Last night, Louie kept bringing us to wildly uncomfortable and deeply scary places.
The first episode, “So Did the Fat Lady,” was a brilliant commentary on dating double standards and fatness. Louie often uses his body as the butt of a joke, but last night his body was the joke, as he and his brother Robbie engaged in the bacchanalia of the Bang Bang, which is eating two full meals at two different restaurants back-to-back. At the start, they used the Bang Bang to celebrate their decision to go back to the gym, but by the time the Bang Bang ended, they’d both given up on their brand-new commitment to fitness before it even began. As we moved through the episode, the underlying context became clear — men can do whatever they want to their bodies and still be considered desirable, but women don’t get off that easy.
When beautiful and overweight waitress Vanessa kept approaching Louie for a date, he found countless ways to brush her off. Vanessa is not the wilting, timid fat girl we’re used to seeing; She’s brazen, quite forward, and persistent. Louie finally acquiesces, and they have a lovely date, ending with Vanessa giving a speech about all the ways it sucks to be an overweight woman in NYC after Louie refuses to acknowledge her as fat. I have more thoughts about that speech here, but Louie did a good job overall at pointing out his own fat failings. He doesn’t even feel remorse about the Bang Bang until Robbie tells a cute server what they’re up to.
I mostly liked this episode, but it got a little heavy-handed at the end. Not all of us fat girls have a secret speech stored inside of us, or are content to replace the possibility of love with the immediacy of hand-holding. I like that Louie grabbed Vanessa’s hand, but I hate that he did it to shut her up.
In “Elevator Part 1,” we’re introduced to a wave of tiny terrors. At the beginning of the episode, Louie’s youngest daughter, Jane, has a nightmare, but treats waking life as a continuation of her dream. The next day, after Louie reviews the subway rules with them, Jane tests the limits of her dreamscape by hopping off a train seconds before the doors close, freaking Louie out completely. While Louie and Lilly frantically circle back to get Jane, something terrifying happens: A man, whom we only glimpse momentarily, approaches Jane and asks if she’s lost. She innocently answers that she’s fine, her dad is coming back to get her and this is a dream anyway, and when the camera cuts away, I really wasn’t sure that she would be there when Louie and Lilly finally arrived. His fear of this exact moment play out when he grabs her and screams at her that little kids sometimes disappear forever, but it was an unexpected moment of terror that was hard to shake.
Back in his building, a woman (played expertly by Ellen Burstyn) gets stuck in an elevator halfway between floors, and Louie is charged with helping her out and keeping her calm while they’re waiting for help to arrive. There’s already the threat of something happening with the elevator, thanks to the maintenance man telling Louie about how dangerous it is to reach in and pull people out for fear that they’d get cut right in half if the elevator started moving, but C.K. also introduces the threat of sexual violence into the story after going upstairs to retrieve the woman’s medication and finding her sleeping niece on the couch. We know Louie isn’t going to do anything, but he does stare at her for an uncomfortable amount of time before comically trying to wake her up. She perceives this as a sexual threat when she finally wakes up, though, and starts wailing on Louie until he leaves, eventually making her way to his apartment to apologize.
I’m used to being a little unmoored with Louie, and part of its charm is Louis C.K.’s ability to defy expectations and push deeper into those moments of absurdity. But I think last night was the first time I felt actual terror watching the show, and I wasn’t sure if “pushing it” this time meant pushing it too far. It didn’t, but it was a strangely riveting hour of TV all the same.
MOMENTS OF BRILLIANCE
- Return of the mom — I still love that he cast an African-American woman as the mother of his kids.
- “You shouldn’t yell shit in front of your kid.” Never change, New York; even fake New York.
- Ellen Burstyn’s taxi showdown, on a loop, forever