TV Club

Louie Season 3 recap: Melissa Leo and Louis C.K. star in episode 2.

Louis C.K., the epitome of enlightened modern manhood?

Louie C.K.
Melissa Leo and Louis C.K.

Courtesy FX Network.

Man, this episode packed a wallop. Mostly I’m thinking of Laurie’s right hook to Louie’s face, but the whole thing from start to finish had me on edge.

Watching a comedian as good as C.K. break down jokes with his kids is captivating. Patton, I love your take on the mermaids-in-pee-pee joke, a metaphor of sorts for C.K.’s whole artistic project. The gorilla-at-the-ballet riff also has a striking form: Rather than starting with the mundane (man walks down the street) and ending with absurdity (he slips on a banana peel), it begins with absurdity (gorilla refused entrance to ballet), and ends with the mundane (the people in charge just decided he shouldn’t be let in—“they just made that assessment”).

That’s also how Louie’s encounter with Laurie unfolds: She punches him in the face, shockingly, and then, after obtaining forcible cunnilingus, asks if he wants to go out again. “Yeah, sure,” Louie replies, a comically ordinary conclusion to this bizarre, violent date. I took that reply the way Jonah did: not as the coerced answer of a victim, but as a punch line about the absurdity of sexual relations—and perhaps of adult life generally. Watching the episode, I didn’t understand why C.K. ended the stand-up segment with the non sequitur about being his daughter’s “first asshole.”  As Jonah suggests, though, it leads us right into the bewildering world of adulthood, where the rest of the episode takes place.

It also adds to the tension that Patton aptly compared to Jaws: There’s something dark and dangerous below the surface. The scraping of Laurie’s knife against the table at that awkward dinner is the show’s equivalent to John Williams’ famous minor seconds. This season has already gotten a surprising amount of mileage from quick shots of utensils.

And then there’s the reversal of traditional gender roles, which you’ve all mentioned. That reversal is all the more fascinating because C.K.’s appeal, I’m convinced, is partly rooted in the confident-but-contemporary, enlightened-but-down-to-earth breed of masculinity he embodies. Am I just projecting here? I love C.K. not only for his jokes and his intelligence but because he comes across as a good guy—with the emphasis on guy. Those black T-shirts and jeans are, I’m sure, simply what he’s most comfortable in, but they are also, to paraphrase Dave Chappelle, a straight man’s uniform. On The Tonight Show last week, Jay Leno told C.K. that his sweatshirt and brown slacks constituted “ probably the most heterosexual outfit I have ever seen.” And he was right! But C.K. had led him there by talking about how sometimes he wishes he were gay, and how straight men limit themselves because they’re “the only group that cares that you know what we are.” We want to be correctly identified, and so “there are things we can’t do that might be nice.” For instance? “You can’t throw the word wonderful around.”

One last note. As Allison mentioned, after Laurie wonders where “the gentlemen are” and “what is wrong with this country,” she mutters, disgustedly, “Obama.” This echoes the old woman’s emergency room plaint from the premiere: “What about Obama?” she cried, while waiting for medical attention. As Zach Dionne pointed out over at Vulture, Louie himself asked that question last season, after his accountant told him he didn’t have enough money to buy a $17 million home. And it goes further back: In Hilarious, his 2008 special, C.K. lamented the sound of the contemporary American voice, and ended his mostly wordless impersonation of fat American white guys with a disdainful “Obama.”

C.K. has mostly avoided politics in his stand-up. So what’s going on here? Does he just like the sound of the man’s last name? Is he mocking the idea people have of Obama’s power? The president, these scenes imply, can’t make a $17 million home affordable; he can’t make emergency rooms faster; he’s not the reason men won’t necessarily reciprocate when it comes to oral sex. And yet people throw his name around like it means something, when, to C.K., it’s closer to nonsense.