Louie S03E02: "Telling Jokes/Set Up"
Ummm... I think just for this one episode we should change the name of Louie to Leo, because Melissa Leo as a cynical, chain-smoking, back-alley slut locked up the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress. One of the joys of Louie is that you never know what to expect when you start an episode. It can be poignant one minute and sophomoric the next. Heck, one episode in Season 2 broke the dramatic tension with a giant fart.
"Telling Jokes/Set Up" was the exact opposite of last week's awkward Season 3 premiere, "Something is Wrong." Things started off as sweet as ever, with Louie and his daughters exchanging jokes in one of those amazing familial moments that's so hard to capture on camera but that Louie so often nails. Twenty minutes later, Louie's head was under a woman's skirt in the front seat of a truck in an alley after getting punched in the face and having his manhood questioned.
That's the brilliance of Louie. It moves seamlessly from gentle to profane with little to no warning because the point of Louie isn't to send Louie on wacky sitcom misadventures (Louie learns the meaning of Christmas! Louie has two dates in one night! Louie's old college roommate visits and he offends Louie's girlfriend!); this is a series that's trying to deliver slices of real life. And as you all know, life is unpredictable and can change its tone over the course of a blind date disguised as a dinner party.
The episode's two segments—jokes with the kids and getting blown in a driveway—were tied together nicely even though one belonged on Nickelodeon and the other could have been directed by Zalman King. "Telling Jokes/Set Up" ("set up" as in the set-up of a joke and being set up at dinner) practically warned viewers of the 180 the episode would be doing when Louie started talking about his daughter's jokes. His favorite part of her jokes was that he had no idea where they night end up, and the story with Leo's character Lori was entirely unpredictable thanks to the brilliant set-up of the middle of the episode.
But all the while, it was completely believable... especially the fantastic scene in the bar with the two of them getting along like two curmudgeons who'd finally found someone who views the world just like they do. It opened up the possibility of a hook-up, but didn't bow down to the predictability of the same situation we've seen play out before. Louie was called a gay slur, punched in the head, and took the express route downtown. This is what happens when Louie runs into someone just as f***ed up, if not more so, as he is.
Louis C.K. isn't making a half-hour sitcom, he's making New Wave cinematic comedy in chunks of genius, not worrying about where stories start or end but always keeping them interesting and within the realm of possibility.
And how crazy is it that the episode went from this:
... to this:
... without making us feel like we'd started watching a different show?