Saturday, August 20, 2011

"Louie" - "Halloween/Ellie"

Spoilers for this week's "Louie" after the jump:

People like to claim that "Louie" is a show that defies TV conventions. And in one sense, that's definitely true. There are almost no recurring characters, and the tone varies wildly from episode to episode. But the show's structure is generally fairly rigid: either featuring one single story or two separate stories that are connected in some way (usually with some stand-up in between). The types of stories the show can tell using this format are almost limitless, but the structure definitely is there.

When the show does one of its double segment episodes, the first thing to look for is the link connecting the two segments. There almost always is one, and usually it comes about naturally like in "Subway/Pamela". That's certainly the case here, although it doesn't become apparent until the very end. We'll get to that in a minute, but first let's talk about the segments themselves.

The first depicts a frightening encounter Louie and his daughters have on Halloween. The way this sequence plays out is like a horror movie: starting with a false alarm and ending with a terrifying near-miss for our heroes. What's worth observing here is how the younger girl reacts: confronting the two costumed men about their behavior after being told earlier by her father that none of this is real. She doesn't recognize the seriousness of the situation, and is quite possibly saved only by Louie's quick thinking in breaking the window and setting off an alarm.

The second is more in line with the show's typical dark comedy, as Louie gets noticed after pitching a few great ideas during a freelance job. It doesn't work out, of course, since his general attitude and ideas are just too generally depressing to appeal to mainstream audiences. The movie studio executive he's talking abandons him almost once she realizes he won't be useful, and that's the end of that.

Our theme here is cynicism, which is made clear by the final stand-up bits. How we become cynical is a fascinating topic, and Louie's crude joke about smelling his own farts is actually hinting at what he believes to be the true reason: our experiences. His potential big break is ruined by his bleak film idea (the result of years of cynicism), which only serves to make him more cynical. It's a vicious cycle

And yet... his cynicism may have saved his daughters' lives as well as his own. Rather than pick a fight with the two men (a fight he'd probably lose), he breaks the window knowing there's a good chance the store has an alarm: something he's learned from his many years of observing the world. It's refreshing to see a show this honest about the benefits of mistrust as well as the costs.

Other Thoughts

- Every episode since "Joan" has gotten an A from me. This one isn't quite up to that level. It's missing the feeling of transcendence I got from something like "Eddie" or "Subway/Pamela". I still really loved it, though. 

- There's been some debate over whether "Louie" is currently the best show on TV. At this moment, I'd have to say yes. "Breaking Bad" has been just fine, but so far it hasn't been bringing it every week the way this show has. Right now I could easily see "Louie" ending up in the top spot next June when I put together my "best of the 2011-12 season" list. A lot can happen between now and then, though. 

Grade: A-

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