“Louie” has always been a dark show. Even its most hilarious episodes are generally rooted in the harsh reality of everyday life or in Louie’s brutally frank self-mockery. Moments of optimism do occasionally come, but they’re few and far between and usually very brief. One certainly doesn’t expect to see the series to do an episode that is essentially an hour-long celebration of people and of the ties that bind us together.
At its heart, that’s exactly what this episode is. “Duckling” is essentially “Louie’s” first attempt at doing a truly feel-good episode. And it’s an absolute triumph. I don’t do a best episodes of the year list, but if I did this one would basically be guaranteed a place in the top ten (probably the top five). It is just that great: and is yet another example of just how high the show is setting the bar this season.
The greatness starts in the way the episode is constructed. Its first few minutes are spent with Louie and his daughters as they care for a few ducklings: something that ordinarily wouldn’t get mentioned again once the other story (Louie’s trip to Afghanistan) begins. Indeed, my first assumption was that the ducklings were supposed to symbolize Louie’s own sensation of being lost when he goes overseas. In other words, Louie is the “duckling” of the title.
And the episode actually does work on that level. But at the same time, it’s kind of refreshing to see the show tie the duckling plot into the Afghanistan one by having Louie’s daughter secretly hide a duckling in his belongings in order to “keep him safe”. And it’s even more satisfying when the duckling actually does so by helping to defuse a tense situation later on. It’s a simple narrative, but for a show that often eschews traditional narrative altogether it’s kind of charming.
In addition, it’s nice to be reminded that Louie’s stand-up doesn’t usually take place in a vacuum. Here we actually get to see people react to it and enjoy it, as well as witness some really nice music performed by Keni Thomas. Everything just has an undeniable and effortless feeling of warmth to it. Even Louie’s incredibly ill-advised attempts to talk to a cheerleader are played for mildly awkward chuckles rather than true cringe laughs. It’s nice to take a break from the show’s usual heaviness, even if it's only for a week. And when the result is an episode this good, why wouldn’t it be?
- The episode is so well put-together and shot that it’s easy to think it was filmed in Afghanistan. Of course "Louie” can’t do that (even with an increased budget), but according to C.K.’s Twitter feed the episode is based on his actual experience overseas on a USO tour. Several of the people on that tour are featured in the episode as well, including Thomas.
- The duckling idea was his daughter’s. How cool is that?