A review of tonight's “Louie” coming up just as soon as I talk in a funny voice…
So far, this has been a back-to-basics season for “Louie,” and it's hard to imagine a more vintage-feeling episode of the show than “A La Carte,” with its three vignettes – one wholly separate, the other two tying together at the very end – and mix of balls-out comedy, awkwardness, and pathos. There's even a moment in the third story where we're on the verge of getting another extended young Louie flashback, like “In the Woods,” only for Pamela to shut it down, complaining, “I don't want to hear this. It sounds long.”
About the only thing I regretted about the increased ambition and scope of seasons 2-4 is how the reinvented show left a lot of the laugh out loud comedy behind, or confined it to Louie's stand-up performances. The pre-credits scene here was a reminder of what an amazing comic writer and director Louis C.K. can be. It's a poop joke, but one that's also about what a hostile and difficult place New York can be, and it's also a spoof of “leave no man behind” war movie scenes, as the girls plead with him not to mess his pants like he's a fellow soldier about to jump on a grenade to save the rest of the platoon. It's not only the most I've laughed at this show in a long time, but probably the most I've laughed at anything on TV this year, and I've already seen full seasons of “Parks and Recreation” and “Broad City.”
The series has always done well at depicting just how difficult comedy is (if the fictionalized Louie didn't get to deliver the real Louis' jokes, his story might be unbearable at times), but young Bart was particularly hopeless. That Louie's desperate advice to him to deliver jokes in a funny voice would pay off so well speaks to the show's surrealist streak, but it also tied in nicely with the previous scene where Pamela watches Louie doing well in his set and can't resist laughing along with the rest of the crowd. That was a good payoff to her earlier insistence that Louie is no fun, and to her general attempts to paint him as a loser. He is in many ways, but he's also capable of walking into a comedy club and doing that, and that as much as anything else encourages her to stick around him.
Now, why he wants to still be with her is a thornier question, and has been since she returned to the scene. Pamela has never treated Louie especially well, but things between them grew especially toxic last season, and it's a pattern that's continued here. I recognize that Louie is a deeply lonely character(*) who feels a connection to Pamela, and that emotion on this level has nothing to do with logic, or even whether the other person is awful to you 9 times out of 10. But I still come out of most recent Louie/Pamela scenes desperately wishing for something better for him, even if that something better is simply being alone instead of suffering her presence.
(*) That Pamela encourages a reluctant Louie to sleep with other women, one week after an episode where he did just that – and came across as being single – is a reminder that C.K. is at best continuity-agnostic. And while most of the time it's not an issue, it can be when we're meant to be following an ongoing emotional arc like this.
But the later scenes were also a reminder of the more complex aspects of their relationship, and how good they can be together on that 1 time out of 10 where she's not being horrible and he's not making an ass of himself.
What did everybody else think? And who would watch an entire episode's worth of scenes from the depressing French film?