Louis C.K is a genius. Not an overstatement. He makes art like one, he takes risks like one. And he conveys concepts, experience and the nuances of life like one. He’s even a goddamn business savant. He ripped his adoring fans from the shackles of service charges and fees by selling tickets for his upcoming tour on his website. He sold more, faster, and for less burden on his customers by cutting the bullshit. Actually, that sounds exactly like something Louis would do.
In the television realm, he is no less of a visionary. The sheer unpredictability of where this premiere, this season could take us had me antsy. And he needs no parlor tricks like cliffhangers or open-ended finales to pique our curiosity. Not knowing what to expect is the essence of his program. There’s almost zero continuity, logic is up for grabs, but genuine human moments are at a surplus.
And yet we begin with the most typical topic in Louie’s arsenal—masturbation. A chronic and unabashed self-pleasurer from way back, Louis jumps off the season in his sweet spot, The Comedy Cellar, performing a standup bit about how he noticed while jerking off that his dick has become blurry. He diagnoses the problem to be that he needs reading glasses. After all, his dick is about the right distance from his face to suggest that affliction. So, he buys himself corrective lenses and proceeds to pump his member as he pushes his glasses into his nose. He realizes, however, that his dick is still blurry. Welp, that must mean his dick is just like that now. Old, sad, and fuzzy.
Where this escalating observation takes him is where we rediscover his comedic prowess. He then admits to having more money than he’s ever had (an allusion no doubt to his real-life self, who is now notorious beyond the world of standup lore), he could buy himself a new dick! The audience erupts. And meanwhile, he assures them, “Well let’s think about this, why aren’t these rich old guys going out and buying new dicks for themselves like women buy themselves new tits and faces?” Then the bit builds as he imagines geezers at the gold course informing their colleagues about upcoming procedures. He suggests that he’ll be the first one to sign up when that surgery becomes available. He envisions himself having “some dead kid’s dick” attached to his body—a 22 year-old Puerto Rican track star dick, in fact. He’ll have the new brown one next to his old, pale flabby one; like when the old Yankee Stadium was across the street from the new shiny one. Only the singular, twisted, cynical and disturbed mind of Louis C.K. could spin a tale like that.
We delve next into the short film portion which was, unfortunately, less outrageously funny. However it contained much of the philosophical sophistication that we’re used to. Absurdity was at the forefront as Louie parks outside a unspecified diner and is puzzled by the parking signs. One atop the other, they seem to contradict each other and befuddle both Louie and a random, concerned citizen. The sign on top says “Vehicle Parking Only Authorized.” Then below it says, “No parking after midnight.” As Louie points out, every time is before or after midnight. The bottom sign is the most cryptic. A green dot with a white line through it. In the extended version of the scene following the credits, the citizen suggests, “If it was red…” Louie interjects, “Even if it was red I wouldn’t know what the f*ck it means!” It’s a simple, confounding instance of city life that Louie captures with just the right amount of quirk.
Inside the diner, Louis C.K once again throws caution and continuity into the wind. Never mind beginning the season with the inception of a six-month relationship, we get the tail end. April sits down across from him and instantly we’re shown a coupling in decay. Much like “Louie’s” obsession with his body decaying from age, he seems equally fixated on how relationships die as well. As a divorcee this is natural, but what strikes me is how precisely acted the sequence is. Gaby Hofmann as April is wonderful, but Louis is astounding. With little more than a twitch of his mouth or the widening of his eyes, he plays his side of the “conversation” with scary authenticity. All this from someone who has complained he doesn’t enjoy acting. Too bad. You’re doing it, bud.
This April woman starts off complaining about “some cooze” at work and Louie suggests she quit. Strike one. She hisses at him for saying such a rotten thing. The waiter brings him a bowl of ice cream. Strike two. She nags him about his eating habits. Jeez, how did he last this long. And strike three, he starts to shake and remains silent even as his girlfriend insists that he is being weird and tense. Something is wrong. She surmises that it’s about her since he often has trouble expressing himself about her. She begins a game of “relationship charades” guessing what he’s so wound up about. As she rattles off the possibilities she spits out, “You wanna break up with me?” Freeze. His eyes bulge and stare like the proverbial deer. She’s aghast and after considerable awkward seconds she asserts, “You can’t break up with me, because we’re nothing.” Louie has been cautious about introducing her to his kids and is skeptical about attending her mom’s Thanksgiving dinner. He denies all the way that he is breaking up with her, but when she shushes him and says to be quiet so that she can break up for him, he stays silent for seventeens seconds. No protest.
She storms out and he huffs and puffs. Once she is out of sight though, he wipes his brow and sighs, relieved. Did he plan that? Was that his passive-aggressive way of dumping her? Or is he glad he escaped with his dignity in tatters and not fully stripped from him? My understanding of the character says the latter, but he seems almost diabolical shoveling that ice cream in his mouth after that squirmy ordeal.
Thoroughly emasculated, of course the humiliation is not over. For incorrectly reading the parking signs, the universe punishes Louie by smashing his Infiniti with a backhoe. Figures. He wanders down the streets of NYC and stumbles into a motorcycle shop. He fingers the handlebars of one and the salesman walks over. The salesman asks if he’s interested and he firmly says no. Its too dangerous, he has kids. The salesman then further illustrates the danger, showing off all his scars and wounds from his many run-ins with pavement. Louie responds, “Well, I can’t be doing none of that. That’s crazy.” He, curiously, asks the price of one particular hog anyway. Only $7500. 45 MPG. “Wow,” he exclaims, “So it’s actually smart to ride a motorcycle.” Even the salesman glares in judgement of Louie’s delusion. And in one swift cut, Louie’s on the road boasting his new compensatory toy. He can’t see his own dick, and he couldn’t dump April. But damn it, he’s owns the clogged roads of downtown Manhattan.
The gorgeous cinematography is yet another aspect to adore about this show. An oft-explored city has new life breathed into it with panoramic shots of highway hillsides and cement playscapes. Inevitably, Louie is brought down to earth, violently, when some other riders show him up. They surround him doing wheelies, and he’s distracted from the obstacles ahead. He swerves to avoid a truck and instead skids in front of it. After the break, he’s seen strapped to a gurney, head wrapped. The doctor voices his disdain for those who ride bikes and Louie lies back in shame, as always.
When he calls his ex-wife on the doc’s cell, we finally meet “Janet.” On the other line is…huh? A black woman? But his daughters are pure white. You know what? Who gives a damn! It’s “Louie.” He can do whatever the hell he wants. It just adds to the comedy of the interplay as he confesses that his accident preventing him from picking up the girls was a dumb, avoidable, motorcycle accident. Her attitude infused in her “Okay” and “Uh-huh” was priceless. And when she curses him for being an “ass-necked idiot” to her male friend, I died. Nobody can cuss out Louie better than himself. The excellent coda to the hospital scene is when he limps off, with no discernible injuries, and an old woman croaks, “What about Obama?” I was immediately reminded of “Moving,” an episode from last season. Louie asked the same desperate question when he was trying to make a bid for a $17 million apartment in the city. It’s a clever poke at the youthful optimism we were injected with when the president was elected and we had hopes that all our ills would be cured. But whether it is a sickly woman or a pathetic middle-aged man, we still have to help ourselves.
In the last sequence, April stops by his place to pick up her laptop—interrupting another jerk-off session, no doubt—and she sees his limp. He manipulates the situation saying he “got hit by a truck.” That would be like if I tripped and said the floor pulled me down. She forces him to lie down as she makes him some food, and when she’s about to take off he asks, “Stay?” There’s no conviction, just neediness. He’s pitiful and alone, and she could remedy that. He can’t let the moment escape where he could be gratified. So this self-assured woman calls him out on his shit. She tells him that if she stays, and he agrees to visit her mom’s for Thanksgiving, they are a couple. They would be wasting years, he could be headed toward another divorce, just because he won’t say “Bye, see ya later” because it feels weird right now.
He’s mum, face twitching, so she storms off again. And like an old routine, he exhales and rubs his head in relief. Like any and every habit of Louie’s, he knows the pain and torment it will cause, the havoc it carries into his future. But because he’s weak, and because he can’t control his compulsions to take what he needs from others, he disregards the consequences. It’s a hardened view of people, and certainly an unflattering one of the annexes of his soul, but maybe to some degree we all possess the ability to act like Louie: to watch our life unfold and do nothing about it for fear we will mess it up with our impulses, our rashness, our emotional overdrives that circumvent rationality. In a way, the episode encapsulates why the show works while seeming to be an faulty machine with no exact output week-to-week. Human beings can’t be contained to twenty-two minutes arcs. We shift with each fleeting want. “Louie” reflects both our capacity for greatness and our tendency to shit on every good thing we could do for ourselves and others.
That unflinching and fearless perspective only strengthens this season premiere. While the over-the-top motorcycle salesman and Louie’s illogically cast ex-wife may have veered like his ill-advised purchase into perplexing, surrealist territory, there was still a lot to ponder and to laugh at. It tapped into our instinctual desires to both over-analyze and to just say, “Ah, f*ck it, let me enjoy myself.” For representing all of us in a way we wouldn’t care to admit, I applaud you, Louis C.K.
In the coming weeks we have MAJOR guest stars to look forward to. Oscar winner Melissa Leo, THE Jerry Seinfeld, and Robin Williams will all be making appearances. Louis is no longer the freaky sideshow. He’s the big time. But all signs—even the indistinguishable ones—indicate that he won’t be clowning around.