'Louie' - 'Gym/Night Out': Here stands a man
A review of the two-part season one finale of FX's brilliant "Louie" coming up just as soon as I go back to sleep now...
Louis CK (or a very skilled Louis CK impersonator) raised a bit of a ruckus around here last week over a comment he (or his impersonator) made over at The AV Club review of "God," in which he explained that he was comfortable casting Amy Landecker as his date in one episode and his flashback mother in another - and comfortable in giving his mother wildly divergent personalities in the past and present - because, "This show doesn't really function as a series. I don't think of it that way. I use what I need to tell each story."
CK and FX have referred to this show as a collection of short films before, so I can see how he might view that approach as okay. You don't expect continuity from one Three Stooges short to the next, or from one Adam Sandler movie to the next, in spite of the same half-dozen supporting actors who always travel with him.
The difference here, though, is that Louis CK is always playing Louis CK, he always has these two daughters, is a stand-up with the same friends, etc. And an episode like "Gym" makes it clear just how much this is a series by bringing back Nick Di Paolo (to encourage Louie to get back to his bizarre, filthy anchorwoman dream), Pamela Adlon (for a hilariously raw and oddly sweet discussion of the dirty things they could do to the other moms and dads at the playground), Bobby Cannavale (to give Louie a heart attack by training him too hard in his first session) and Ricky Gervais (to do "the best thing I've ever done" in punking Louie about the state of his heart). Other than Cannavale, who only appeared briefly in the first episode with Adlon, all of these vignettes played off of what we knew about the relationships previously, and made clear that even if "Louie" doesn't have ongoing storylines, it is a series, and with the continuity that implies.
And I say that not to complain about either "God" (which was a brilliant, dark, memorable episode) or "Gym," or "Night Out" (which put a nice coda on the season by again having Louie confront the loneliness of his life and the fact that only his kids make him happy). One of the great things about this first season of "Louie" was how unpredictable it was. You never knew from week to week what kind of stories we were going to see, what the tone and style would be, etc. It was unpredictable, and while some episodes like the trip to Alabama didn't entirely work, they weren't dull.
But I think there's a balance between "not a series" implying the freedom that Louie has to tell any kind of story he wants from week to week, whether it be something completely comic like the stone fantasy of "Dogpound" or something ultra-dark like last week's crucifixion lesson; and "not a series" implying that there doesn't need to be any kind of connection from show to show. If they need to switch up the actors playing young Louie, or even the actresses playing his daughters for logistical reasons, I get that. But given how often an episode might trade on what's come in previous weeks, and how effective that build-up can be - here with Pamela bracing herself for the come-on she's been trying to resist since she first met Louie - I think going into season two, CK needs to accept that on some level, this is a series, and the world has to have some consistency, even if the format doesn't.
Again, these were two of my favorite episodes of the season. The anchorwoman dream had me in hysterics (even better were the outtakes of the actress working on her enunciation of the dirty dialogue), I identified very much with Louie's frustrations about getting to school on time and putting kids to bed ("I will kill a bird in front of you!"), I thought Dr. Ben was in some ways even funnier this time than last, liked how CK again played with sound in the club scene where we could hear the music but none of the dialogue, and found the pre-dawn pancake breakfast to be a really lovely note on which to end an often bleak season.
But just so we're clear: it's a series. It is. And that's okay.
What did everybody else think?