[This is a review of the Louie season 5 finale and the season as a whole. There will be SPOILERS.]
One of the thematic threads that resonated throughout the shortened, back-to-basics run of Louie season 5 was the idea that Louis C.K.'s onscreen alter ego was confounded by his encounters with members of a younger generation. This is actually a topic C.K. has explored before (the coffee shop scene filled with incomprehensible young people is a great example). It's prime real estate for cranky middle-aged men (like C.K.'s onscreen presence) to complain about; the type of thing that would normally lead to some sort of dressing down of a self-absorbed millennial, someone who is too focused on his or her cellphone or social media to notice the subtle nuances of life, much less find it within themselves to afford someone from another generation a modicum of respect simply because they're older.
That dressing down usually involves a lengthy diatribe of how things haven't gotten better, they've gotten worse; it's the sort of approach the audience has been conditioned expect – maybe even from a comedian like C.K. who has strong opinions on such things. And yet, time and again, Louie demonstrated how these instances of a perceived slight from the younger generation aren't what they initially seemed to be. And in most cases, not only was C.K. wrong, he found that the young people he was engaging with had more to offer him than the other way around.
There were exceptions, of course. Episodes like 'Cop Story' and 'Sleepover' proved Louie wrong in his quick rush to judgment of, say, the 24-year-old owner of a Manhattan kitchen supply store, or even his own daughter Lilly (Hadley Delany), whom he believed was texting during a star-studded Broadway play that featured the likes of Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Matthew Broderick, and Michael Cera. But in 'The Road: Part 2,' the sight of April, the racist, texting-while-driving daughter of an Oklahoma comedy club owner briefly steered (no pun intended) the conversation in the other direction. And it did it just long enough to make you think, "hey, maybe Louie was right all along," only to have Kenny (Jim Florentine), Louie's obnoxious, lazy, "fun-loving" comedian roommate, prove once again that maybe the problem isn't everyone else, maybe the problem is Louie.
As much as a season of an idiosyncratic series like Louie even has a throughline, the idea of C.K. engaging in an ideological battle against members of a younger generation (with the exception of Kenny, of course), only to find himself more often than not losing the argument, would certainly be a strong contender for what the narrative arc of season 5 actually was. These scenes, whether with the shop owner, his daughter, an over-eager pleaser like Mike (Devin Ratray), or the staring-blankly-into-the-middle-distance spawn of a hateful club owner, all seem to be pointing to a level of disconnect Louie feels from the world around him. It's a problem the two-part finale explores textually – with C.K. essentially slapping away every hand extended to him in some act of friendship – that suggests, as miserable as the comedian is with the discomfort of travel and the people he is forced to deal with along the way, he's bringing the majority of the pain on himself.
There're two strong moments late in 'The Road: Part 2' that reinforce this notion. The first is Louie's reluctant participation in a souvenir photo, wherein he poses along with a mother and daughter for an old-timey portrait. It takes some doing, but Louie seems to enjoy himself when he finally gets to play the part of a Civil War-era captain and dance with the two women (as well as the photographer, because why not?). The photo and the ease with which C.K. steps into a bygone era offers more hints of his feeling out of touch or disconnected from the modern world and the people in it. But it also opens C.K. up to accepting invitations to connect – which he does later by spinning a wild yarn about the origin of the photo to his other daughter Jane (Ursula Parker) in the episode's closing moments.
But before that happens, the photo sequence segues nicely into Louie's final confrontation with Kenny, who, despite being a hack that gets more laughs than Louie by lighting farts on fire, rightly calls him out for being a jerk. The conversation shifts to a debate of the merits of comedy – both low and highbrow – and how there's nothing wrong with a little bathroom humor, so long as the audience goes home happy. The exchange points out how Louie's expectations for himself and for other comedians, when it comes to their comedy (keep in mind the real-life C.K. regularly does bits of a more scatological nature), is at the heart of what's making him miserable; he's forgotten "It's not an art…it's a bar trick". And then, as if to further sell the point he's trying to make, Kenny dies after attempting a drunken "upper-decker," proving bathroom humor can work on multiple levels.
But that certainly wasn't all these eight episodes had to offer. Frankly, considering some of the seasons' strongest offerings came in the form of the hallucinatory 'Untitled,' and its descent into the nightmarish world of hairless contortionists with featureless faces intent on licking Louie's mug (not to mention the unforgettable song that the episode ended on), and the humiliating physical and emotional violence of 'Bobby's House,' it's hard to argue the season was anything more than a successful back-to-basics approach, after the expansive and yet sometimes uneven storytelling of season 4.
In the end, perhaps having fewer episodes to deal with played a part, but the more episodic nature of the season seems to have offered C.K. a chance to explore a more diverse set of ideas. That didn't necessarily lead to the writer, director, editor, and star to taking more chances than he has before – the season as a whole was more sedate than previous offerings – but it did make for some entertaining and cringe-inducing choices that felt substantial and entertaining nonetheless.
Screen Rant will keep you posted regarding news of Louie season 6 as it is made available.
Photos: KC Bailey/FX