[This is a review of Louie season 4, episodes 1 & 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
As spam emails go, those sent by Louis CK are the most delightful. Unpolished, almost intimate (despite their ultimate purpose), funny without trying to be, informative, and infrequent. Today, on the occasion of the season 4 premiere of CK's Louie, the comic/auteur unleashed another topical missive, promising that the fourth season would be "very different" from previous seasons after the first three episodes, which, according to CK, would be "pretty typical" of what the show has done in the past.
After a 19-month self-imposed exile, it's not surprising that CK would ease viewers back into his absurdest world - absence doesn't just make the heart grow fonder, it can also make it grow foggier - but it is somewhat surprising that these first two episodes show almost no discernible rust.
Presented as two standalone episodes, "Back" and "Model" have almost no obvious connection besides CK's presence, but in their separate construction, they remind us of the kinds of stories that CK likes to tell with his show.
Coming off like a sampler, "Back" allows CK to briefly address the interchangeable nature of years as we grow older, our ultimate insignificance, shame, insecurity, and modern annoyance plagues like smartphone-addicted twenty-somethings that are as disconnected as they are connected (though CK's conversation with comic Todd Barry deftly shows how empty face-to-face interactions can sometimes be as well).
Throughout the episode, the running theme seems to be CK's observation that he complicates things. A crude but seemingly well-meaning super mistells a joke that CK has to correct and his daughter asks for help with a heavy backpack and he tries to turn it into a moral lesson. Even a trip to an adult novelty store turns into an incident when CK strains his back, forcing him to sit on the sidewalk outside the store, relying on an old woman to call him a cab.
Awkwardness is CK's seeming favorite tool and he wields it well in the novelty store (whose employees are hilariously matter-of-fact about their merchandise in front of CK), during a visit to his doctor (played by Charles Grodin, who plays the bored physician perfectly as he and CK essentially mimic CK's busted ankle stand-up bit from his Chewed Up special), and at a roundtable conversation with friends.
Jim Norton, Sarah Silverman, and Nick DiPaolo do the heavy-lifting in a naturalistic back-and-forth with CK that is both filthy, hilarious, and the reason for CK's previously mentioned trip to the novelty shop. It's important to note how, in an era where the lines of what is and isn't politically correct keep blurring to nothingness, CK boldly charges forward in both his stand-up act and with the language of his show as the cast jokes about human sexuality and all of its trappings. No show on television demonstrates that same ambition and fearlessness, and after 19 months, it's good to have Louie back.
Whereas "Back" is a loose and crude slice of life mixed with a bit of cynical commentary about the world around us, "Model" is a focused and hopeful tale about the show's other obsession (besides the intricacies of life, morality and mortality) - love.
Taking place mostly in the Hamptons, CK is brought out to the upper crust section of Long Island by Jerry Seinfeld to open for him at a benefit, which CK promptly blows by awkwardly showing up late and in a t-shirt. It's always interesting to see CK and Seinfeld appear on the show together in that Seinfeld is always presented as a very smooth and put together alternative to CK.
Once done with his set, CK flees the party like a fugitive, annoyed and likely unaware that he has stolen a security guard's jacket (that Seinfeld made him wear). Outside, a young woman appears, yelling to CK about how much she (and she alone) liked his set because it made the audience of rich donors hate him. Soon, the woman has pulled up to CK in a sports car - his chariot for another surprising adventure.
CK is, at this event and in the Hamptons, completely out of his element, as he was in Miami and in China in seasons past. He is on an adventure, fueled by romance and not something as simple as lust. This girl is a mystery, and as they arrive at her oceanside house, she runs to the ocean like it is calling to her.
CK's "character" chases, but his steps are unsure the entire way, and when they go inside the house, he fumbles and slips on the wet floor while she (almost literally) walks on water. Almost naked, in her 20s, and care free, her life is without restriction - she floats while Louie remains confused by all that is happening, over-calculating the situation. CK is literally in another man's jacket, one that screams security during this insecure moment.
I won't spoil the ending, but it is typical of the show's non-standard sense of both humor and self and it reminds us that Louis CK's seeming mission isn't as random as it often seems. At its heart, this show is its own romantic adventure as the comic and father navigates an unkind world in search of something to make it all worthwhile. Love... or something like it.
Louie airs with back to back episodes on Monday nights at 10PM on FX