At the start of season five, Louie’s tired of new experiences. He tells his therapist he’s finding it harder to try anymore. This after a stand-up routine about the virtues of blissful ignorance. Louie doesn’t want to know anything else, and he doesn’t feel like doing anything new. He sits there babbling his doctor into a light-to-no coma, and he finally sees how some people see him: “Oh my god, I’m a boring asshole now!” Welcome back, Louie.

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There are two ways to take that line. Louie the man has long struggled to simply give a shit. It’s not the first time he’s realized he needs to try, but seeing his doctor fall asleep listening to him is just the right sign to shock him into action. But for Louie the character, this is him worrying that the critiques are right, that Louie the show is boring now. And by boring, if I may, he might mean predictable, repetitive, solipsistic, lost, meaningless. What was once exciting about Louie has long since given way to a routine. What was once an adventure in discontinuity is now a fairly conventional semi-serial, in narrative terms anyway. So how do the man and the character respond to this opening concern? If “Pot Luck” is anything to go by, Louie the character is taking that epiphany to heart, enduring endless humiliations in the name of actually trying. Louie the show, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about changing its ways. If you thought it was boring before, wait till you see “Pot Luck.”

There are a couple new dishes in “Pot Luck,” a winter snow and banjo music. Otherwise, it’s (I won’t say “just”) another Louie episode. After walking out on his therapist, Louie wants to attend a regular pot luck for the parents of kids in Jane’s class. He goes to the wrong apartment, which hits several of Louie’s favorite ideas: the meaningful/meaningless coincidence of two pot lucks at the same time a couple floors apart, an embarrassing mix-up, Louie the outsider warmly received at a foreign (to him) gathering, a wise lesson (“Forgive yourself”), and Louis CK’s exaggerated, performative anxiety, as when the door is shut in his face and he goes to knock on it again just so he can apologize further.

But the new Louie doesn’t let that dissuade him. He goes to KFC to replace the home-made fried chicken he was supposed to bring to the pot luck and returns to the building. Only this party is over and doesn’t seem like it was ever much of a party to begin with. Host Marina (Judy Gold) is a domineering jerk to everyone, but especially to Louie. There’s a Louie doppelganger with whom Louie might join forces, but Louie Prime decides he’s too good for himself. He also insults another group of parents, then tries to join Marina’s conversation about her surrogate, Julianne (and by now I’ve mentioned everyone at the little, lifeless pot luck), and when Marina swats him away, he leaves. We’re a long way from season two opener, “Pregnant,” where Louie finds out that his neighbors are actually pretty neighborly. The thing is, “Pregnant” was the exciting deviation; “Pot Luck” is Louie’s normal.

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Julianne walks out behind him, and she offers Louie a ride on Marina’s dime: the Uber she’s paying for. That moment of generosity is followed by an apparently silent car ride during which both Louie and Julianne stare at their phones. Between this and the guru shutting the door in Louie’s face, “Pot Luck” even isolates Louie from the friendliest strangers. But Louie is committed to trying, remember, so he helps Julianne to her apartment and asks to use the restroom. Once he’s off-screen, Julianne turns toward us, the entire apartment visit taking place in a single continuous take, and starts trying to cry like it’s an acting exercise. I would say she cries, but like with Louie going to knock on the door, it doesn’t feel quite natural. It’s distancing. It makes you feel sympathetic for this poor woman who’s overwhelmed by surrogacy for one of the most contemptuous people in Louie history, but because it feels performed, it also makes you think about it rather than just feeling for the character. Why is this what happens now? Why is Julianne crying, and why is actress Celia Keenan-Bolger trying to cry? Eventually Louie returns, and he says some comforting things to her, allegedly without ulterior motive, but she tells him to have sex with her right there, and passive Louie can only comply. Which goes back to the boring question. How many times has Louie been critiqued for the fantasy of Louie hooking up with beautiful women? Turns out Louie the show doesn’t care.

I went from an eye-roll to laughter when I heard the splash. Just the thought that Julianne’s water breaks on Louie’s dick is entertaining. Marina’s pissed, and the episode ends with her berating Louie as he walks off, but she’s always pissed. It’s the odd moments like that that make Louie’s ventures outside his door so delightful. Things like Marina’s aside about her sperm donor: “We got sperm from my friend at work who’s gay and who died.” There’s a whole episode in that aside. Simply the way Louie is made sets it apart, here the long takes from which there is no escape. Louie’s visit to Marina’s party takes place in one continuous shot, eventually ping-ponging from Louie trying to make friends to Marina trying to shut him down, with Julianne in the background silently terrified by the prospect of giving birth naturally. Louie the man can be boring, but the world around him is as vibrant as can be.

So is “Pot Luck” the story of a boring asshole? Sort of and not really. The story is pretty much what you expect from the premise, give or take the specific dead sperm donor references that make it Louie (and I don’t mean to dismiss those touches, because they are vital). But Louie isn’t much of an asshole here, give or take his interactions (or pointed non-interactions) with Marina’s guests. He’s trying. Which makes him awfully sympathetic, which in turn takes some of the bite out of his humiliations. For an episode that begins with Louie considering his (show’s) shortcomings, “Pot Luck” goes easy on him. Louie tried and got nothing for it. “Forgive yourself,” says the guru. The moral is that accidents are okay, which on this show is some understatement. And the person who hates him is nuts anyway. How comfortable. It’s nice to see Louie getting out of his comfort zone. Hopefully Louie will too.

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Stray observations:

  • I have screeners, but I’ll be watching along weekly, so no spoilers here. But that also means I only have this one episode to go on right now. Maybe Julianne will be back. Maybe Louie’s doppelganger will chase him the whole season, and at the end they’ll finally shake hands and the universe will not only cease to exist but never have existed in the first place. The point is maybe “Pot Luck” will look differently in the light of the next few episodes. For now, I’m happy to have Louie back (as I was happy to have it back last year), but the show has set a high bar.
  • Marina and her partner Danila have reservations at a Brooklyn natural birthing center for Julianne’s delivery. “It is awesome. They’re not sanctioned.”

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