Louie "So Did the Fat Lady" Review: Uncomfortably Close

By Tim Surette

May 13, 2014

Louie S04E03: "So Did the Fat Lady"

"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. 


QUESTIONS:

– 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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  • mazie2 May 15, 2014

    The thing with this scene (and yes the whole episode will be overshadowed by this scene alone as it fires through the internet an is watched by people who have never watched even one episode of Louie) is that it's not just about fat versus thin or women versus men or tall versus short or white versus black. It's about when you have a non-physical connection with someone whose is not your physical ideal you should still at least hold their hand in the light of day and give them and yourself a chance.

  • bicelis May 14, 2014

    I don't know whether this was right up there with Parker Posey but it was damn near close.

    An amazing episode and a fantastic delivery by Sarah Baker. I hope she gets an Emmy for this.

    That was a scene I won't forget any time soon. Louie is extremely good in this area. There are more amazing moments that I remember very well on Louie than on any other show. Considering how short the series is (so far), it is actually mind-boggling.

  • JT_Kirk May 13, 2014

    - No of course Louie didn't learn the lesson, it ended feeling like he could except you missed that just like every other episode this season, it's all him playing a passive part in women been drawn to him, he gets to do what he wants and lay out a guilt trip and then survive while barely doing anything at all.

    - Part of the reason men overlook big girls is because society places more of a status symbol on the women that men are with, and it takes really getting to know someone to understand how toxic society's gaze can be. Another part is that men are shallow.

    - Sarah Baker's performance was very good, but written in a way that felt a little... simplistic, as if she only existed for this story and nowhere else in the Louieverse. She has dramatic chops and showed them, especially with her character's punchline using that diatribe just to get Louie to hold her hand and push past his proverbial myopia, so I'd say she's memorable in a theatrical way but her words are purely Louis CK writing the magical minority character so it's almost cheating.

    - Louie and Robbie's scene isn't a double standard that I can see, they are catching the same attitude from the waitress that Louie is pushing away Vanessa with, people who look like they eat a lot and don't work out are seen as lesser-than in this society.

  • MarlboroMagpi May 13, 2014

    Now I will remember Sarah Baker's name and will always refer her as the girl from Louie next time I see her in something.

    The next episode Elevator was good too. As a father of a 4 year old, I freak out the first time I "lost" her. Funny it was in an elevator that I lost her. The door closed and I was too late. I had to run down 4 flights of stairs. That was sometime back and we had no rules yet. She probably would not understand them even if we had.

    I am not exaggerating when I say that all kinds of wild imagination went through my head the moment I lost her. I was praying all the way down and I am not a religious guy. I was so relieved when I finally saw her.

    Louie always managed to come out with some topics that we can relate to.

  • tvrotsmybrain May 13, 2014

    Kind of like Asian-American men trying to navigate the dating world -- we're not typically desirable to anyone. Thanks mainstream media.

  • nOsIdaeHyM May 13, 2014

    Another great episode of Louie. All I kept thinking during that scene was...


  • LarissaPeixot May 13, 2014

    As a slightly over-weight woman, hell, I'll even say it, 20 pounds or so, this resonated. You want a female perspective, Tim? I wish I had said all those things, even being only 20 pounds overweight. Considering my height, it really doesn't look like that much, because I'm lucky enough to also be tall-ish.

    But, it doesn't matter. Two pounds, five pounds, any pounds, it's too much. When Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did that joke about Matthew McConaughey losing 45 pounds and that's what every actress has to do for every movie, it wasn't really a joke. It was truth with a punchline.

    And, the truth is, that it is not just actresses. It's every single woman. I have to hate myself every time I eat too much. And I have to hate myself every time that I'm hungry and I want to eat but I feel like I shouldn't. Or I shouldn't eat what I want. Or when I don't want to go to the gym for some horrible workout that I hate.

    I saw myself in that screen, I understood it, I felt it and now I'm doing it in the TV.com forum. I cried and laughed and it was great television. It was wonderful. It was vindication.

  • anacletoagent May 13, 2014

    Also, is it just me or are many of the stand-up comedians portrayed in this show complete assholes? And I don't mean when they're joking around playing poker (those are supposed to be his closest comedy friends), but the rest of the time. And his brother... just... ugh.

  • StrawDog May 13, 2014

    I think that dude is his brother, correct me if I'm wrong. Amazing episode.

  • JT_Kirk May 13, 2014

    Yes, Robbie/Bobby is Louie's brother on the series, played by fellow stand-up, Robert Kelly.

  • frontman19 May 13, 2014

    I thought this episode was great and very real. I thought it captured what Louie is best at, making the viewer uncomfortable, but letting them think while Louie (the character), basically does exactly what any other person would do during that excellent speech. I know as I was watching it I was doing basically the same thing Louie was doing. He probably didn't learn a lesson, men are extremely shallow, that's how it is, but you could tell by the end that he was moved by the speech or at least respected her more for not falling for that empty thing that men say to try to "spare feelings."

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