Review: ‘Louie’ – ‘Telling Jokes/Set Up’

Senior Television Writer
07.05.12 66 Comments

A review of tonight’s “Louie” coming up just as soon as I have two clam shacks in Sag Harbor…

Louis C.K. has said that he writes “Louie” stories without a particular length in mind, and just lets them run for as long as he feels they deserve it. And once that’s done, he figures out how he’s going to fit them into an episode – or, in the case of a few of this season’s stories, into multiple episodes. So I’m assuming that “Telling Jokes” and “Set Up” largely wound up together because their respective running times add up to a normal episode. But they also feel linked by a theme that’s going to pop up often in ensuing episodes: simple yet unexpected pleasures.

“Telling Jokes” is essentially C.K.’s spin on the old saw that kids say the darndest things. But the idea that small children don’t realize how funny they are takes on new life when shown through the eyes of a professional comedian. Jane’s joke about the gorilla who couldn’t go to the ballet would be strange and amusing enough on its own, but when we hear Louie analyzing it for a club audience, it goes to another level.

Beyond that, the opening scene with Louie and the girls at the kitchen table was a reminder that while Louie’s kids can be frustrating at times (like any kids), sometimes it’s an enormous amount of fun for them to just spend time together.

“Set Up,” meanwhile, offered a terrific guest role for Melissa Leo as Louie’s unwitting blind date Laurie. a tough broad who’s as surprised as Louie to realize she’s having a good time when their married friends leave. Leo’s never been a particularly self-conscious actress – on “Homicide,” she refused (over the objections of several executives) to wear makeup, since she didn’t think her character would – so it’s not that shocking to see a former Oscar winner cheerfully offering up oral sex in a pick-up truck, then violently demanding Louie return the favor when he declines, but it’s still an explosively funny, ballsy sequence, and performance.

And part of what made it funny was how it played off of what we know about both Louie the character and Louis C.K. the creative guy, and how wrapped up they are in their own integrity. Nine times out of ten, his reasoning is absolutely valid, but every now and then he picks the absolute wrong time to make a moral stand. It’s a quid pro quo situation, and it’s hilarious to hear Laurie’s righteous indignation over what his refusal to understand that says about the country. (Including a variation of the show’s running gag about people invoking President Obama in strange situations.) And Louie has to ultimately accept that he was wrong, as he seems eager to go out with her again even after she manhandled him in that way. (Or maybe because of it.)

What did everybody else think?

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