TV Club

Why Louis C.K.’s series is better than Lena Dunham’s Girls

Louie is about the world I live in; Girls is about the world I read about in the style section.

Still from Louie
 Louis C.K. and Gaby Hoffmann in Louie

Photograph courtesy FX.


I couldn’t agree more: Louie is impossible to define by comparison—“TV series as worldview” is right! But though the show is hard to describe, it resonates because Louis C.K.’s worldview is so damn relatable—for bewildered parents, exasperated New Yorkers, and the relationship-challenged; for all of us who’d like to lose a few pounds and those who want to be kind but don’t always manage; for the humiliated middle-agers (suffering real indignities, not Larry David’s); for the masturbators; and for the weary strap-hangers. Put this on a billboard: Louie is both singular and universal! As another TV critic wrote about another half-hour television program, it is “for us by us.”

That show, Girls, certainly has its fans, including you, Hyperbolic David, and C.K. himself, who once tweeted: “Hey, @lenadunham, your show is really really good and funny and unique and other things. So keep going. Please.” Yet I can’t help but interpret a lot of what C.K. puts out into the world as a rebuke of Generation Dunham. Take, for instance, this Comedy Cellar bit from the second-to-last episode of Season 2, which is specifically aimed at a young adult behind the counter at a car rental agency, but undeniably has a broader target in mind:

You’re a 20-year-old little fuck, and you have no idea how the world works. Because you think you deserve better. You think you’re too interesting a person to have a shitty job. Every 20-year-old that I encounter behind the counter gives me that look. This job sucks. Yeah, that’s why we gave it to YOU! Because you’re 20! … For two decades you’ve just been taking and sucking up—education and love and food and iPods. … You’ve just been a burden. You’re like an orange that’s rotting on a tree. If you are 20 years old, I guarantee: You have never done anything for anyone ever. Yes, you went on a school trip to Guatemala. They told you helped but you totally did not help. … Just take her picture with a shovel and send her home so she can put it on Facebook.

In fact, rewatching a bunch of episodes from last season, I found myself processing scene after scene in contrast to the inauthentic feelings, relationships, and New York locations of Girls. There’s Louie’s potential threesome in Jersey, thwarted in fantastically awkward fashion and leaving our horny hero dejected, grossed out, and confused vs. the almost-threesome in Girls, which ends with Jessa and Marnie’s girl-on-girl tongue action and leads to the big season-ending wedding. Later, stranded in the Garden State, Louie calls his buddy Chris Rock to pick him up. “What are you doing, Louie? With your life? You’re a father, man,” Rock says, laying some direct no-bullshit on his his drifting friend. Compare that to the heavy-with-implied-meaning pep talk that working-mom Katherine delivers to a drifting Jessa in the second-to-last episode of Girls: “You’re [creating chaos] to distract yourself from becoming the person you’re meant to be.”

Then there’s New York. When Louie’s niece insists that he take her to an indie rock show, they end up at a real Lower East Side dive bar, which looks and sounds like a real Lower East Side dive bar. C.K.’s New York is the New York I live in; Dunham’s is the New York I only read about in overheated style-section stories. The indie rock band in Girls, fronted by Marnie’s ex, Charlie, would never get a gig in Louie’s New York. (And where do they practice?)   

Maybe my aversion to one and connection to the other is all about age. When Dunham’s Hannah is lost, she “drops a pin” in (on?) her iPhone to alert Marnie; when Louie is lost, he doesn’t know how to figure out where the hell he is. Louie is lost, for real, while Hannah is playing lost and perpetually finding herself. This might be the great generational battle a hundred young magazine writers have never quite been able to put into words, happening right before our eyes, summer 2012, on a TV near you!

Or maybe I’m nuts. Maybe Girls and Louie can both exist and both be loved and no one show or microgeneration has to win. As David notes, it’s impossible to make predictions about Louie (and naïve to count on it to validate any of your/my mishigas). Still, I’m hopeful that season 3 will be as loose and weird and ambitious and tonally uneven and emotionally dead-on as ever, and that anyone who has called Girls groundbreaking TV will be forced to give that label a good second thought. 


Correction, June 28, 2012: Because of a photo-provider error, the above caption originally misspelled actor Gaby Hoffmann’s last name.