TV and masturbation have an appropriately up-and-down relationship: In the early nineties, shows like Seinfeld and Roseanne treated it as just a normal (albeit hilarious) part of life — yet, at the same time, they weren’t permitted to use the m-word on the air, thus making it seem even more taboo. Twenty years later, it’s now used as a plot point-slash-punch line on so many newly liberated cable dramas and wannabe-edgy network series that it almost feels not taboo enough. We get it, Ryan Murphy! You have a special “OUTCAST TEEN YANKS IT” shortcut key on your Final Draft (most likely B+8+the open Apple sign)!
All of which is to say that while last night’s Louie is one of the better TV episodes about masturbation, it’s not exactly a crowded category. Titled “Come On, God,” the episode opens with a Red Eye With Greg Gutfeld segment that finds the host grilling Ellen Faber, the found of CAM, or Christians Against Masturbation. She’s prim, chipper, and utterly confident, as though she thought Election were an inspirational biopic. She’s also anti-masturbation. “It’s a crime against God and the person who does it to themselves,” she says. “Young people all over the world are depriving themselves of the greatest gift that the Lord bestowed upon them at their birth: their purity.”
For an opposing view, Gutfield brings in Louie, the “comedian/masturbator” (aren’t we all?) who points out that if God watches over us all, then he’s just as guilty as the rest of us: “So we’re like porn for God. He watches us [have sex], and then he masturbates.” He also notes the futility of her campaign. “Every single person, ever, has masturbated,” he says. “Napoleon masturbated, Gandhi, Joan Jett, Shakespeare … ”
Ellen, to her credit, doesn’t get flustered. Her philosophy is that to withhold from masturbation makes you feel deeper love for your partner, and she gives Louie a sharp shock of reality. “You masturbate, and you’re alone,” she says. “Have you ever been happy? Are you happy now?” Cue dark, brooding strings and an angry self-defensive diatribe. “I’m a good citizen, a good father, I recycle, and I masturbate,” Louie barks. “And later I’m going to masturbate and think about you.” He storms off, only to bump into Ellen afterward and get invited to a CAM meeting.
Then we’re off to a quick stand-up routine, about how sad it is that men can’t stop thinking about sex. “If you’re a woman and a guy just said something romantic to you,” he says, “he’s just leaving out the second part that would have made you sick if you could hear it … we think you’re angels, and we want you to drown in our cum. It’s just the way we are.”
Back in his apartment building, Louie runs into a beautiful blonde neighbor in the elevator; once he gets home, he unloads some groceries, puts on some gentle classical music, and starts masturbating about her. His fantasy: that she turns to him in the elevator, points to her rear, and notes that “there are, like, no dicks in there. Uh! It’s so annoying, can you just help me out? Can you just stick like a whole bag of dicks in there?”
Luckily, fantasy Louie does have a bag full of dicks, which he begins to smack against her (some recycler he turned out to be — the dick-bag’s plastic, not cloth!). As he does so, we cut back to real-life Louie masturbating in his chair, an undertaking that seems to almost pain him. Before he finishes, he grimaces and writhes in silence, like a cat burglar who’s just been bitten in the nuts by a guard dog. Then an old man walks into the elevator and starts critiquing their style.
Now, in theory, watching a 43-year-old guy whack off to the image of a woman being slapped with a bag ol’ phalluses makes for pretty disgusting TV. Yet the elevator scene is hilarious and weirdly endearing, rather than sick and sad. It helps that, even in his masturbatory dreamworld, Louie seems uncomfortable about the whole thing; he imagined this scenario, but he also realizes how awkward it would make him feel (in fact, that awkwardness would be one of the reasons he finds it so arousing in the first place — for Louie, abject weirdness equals verisimilitude).
Afterward, Louie goes to a CAM meeting and takes Ellen out for a drink, though he’s not sure how to communicate with a woman when he’s not trying to sleep with her. “You kind of need that incentive to bring out the charm,” he says. She dares him to pretend he has a chance. “It’ll be fun to watch,” she says.
They take a stroll outside, during which Louie tells the virginal Ellen about his first hand job. “It was so intense, that I came with such force that I started farting,” he says. “I’m coming and farting, and she’s laughing. That was the basis of my whole life sexually: just shame and cum and farts.” (Look for Tyler, the Creator’s next solo album, Shame N’ Cum N’ Farts, next fall.) Ellen, amazingly, is charmed by this story, and invites him to hang out in her suite.
There, she changes into a bathrobe, sits next to Louie on the couch, and rebuffs his awkward attempt to make out. What if, she asks, they could achieve a heightened connection by not making out or having sex — but by slowly getting to know one another and falling in love. “We’d get excited just to hear each others’ voices and feel pent-up desire,” she says. Eventually, she says, they’d get married, and “because we waited, the first time and every time afterward would be so passionate and so free. I bet you’ve never had sex one time in your life like that, where there’s no shame and no fear.”
Liz Holtan, who plays Ellen, does an excellent job with this monologue, turning what could have been a clichéd, Harriet Hayes–style strident Christian into a thoughtfully pragmatic true believer. For a moment, it even looks like Louie’s buying into her idea — and in fact, it excites him so much he has no choice but to head to her bathroom, where he masturbates, climaxing with a long, flat-tire-sounding fart (a trait that apparently runs in the family). He knows Ellen’s proposal would likely lead to mind-bending, life-alternating sex. But it also seems like a whole lotta work.
In the end, we watch Louie, back at home, M*A*S*H-turbating to old newswire images photo of Loretta Swit. But when the BBC radio kicks on with grisly tales of African genocide, he gives up. Sometimes, you’re just too beat down to beat off.