Friday, July 20, 2012

Louie Season 3, Episode 4: “Daddy’s Girlfriend (Part 1)”

Last night’s Louie provided another instance of why the show is one of the smartest and most formally interesting comedies on television. The show is episodic, routinely alternating between Louis C.K.’s standup bits and short narratives that usually somehow relate to them. He begins this episode with a funny standup bit about answering his daughter’s school-mandated question, “What is prejudice?” The bit quickly veers off into sex jokes, but later in the episode, we see him enact his definition as he (somewhat creepily) peeks through the windows of his eldest daughter’s elementary school, contemplating what the teachers would be like both as sex partners and as parental material for his children. His prejudice here is to think that the teachers at his daughter’s school would make good mothers. The scene is made funny through the repetition of evocative, doo-wop-esque music as he ogles the teachers, but it is also made somewhat sincere (as far as leering goes, anyway) by his dual considerations of each teacher: What would it be like to sleep with this woman? What would she be like as a parental influence for my kids?

These kinds of concerns and goals are sometimes portrayed in television dramas (single parent tries to date, conflict with children ensue), but rarely do they work their way into the mind of the single parent as effectually as this episode does. It helps that we get access Louie’s subjective depth, as he imagines what one of the teachers would be like playing with his kids, all while the same music plays over the scene. The result is that it felt not only like both of these concerns were of equal priority for Louie, but that he was even turned on by the women’s ability to be a positive influence in his daughters’ lives, and that’s a perspective that seems quite rare for television. All told, the scene was powerfully sympathetic, and even somewhat empathetic, as it made me think about what a burden it would be to have to weigh both of those priorities right from the start of any relationship.

This sympathetic scene of prejudice is motivated by an earlier scene with his kids, who drop a hint about the man their mother is dating. Thus Louie’s search for a for a romantic partner who would also be good for his kids is only partially altruistic; he also just wants to compete with his ex-wife for the affection of his children (a theme Louie has worked with before).*  

*The actors playing Louie’s kids are a gold mine, especially the younger one. They’re both wonderfully naturalistic performers, and the way in which Louie interacts with their characters is both frequently heartwarming and devastating (in particular I’m thinking of the opener to one of last season’s episodes: as Louie is brushing the younger daughter's teeth, she absentmindedly tells Louie she likes living with her mother better). In last night's episode the younger daughter wants Louie to date a veterinarian so they can play with the animals. 

At first, acting on an ill-advised impulse, Louie reaches out to fellow comic (and apparent fuck-buddy) Maria Bamford. I don’t have much to say about this scene, other than that I found funny the horrified terms in which Bamford rephrased Louie’s proposal that she come over for dinner with him and his kids, especially her dismay over Louie’s “trying to add features” to their sex. Also, it’s regularly amusing to see the depths of humiliation to which Louis C.K. subjects “himself” (or his character, Louie), as when Bamford ends the scene by pushing Louie away, flatly telling him he’s bad at sex.

After the interlude at the school, the next woman he reaches out to is Parker Posey, who works at a book store (her character goes unnamed). Here, the episode turns to slightly different subject matter: asking a stranger out on a date. It's subject matter like this where Louie really excels: the subtly dramatic moments that punctuate the minutiae of everyday life. It can be a nerve-wracking ordeal to ask out someone you have a crush on, and that you think is perfect for you, and the show captures this feeling perfectly.

Posey is nice to Louie, attractive, and seems like good parental material, given her ability to get inside Louie’s daughter’s head without even having met her. Yet Louie palpably struggles to get past his own nervousness in his first two encounters with Posey. He wants to extend the conversation with her upon first meeting her but can’t think of a way to do it without being awkward, or rather, any more awkward than he’s already been (here’s his opener to Posey: “I’m looking for a book about flowers… I mean I, um, I need a book about my, uh, for my kid, about flowers. For a child.” Louis C.K. is fantastic at playing awkward). Further enticing him, she seeks him out in his second trip to the bookstore, all smiles and flirtatious laughter, asking about whether his daughter liked the book. Louie’s very real connection with Posey in this scene is made all the more potent through its contrast with the scene immediately preceding it: Louie finishes a set and exchanges awkward glances with Bamford (calling to mind her harsh putdown from earlier in the episode).

Louie becomes determined to ask out Posey, but rather than finding a way around the barrier of his own nervousness, he crashes straight through it, starting out with some surprisingly suave words meant to deter what he assumes will be an automatic “No” response (I particularly liked his prefacing everything with “I’m going to come out and tell you, I’m asking you out”). He also shows a good amount of empathy for what it must be like to be a single woman, especially one who shows kindness to a man “as a human being,” only to have them “torpedo toward your vagina.” The latter is a poor choice of words, but the sentiment resonates. However, he quickly devolves into rambling about his own shortcomings and insecurities, turning what seemed like a charming way to ask someone out into something more insecure and pathetic. Nevertheless, once Louie finally shuts up, Posey agrees to go out with him, and Louie caps off the excitement of his success with a callback to a standup bit form earlier in the episode, pumping his fist the way a golfer or tennis player does after a win. And I was right there with him, emotionally; Louis C.K. perfectly captured the high risk, high reward feelings that are a part of asking out someone you like.

Other thoughts:

- I liked that Louie’s ogling of one of the teachers is aborted mid-ogle when he spots her wedding ring. Also good: each time his ogling is aborted, the music just stops – there’s no clichéd sound of the scratch of a record needle.

- I loved how Posey’s compliments in her and Louie's second meeting incite another hilarious bout of subjective narration: the doo-wop music returns, and Posey throws herself into Louie’s embrace as books fly off the shelves around them, and together the two fall passionately to the floor.

- A nice bit separates Louie’s second and third encounter with Posey, where Louie works up his nerve by shaving. The look he gives himself at the end is perfect: “Well, here goes nothing.”

- Also nice: Louie’s date proposal is done entirely in a close two shot, and Posey’s joke response (“I’m a lesbian”) is in close-up, as is Louie’s reaction to her joke. Good use of style, Louis C.K.: the two shot allows us to observe Louie’s blustering and blundering while simultaneously allowing us to gauge Posey’s many expressive, yet silent responses to what he’s saying. I particularly liked how her eyes widened when Louie says “torpedo toward your vagina,” as well as her drawing back slightly when Louie makes a “stop” gesture with his hands, but which also looks like he’s miming grabbing her breasts (a thought encouraged partly by this gesture coming on the heels of the “vagina” line).

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