In Louie's second season, comedian, Man Show 2.0 host, and non-actor Doug Stanhope showed up and turned in a bleak and truly unforgettable performance as a washed-up comic heading for suicide. This past June, Grantland's Bill Simmons, recording a podcast with Louis C.K., asked, "So who won the season three Doug Stanhope Award for actor who exceeded your expectations?"
C.K. nearly spilled a name, then balked, then went with, "It's a guy ... you're not gonna believe who's on the show. It's a guy who's known, but not as an actor. Episode eleven, there's gonna be this guy on, who is not an actor, who's an icon, and he turns in a massive ... he's the best actor I ever ... he's like Henry Fonda. It's unbelievable, this guy. Best actor of the season, I think."
David Lynch, ladies and gentlemen. A filmmaker who does anything he wants, and does it insanely, in a part written and directed by an identically unique mind. Aside from Woody Allen, is there any analagous icon it'd be a cooler to see C.K. enlist for Louie?
Everyone writing or thinking anything about this episode is no doubt hunting for the right hook on which to hang the descriptor "Lynchian" to. Was it his character's name, Jack Dall? The way Dall rubs his ear and stares hauntingly into space, accompanied by an eerie whooshing sound on the score? The stopwatch and the pistol in his desk? The different-secretaries bit, the weirdness of which mostly ended up running in bonus-feature fashion during the credits? For me it was, without a doubt, Lynch pantomiming the ridiculous fanfare of a strutting Late Show intro. Any other Twin Peaks fans see vague shades of The Man from Another Place?
This "Late Show" arc is leaning hard on the conceit that Louie will be toast if he doesn't get David Letterman's job. "I hate to see what the future would be if you don't make this happen," says Louie's ex-wife, Janet, in yet another scene where a diner booth functions as a venue for various philosophies. Were companions in Louis C.K.'s actual life so dubious of the idea that, more than two decades into comedy, he could innovate and earn millions without resorting to an outdated career path he isn't at all suited to?
Lynch's Dall — who has a Miyagi-like conviction that Louie's not "ready" for modern monologue jokes, serving him stillborn gags about Reagan, Nixon, and Thatcher — breaches the lackluster caliber of Louie's "body, face, beard, hair, clothes, you." He flatly states that Louie is someone people would hate looking at on television. Meta-ouch. (Louie's rebuttal to all that? He's ... not gonna wear a suit.)
Everyone who had a tough go at accepting Jay Leno's involvement with Louie last week (and there were lots of you) get something to chew on this time — the possibility that Leno allowed himself to be played as a snake. ("Jay Leno is a liar," intones Chris Rock, who is underused here, though his scarf is expertly used.) Leno's sincerity or lack thereof is deliberately a tough read, as he sits in his office after hours, wearing a denim shirt unbuttoned at the neck, shot from up close (has anyone ever really seen Jay Leno's eyes? Like this?), saying something intensely reflective. "Don't do it," is Leno's Late Show advice. "You know how you're the hip guy, you're the cool guy? That used to be me. But then you gotta do fourteen minutes every single night. Nobody is hip every single night. I wish somebody had told me that." Wow. Of course he also says "I know everything," and has this idea that he'd actually need to begin a telephone call with "Ay, it's me, Jay Leno."
Louie, who has his daughters for the night, is looking for that exact brand of discouragement. In the grocery store earlier, Jane beams "I did good, didn't I?" after loudly catching a probably struggling older woman stealing food. Good luck guiding her through those thorny morality situations while you're hosting Late Show, Louie.
On the other hand, Louie's got his ex-wife (another great appearance by Susan Kelechi Watson) trying to dismantle his principles of fatherhood and fame. "Forget the kids," she says. "You go get this job. You'll see them on the weekends, you'll have them over the summer. Yes, you'll see them a lot less, but that's because you'll have a job."
Louie, half trying to impress Janet and half looking for someone to hold him back so he doesn't have to actually try, is appropriately deflated when Janet tells him he can "totally get this show, and the girls will be fine." She, like last week's hyper-convincing Lars Tardigan (played by Garry Marshall, residing in another glistening wooden office like Lynch's), can't see the point of all those years of stand-up if Louie doesn't make a real run at this predictable move.
And Janet's fatal strike: "You've been a fine father. But nobody needs a father that much. The girls need a role model. They need to see you live and succeed." That same dramatic, must-make-high-stakes-choice music from last week seeps in.
Some reactions to these first two parts of the "Late Show" three-parter have been middling. It's clear C.K. is aiming for something different — bigger? — and tonally distinctive here. It's a focused, extended meditation on showbiz and success and being a family man in the face of it. Pending next week's resolution — where we'll see some more Lynch, probably some Seinfeld, maybe more Chris Rock — I'm ready to vote the arc as one of Louie's best experiments thus far.
• "What are you, a letter? Nobody sent you."
• If you thought Louie on a motorcycle was ridiculous, here's Louie in boxing training gear.
• Seeing Louie face-to-face with Janet is a great scene to have saved for the third-to-last episode of the season. Oh, and they were married the same amount of time Louis and his actual ex-wife were married. Veracity!
• C.K. ripping into his buddy Seinfeld a little, through the voice of his fictionalized ex-wife, is great.
• Louie's glasses are back and they're the kind that change color in the sun. Drink!
• Don't laugh too hard at the idea of Louie putting himself through a Rocky montage to get ready for a big opportunity — C.K. actually trains with boxer Mickey Ward (the dude Mark Wahlberg played in The Fighter) when he's about to go on big stand-up tours.
• And one for the road: While he's on your brain, check out this stellar clip of Lynch speaking about ideas.