal sparring, a battle of the sexes between a perpetually apoplectic middle-aged man and a reasonably attractive young woman who views him as little more than her own private joke monkey.
Outside the club, the sparring continues but when the heckler walks away, C.K’s fellow comedians (including Todd Barry) tell him if he’d just cut back a little on the vitriol, he totally could have gotten laid. It was a neat little button for the short but it had the effect of transforming everything that came before into a very long set-up for a punchline. Thankfully, that very long set-up was plenty entertaining in its own right.
The second short film owed an even greater debt to the bad vibes, miscommunication and post-modern inside-baseball entertainment satire of Curb Your Enthusiasm as C.K, who hates acting, both in real life and on the show (yet is a pretty damn good actor all the same) ends up playing a police officer in a Godfather movie directed by and starring Matthew Broderick.
Broderick and C.K’s late agent—whose dying wish seems to have been that C.K play a role he’s fatally unqualified for in a comically misguided movie—are both convinced he’s perfect for the role yet he predictably screws up in increasingly funny, increasingly painful ways. If some of the show-business spoofing felt a little overly familiar Broderick proved an ideal straight man; some of the biggest laughs in the episode came from his reaction to C.K’s inability to deliver his lines with anything resembling professionalism or plausibility.
Tonight’s episode of Louie began dark and awkward and just kept getting darker and more awkward until it reached a cathartic release. It wasn’t as unpredictable as previous episodes and was much more rooted in C.K’s stand-up persona but it was pretty damn funny and compelling all the same. And who the hell knows, next week might look and feel like nothing that's come before it.
—“You don’t like rape?”
—“You wouldn’t even exist if your mom hadn’t raped that homeless Chinese guy.”
—“Can you do me a favor and please die of AIDS?”
—Fans of C.K awesomeness: the stand-up’s performance film Hilarious debuts on Video on Demand and online at www.epixhd.com on September 18th and will air on Comedy Central and be released on DVD next year. I saw it at Sundance and can vouch that it lives up to its subtitle.