“Louie” – Late Show (Part 2) episode review 0

Louie looks off in bewilderment as he navigates the delicate art of late night show hosting.

★★★★☆

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

- Marianne Williamson

 

This quote, from the poem Our Greatest Fear, always scares the shit out of me. Getting past the irony of that confession, let’s unpack why it’s so unsettling. Insecurity and low self-esteem are products of our individualistic society. Not to get all preachy about the ills of capitalism here, but the marketplace is designed to make us feel like crap.   Don Draper on “Mad Men” will tell you that advertising is about creating yearning, tapping into the doubts we have that we’re happy. Buy this thingamajig—THEN you’ll be happy. But what if all this time, we were fine? What if all the money spent, the years pining for “love” are frivolous? We’re just adding trappings to a structure that is built pretty soundly.

This poem goes on to channel God—I didn’t include that part because that a somewhat touchy subject—but it’s important to note that the essence of Williamson’s invocation of a deity is to inspire in us a feeling of omnipotence. We have unlimited potential that our woes of mortality seem to suppress. And it is only once we liberate ourselves from the fear that we are incapable that we can “manifest the glory of God that is within us.” This Eastern philosophical sentiment (the idea that God is distributed among us all is rooted in Buddhism) is sort of petrifying for those of us with Western sensibilities. It’s much easier for us to say, that’s in God’s hands—or the universe’s or the proverbial someone else’s, if you prefer. I’m not a superstar, I’m a simple comedian. I’ve found my niche, this is the only kingdom I’m fit to rule.

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Louie, for the umpteenth time this season, tries to relinquish control. Remember in the premiere how he ingeniously had his girlfriend break up with him because he didn’t have the guts? Brutal. And there has been many other instances to document since. This time, he sits down with his ex-wife, Janet. He summarizes his stint on Leno, then mentions his meeting with the chairman at CBS. He cautions that due to a confidentiality agreement, he probably shouldn’t be telling her this. Her curt response: “Well then maybe you shouldn’t tell me.” But he trudges on, revealing that he is one of the frontrunners to take over for David Letterman when he retires next year. She astutely surmised that he’s being vetted because he’s significantly cheaper. She also ruins his strategy of self-sabotage by insisting, “Forget the kids.”

He expected a guilt trip, a clarifying “Your daughters need you!” moment, but one never came. She sees through his transparent manipulation. “You don’t have the gall, so you wanna blame me?” Louie needs somebody to tell him the answer, whatever that is. But by selecting his ex-wife first, he committed a Freudian slip. He desperately wants a naysayer, someone to shout “Don’t do it!” because it will mean certain doom. Reflecting Williamson’s poem, his fear is not that he is inadequate. He’s terrified that he has come to that career-defining moment. He’s on the precipice of his ambition, but he can’t jump. He’s got the parachute, he has the skills to come out the other side with little more than a scratch, and yet the resounding SPLAT echoes in his head. Cheesy as it is, he’s Eminem in 8 Mile. He’s got that “one shot”, and through self-fulfilling prophecy he’s willing himself to choke. Why is success so frightening? Because there’s nothing beyond it. Once you have climbed to Everest’s peak, what else is there? As I riffed on last week, what does a writer do after they’ve written a masterpiece. Write another? If Louie becomes the freshest face on late night—though he seems silly to call his pastiness “fresh”—will it be enough?

Janet further drives the point home: the girls don’t need a father as much as they need a role model (or perhaps she’s seeing dollar signs). And more importantly, a future where this doesn’t happen appears awfully grim. Then the credits roll as Louie tries to get pumped Rocky-style. He stretches at a street corner and takes off. He jogs what seems to be a few blocks and gives up, as an ominous feeling comes over us, the audience. This leisurely stroll is foreshadowing the outcome of this trilogy. Louie looks longingly at the Ed Sullivan Theatre. He wants it, but doesn’t want to feel like he deserves it.

Agent Doug and Louie enter a lavish reception area and say he’s here to meet with Jackie Doll. The receptionist corrects his pronunciation a few times. As she does, the elderly actress changes. Upon first glance, I didn’t notice. Louie’s up to his surrealist tricks again. it also serves as a unique segue. Louie enters the office, and who should be sitting in the boss man chair but David Motherfucking Lynch, the weirdo director behind Blue Velvet, and many idiosyncratic others. Just as you’d expect, this guru’s methods are strange, yet carry an air of ancient wisdom. He teases Louie when he mentions being “sent.” “What are you a letter?” We also get a glimpse of his instability, perhaps, with the appearance of a handgun in his drawer.

Louie Skywalker begins his training with a impromptu cue card reading. Doug holds the cue card that has a dusty Nixon joke written on it. Of course, Louie questions why he’s reading such dated material as Doll holds up a stopwatch. After considerable delay, Lynch barks that 1:12 is far too long. Comedy’s all about timing (the timing of a geezer’s retirement, no?) and that he should work on his speed and come back Wednesday. We get a quiet joke as Doug  begins to leave still holding the cue card and Louie condescends, “Leave the card here!”

At the grocery store, we’re treated to a brief gem from Jane. She witnesses an elderly woman (Louie does not like old ladies, huh?) stuffing items in her purse and tugs on Daddy saying she’s spotted someone stealing. She starts pointing and screaming. Of course, Louie’s main concern is his daughter creating a scene needlessly. But she calls the attention of an officer and the lady is whisked off. Jane self-congratulates, “I did good, didn’t I?” I adore that girl. Her lisp-y delivery, her innocence combined with a strict code of ethics is highly entertaining. You go, Ursula Parker.

Upon arriving home, Louie receives a call from Leno. He starts by saying he’s grateful to Louie for bailing him out, covering for Tom Cruise. Expectedly, he does bring up the Letterman situation. I mean, he knows everything. When Louie asks whether he should do it, Leno provides a definitive “No.” He says you have to do 14 minutes every night. Right now C.K is hip and cool, you can’t be that every night. He signs off with a “If you get it, this will be the last time we talk as friends!” Hilarious, but threatening.

They hang up and we get a quick cut to Chris Rock in a booth—”Jay Leno is a liar!” Leave it to Rock to set him straight. Of course Leno would want him out of the way, he’s competition. This is just the beginning of the “late night wars.”  Louie is so disillusioned, so willing to use any available escape hatch, that he accepts the word of a known saboteur? Was he in a coma during the Conan O’Brien fiasco? I know Leno’s an Emerson College alum, and I am a senior undergrad student there, but a great deal of Emerson folks would freely admit he’s a self-serving piece of shit. You can’t knock his success (though my comedy professor would gladly mock his prowess as a comic), but the manner in which he’s maintained it is downright shady. Chris Rock encourages him to not be discouraged, and to be weary of who he can trust. And bluntly, he advises, “Don’t fuck it up.” As soon as Louie exits, Rock calls up who I presume is his agent, asking why he wasn’t notified about Letterman’s impending retirement. Turns out when he said “Watch your back” he was being quite literal.

At his next session with Doll, Louie’s in front of the camera. Doll eggs him on to do his lead-in. Louie’s awkward, unsure of what he should do. He introduces himself and Doll chimes in, “You don’t need to tell ‘em your name, son. The announcer does that!” He asks C.K to step aside as he performs for him. All he does is relish in fake applause, but as Louie views the monitor he hears it, gawking at how Doll soaks it all up readily. Losing confidence, he admits he can’t do that. Doll shrugs it off, saying let’s skip it. This time, Louie reads a Reagan joke, still with reluctance. Afterwards, Doll half-heartedly compliments him, but transitions into the harsh reality of “this”—Louie’s look. He needs a suit, tie and brill cream. Louie makes his first strong objection.

Louie’s “style” has always been black T-shirt and jeans. I’ve seen him live, he doesn’t deviate. Doll lets him vent, but scolds him saying he isn’t special. Paar, Carson, Letterman, the whole lot have worn suits. Evidently talk shows are about tradition. Even as comedy undergoes innovation and renovation, this form stays cemented in its ways of the nostalgic past—a simpler time where we were all smiles and prosperity. Doesn’t sound like our Louie at all. Doll thrusts him a piece of paper with the address of an Alfons.

Next day, he journeys to the mysterious location. He walks a flight and hesitates as he finds himself at a boxing gym. He’s directed to Alfons and he’s played by…Aw sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeit. Senator Clay Davis of “The Wire” himself. Known in the real world as Isiah Whitlock Jr. Pudgy as all hell, Louie’s outfitted with some gloves, shorts and headgear and then immediately thrown in the ring with a swift fighter. He has him on the ropes instantly, then in maybe fifteen seconds he’s floored. Session over.

While he’s nursing his eye with a bag of peas, Louie watches “Extra.” That’s a little contrived, don’t you think? I suppose if that’s just what was playing when he turned it on, but would Louie be bothered with the celebrity gossip machine? Anyway, Maria Menounos reports on Letterman’s rumored retirement and provides the scoop on the frontrunners. She offers Jerry Seinfeld’s name, but not Louie’s. Instead, she mentions Chris Rock as a newcomer to the race. Looking betrayed, Louie throws his hands up. Despite the knife twisting inside him, I bet you he uses this backstabbing as an opportunity to bow out “gracefully.” Janet seemed the most level-headed of any character—an uncommon portrayal for an ex. She knows Louie cannot pull the trigger. The persona he exudes is one of avoiding the uncomfortable. Rocking the boat not only makes him queasy, but he has no faith in his own sea legs. He’ll topple over happily.

There’s only one way this can end, right? Far as I can tell, Louie’s finally going to grapple with his own “Greatest Fear.” By my estimation, I would bet Jerry Seinfeld, his rival in this late night war, gives him a seal of approval. He’ll have the blessing of a revered peer, and then some wild card enters and shatters his dream, just as he’s embraced it. I cannot imagine a “Louie” season that ends without some heartbreak, despair, or falling short of expectation. It’s Louie’s legacy. Obviously, Louis C.K The Real One reigns supreme. Not just in comedic circles, but in the entertainment world. He’ nominated for seven Emmys, he’s already renewed for a fourth season, and his popularity in the standup circuit has never been more prolific.

And despite all those reasons to rest easy, Louie complains, worries, and wrestles with anxiety. Whether he’s gravitating toward masturbation rather than human connection, whether he’s loathing the despicable tendencies of people, or diminishing himself due to the unavoidable pitfalls of aging, Louie’s the wimpy, lovable loser. A triumphant Louis C.K even in fictional form might be damaging to his fame. He is champion of the bitter, crude mopes. Could he claim that title if he’s gracing the covers of TV Guide? Oh wait, he already does that. Does that signify hope for “Louie?” Not likely. A relative victory is reachable, however. His Achilles heel has been his unwillingness to seize control. Maybe instead of grabbing his own dick, he’ll grab the reigns in next week’s season three finale. This new fascination with arcs has catapulted us into an exhausting, if not epic, trilogy. Here’s hoping we’re still schlepping on the other side.