It’s nice to see Louie growing. In season four, he embarks on a doomed romance, he puts his foot in his mouth so bad that Sarah Baker calls the show to a halt and expands the moment to fill the rest of the episode, and the universe takes such a dump on him that he winds up in apocalyptic debt after accidentally hitting a model in the face. Compared to that, “Sleepover” is a fantasy.

He’s still Louie, so he still gets on the wrong side of some generational conflict or other and he still winds up in awkward situations. It’s just that the consequences aren’t so dire, and while he usually has good intentions, here he’s even going out of his way to try to make the world around him a better place (rather than, for example, simply trying not to make it any worse, as in “So Did The Fat Lady”). By which I mean taking a moment to talk to Jane’s friend Shasta about her parents’ divorce. He doesn’t have to say anything, but Shasta’s mom warns him that she might be acting out because her parents are in mediation. It’s a totally ambiguous dialogue, but CK invests his response—“Okay, yeah”—with impressive compassion, giving the kid a sympathetic look for the mother and deliberately not putting into words what she’s having trouble talking about. For once his inarticulateness is a force for good.

So when Jane goes to change into her pink clothes, Louie takes the opportunity to tell Shasta that he knows what she’s going through and so does Jane and they’re here for her. “But my parents are together,” she replies with a quizzical expression. He clumsily backs out, and even though he never says upfront that her parents are splitting up, he implies it so heavily it’s not really something he can back out of. But soon enough her friends are there and she has a blast, and by the end of the episode, it turns out Shasta’s mom and dad are gonna keep trying. Poor Shasta has been quietly concerned enough that it’s the first thing she asks about when she sees her mom, but her mom will shortly put her fears to rest, and Louie shuts the door on them with expert comic timing.

As for the talk with Lilly, Louie’s right about Jane missing the play, even though he gives in. The opening of the episode is an exciting montage of a ‘60s play performed by Matthew “See if you can find it in yourself to give a shit” Broderick and Glenn Close, and then John Lithgow’s there to spout almost Roger Sterling-style aphorisms, and finally Michael Cera shows up. Louie laughs at one part and looks over to find Lilly unmoved. Later he’s tearing up—and the snippets of performances we see are so forceful I wouldn’t be surprised if the context and the presence of the live theater got to me, too—and Lilly’s on her phone. This being Louie, as soon as he calls her on it, the tables turn. She wasn’t texting. She was researching the play. And she didn’t miss the dramatic climax. She just wasn’t moved to tears, because she’s “not a baby.” I love that explanation, because kids aren’t often moved to tears by art, are they? That tends to come with age, with experience, with a more developed sense of empathy. So Louie relents and lets her keep her phone, but hold on a second. She claims she didn’t miss the climax, because she can recall the line. That’s something, but think of everything she missed: the look on Cera’s face, the reaction from Lithgow, the continuity of the scene, the silences and negative space around that moment. A play isn’t just lines on a page. It’s performed. Louie is right.

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He’s even less hapless hosting a sleepover for a gaggle of screaming children, although the pizza call is classic Louie (“One cheese and one half cheese and half…cheese”). Still, Louie of all people manages a phone sex conversation and a call for bail money during a childrens’ sleepover and everyone survives, has fun, and has a great story to tell. There’s no way things would go so smoothly in previous seasons. Remember the kid who pooped in the bathtub?

As the Pamela episodes demonstrate, Louie’s growing. The last time we saw them, he was completely submissive, which is only something Pamela wants in bed. In a relationship she thrives on conflict. She wants Louie to stand up for himself. Which he does here. When she texts him, he asks to talk on the phone. When she gets mealy-mouthed about her feelings for him, he puts it into words and dares her to run away. “You miss me,” he says. “What? No!” He sarcastically responds, “No, you don’t miss me at all,” and she has no choice but to accept it. Eventually they get to dirty talk, and then phone sex that he smoothly initiates. She tells him to take off his pants. “You first,” he says, and then he makes her actually do it so he’s not humiliated by her for the umpteenth time. The screaming of the kids interrupts them, but it’s already surprising Pamela stayed on the phone so long, or it would be if it weren’t obvious she misses Louie in general and likes this side of him in particular. She hangs up with a “Gross, bye,” but then she smiles, and he smiles, and even though they didn’t say it, they both know she liked it. The range Pamela Adlon demonstrates in this single phone call might be a first. Have we ever seen Pamela like this? Adlon and CK make a great team, but even apart in “Sleepover,” they’re both better than ever at conveying all kinds of emotions through subtext. The scene is told in the silent expressions they’re not communicating to each other.

Even the jail visit isn’t such a big deal. Louie brings the kids with him and gladly uses their rambunctious behavior in the lobby as leverage to speed things up. They all go get ice cream, Bobby tells a ridiculous story about being arrested for standing up against the euthanasia of his runaway goat, and everything’s great in the morning.

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It’s a low-concept episode despite all the big scenes. It never really stops and reaches for profundity, perhaps to set off the play montage, which is high in gravitas. Instead “Sleepover” is a bunch of vignettes that flow together like any other sitcom episode, well, any sitcom episode that would make time for an grainy black-and-white Keystone short about an old woman, a goat, and poor put upon Bobby. Episodes like “Bobby’s House” or even “Untitled” thrive on big moments or ideas, but here it’s about the little moments and the details, like the rhythm of the opening montage or the look Louie gives Shasta or the first flash of Pamela so tightly framed you almost don’t notice she’s calling from a bathroom.

Last time, I wasn’t sure if we’d see Pamela again any time soon. After “Sleepover,” I have no doubt there will be a next time. All it took was Louie taking a little control.

Stray observations:

  • Lithgow’s character: “At least if you have no opinions you can’t be wrong.” I’d watch this play, but mostly it convinced me to try to see Glenn Close in something.
  • Jane overhearing the wrong word and asking, “What is raped?” is an old joke format, but I love Louie’s explanation that it’s something bad and financial.
  • Louie tells Pamela, “I miss the shit out of your stupid tits.” She’s tearing up but that cracks her up. She says, “They both flunked out of tit school.”
  • Bobby and Louie share a celebratory yogurt. Bobby: “Can you believe this comes out of a cow’s pussy?” After deliberating with himself about whether to address that, Louie eventually says, “You know it comes out of their tits, you know that right?” “No. Milk comes out of their tits. Yogurt comes out of their pussy.”

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