Louie "So Did the Fat Lady" Review: Uncomfortably Close
"So Did the Fat Lady" was a magnetic piece of television, and one of Louie's best episodes.
Lots of the series' episodes feature vignettes stitched together, but "So Did the Fat Lady" was direct and focused, devoting the appropriate amount of time and set-up to its touchy subject: weight. Specifically, the plight of an overweight woman in today's society. A waitress at the Comedy Cellar named Vanessa (guest-star Sarah Baker, previously of NBC's Go On), who was self-admittedly not the most slender woman, asked Louie out, and he politely declined. Then she asked again. And again, he declined. Finally, she offered up a kind gesture with no expectations of payback—she came into some hockey playoff tickets and offered them to Louie—and Louie asked her if she wanted to go get some coffee sometime. Yep, she sure did.
Toward the end of the episode, Vanessa said to Louie, "Try dating in New York in your late-30s as a fat girl." Louie immediately told her she wasn't fat, and Vanessa was disappointed that he wasn't being honest in what was likely an attempt to spare her feelings. She then delivered a beautiful, self-aware speech about what she wanted as a self-described "fat girl." She wanted honesty, she wanted to say she was fat without people feeling uncomfortable about it, she wanted men to understand that it goes both ways. Baker delivered Emmy-worthy stuff here, and the conversation was brutal, uncomfortable, and frickin' REAL.
I don't feel equipped to participate in the subject matter here, I'll leave that to others. But I do want to talk about how this episode, and in particular that final scene, was so effective. Louis C.K. wrote a character in Vanessa who was so charming, so affable, and so much fun to listen to that we were kicking Louie to accept her propositions for a date. Except we knew exactly why he didn't say yes, whether it was because we felt the same way or we understood Louie the character. Even if we hadn't realized it when Louie and his friend were drooling at New York's hottest hotties walking by, we could see it in the way he interacted with Vanessa early in the episode. He wanted to end their conversation as soon as possible because he wanted to get on with his life, but the words coming out of Vanessa's mouth were so engaging that he couldn't help but fall into brief bouts of conversation with her. He'd glance uncomfortably in her direction, and it was obvious why. He wasn't attracted to her, but he was afraid that she would ask him out, he'd have to say no, and then he'd feel bad about it. This is all accomplished by C.K.'s subtle acting, which combined the weight shifts, side glances, and accidental smiles of a man who was trapped where he didn't want to be.
And in that final scene, which was one long gorgeous take, the uncomfortable intimacy of the conversation exploded off the screen to the point that it had a profound affect on me while I sat on my couch. The camera work was impeccable, drawing us into the characters' sphere while they never acknowledge its presence. We got so close to them that we felt Vanessa's exhaustion and danced with Louie's discomfort. And in a move that couldn't've been timed more perfectly, just as we, the audience, were feeling a combination of guilt, anger, and compassion, Vanessa pointed into the camera and asked Louie to imagine that he was sitting where we were, watching the two of them together and seeing how good they were as a couple. That moment transcended fiction and pulled us further in, just as we were trying to escape. Everything about that scene felt so real that when I'm 70 years old, I'll probably remember it as a conversation I actually had, and that's because the writing, the acting, and the camera work was so good that the wall between viewer and player was completely broken down and we stepped into a shared reality.
The best episodes of Louie force us to confront issues we don't feel comfortable talking about. And as C.K.'s skills as a director and editor get better and better, these moments become something greater than television.
– Do you think Louie learned a lesson? I think it resonated with him in that moment, but I doubt it's something that will stick.
– I'm a man, so I'm sure I viewed this episode very differently than a woman would. Discuss!
– Where does Sarah Baker's performance rank among Louie's guest stars? It's right up there with Parker Posey's, right?
– We got a good look at the double standard between men and women when it comes to body image, when Louie and his friend indulged in a bang-bang with the promise to work out the next day, and then they both agreed they weren't going to work out. Yet if a woman did that... How the heck is that viewpoint acceptable in society?
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