Review: 'Louie' - 'So Did the Fat Lady/Elevator Part 1': Comedy, bang bang
A review of tonight's two "Louie" episodes coming up just as soon as we choose between Mexican/Italian or Sushi/Pizza...
With "Elevator," Louis C.K. is going even further with multi-episode storytelling than he did last season, since this one's apparently set to cover five more episodes after this one. And most of the section of Part 1 that actually deals with the elevator and Louie meeting his Eastern European neighbors felt entirely like a preamble to whatever's coming next. (As of now, I haven't seen any additional episodes in advance.) So the most memorable part of that episode involved Louie's subway misadventure with Jane, who, convinced she was still dreaming, hopped off the car to see what would happen. Having something genuinely bad happen to Jane doesn't feel like something even a show as elastic as "Louie" would do — Louie's daughters are the only real constant the series has other than the man himself, and they're based on C.K.'s own daughters — but even though everyone made it to Louie's ex-wife's apartment physically unscathed, that was an emotionally harrowing sequence. And the interaction between Louie and his ex said so much about the shared love and fears they have for these kids, even with their other differences. They just seemed so utterly lost for an answer in the moment, but at least lost together, while the girls were momentarily watched by their stepdad.
Mainly, though, I want to talk about "So Did the Fat Lady." If this is going to be the last standalone episode for a while (and I believe it's multi-episode stories for the rest of the season, even after "Elevator" concludes), it was an awfully good one, as both an education of Louie piece and a showcase for guest star Sarah Baker.
Though "Louie" makes fun of its hero's appearance early and often, it's also tended to pair him off with women who are significantly thinner (and usually more conventionally attractive) than him, from Chelsea Peretti in the pilot all the way through to Yvonne Strahovski last week. These relationships inevitably fail for reasons other than aesthetic incompatibility, but it's only even sometimes mentioned that Louie's punching out of his weight class. Some of it is that there's a tradition of this in TV comedy — just look at the parade of babes that Jerry and George (George!) dated on "Seinfeld" — and some is that society unfairly places different standards of appearance on men and women, and is more accepting of an uglier and/or older guy dating a prettier woman than vice versa. When Hannah Horvath has sex with a guy who looks like Patrick Wilson, it is worthy of commentary and angry debate; when Louie has sex with Agent Sarah Walker from "Chuck," nobody raises a fuss.(*)
(*) I'm really not looking to prematurely start "Girls" argument season back up again, by the way, and I'm aware there are differences between "Model" and "One Man's Trash," since "Louie" can be so tonally different (often verging on fantasy), and since the whole idea of "Model" was that Louie felt he had no business with this woman, and disaster ensued as a result. But even if it's apples-to-oranges, it still says something about our attitudes on this that none of the people who wrote pieces about how Lena Dunham could never land somebody like Wilson followed up with a similar piece decrying the brief C.K./Strahovski tryst as unrealistic.
So even though "Model" and "So Did the Fat Lady" aired a week apart, the latter plays as something of an answer to the former. Louie spends years trying to get Pamela to sleep with him despite her complete lack of interest, but he won't give Vanessa the time of day even though she's incredibly charming and funny, and she is, for whatever reason, into Louie. And to drive home the point of just how hypocritical he's being in dismissing her for being overweight, the episode gives Louie's brother Robbie the reverse Chuck Cunningham treatment, rescuing him from continuity limbo and pretending like he's been around all this time, all so he and Louie can enjoy a gluttonous pair of meals together(**) before going on a health kick that we know they're actually never going to do. If Louie were to learn of a woman doing this, he'd be just as grossed-out as the waitress is, but he doesn't even for a moment consider Vanessa as a romantic prospect even after she gives him play hockey tickets. (My notes for the episode feature many variations on the phrase "Ask her out, you moron!")
(**) If I've done this right, there should be a poll embedded at the bottom of this review, because I'm awfully curious to find out whether the idea of bang-bang will put you all of food forever, or if it's going to become the new dining craze sweeping the nation.
And Baker, who played the creepy cat lady from the support group on "Go On," absolutely belonged on the pedestal where the episode placed her. She was charming, she was likable, she was human, and she was someone you would believe Ed Burns would enjoy chatting with. And the script managed to make her both wonderful and interested in Louie, despite his lack of interest in her — and in a way that played as colder than how Pamela has treated him over the years — without also making her seem pathetic. She's into Louie, even though he's being a superficial idiot about her looks, and she's going to keep pushing not because she's some sex-starved lonelyhearts — as she tells him, she can have sex anytime she wants — but because she just wants a nice guy to hold hands with. On the one hand, it's a sad commentary that it takes such a rudimentary request for Louie to finally make his big show of solidarity. On the other, "Louie" is generally not a show about grand romantic gestures — when Louie has made them (first with Pamela, then with Liz), it's ultimately blown up in his face — and it felt more honest that this is the most that happens on their "date." Maybe Vanessa returns (and I'd sure be happy to see her), and maybe she doesn't, but for the purposes of the story being told in "So Did the Fat Lady," it's enough. Louie learns something about himself, but he also learns that this awesome woman is right in front of him, and maybe he should pay more attention.
I need to run out and hit a couple of restaurants in a row, but what did everybody else think?