“We can’t have a show where everybody just says whatever because it’s cute,” Louie yelped in a season two episode that briefly sent up C.K.’s painful real-life experience making HBO’s Lucky Louie. With an episode like “Dad,” one has to wonder if replacing the word cute with silly or some equivalent would nullify the gripe for C.K. and turn it into a mantra. “We can have a show where everybody just says and does whatever because it’s absurd — sometimes, at least.”
Flashes of the ridiculous have abounded in Louie’s two-point-six seasons — a date ditching Louie via helicopter; a duckling halting an encroaching military firefight; a crazed hobo’s dismembered head flumping down the street after he’s accidentally launched into traffic; a dog changing into another dog during a marijuana binge; a tryst between Louie and Joan Rivers. The moments have accumulated so precipitously that, while writing and talking about Louie, I know to keep a hat nearby stocked with mostly interchangeable words like wacky, absurd, bananas, and yes, the anchor, silly. One or two can usually get me through an episode. But with so many instances crammed into the single installment that was “Dad,” it feels worthwhile to step back and wonder whether this was Louie at peak ludicrousness. I was wrong to see the title and expect a story mirroring something as heavy and filmic as season one’s similarly bluntly titled “God.” So, so wrong.
The kitchen sink approach left “Dad” with moments I wished would spin out into full stories and segments I found myself antsy during. The cold open was excellent: A serene moment of Jane’s violin playing, as impressive as it is beauteous (actress Ursula Parker apparently performed at Carnegie Hall at age eight). “It’s not time to do that right now,” a fuming Louie tells his child prodigy. “But it’s beautiful,” Jane explains. If there’s any key to the episode, it’s this — Louie is, or can be, a show capable of great beauty in its singular viewpoint and presentation and humor and realness. But tonight’s just not the time for that.
We’re soon treated to Excelsior C.K., Louie’s uncle. It’s the second appearance by 72-year-old F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus, Scarface), all but obliterating the oddness that was his cameo as a potential threesome-mate for Louie last season. In the show’s consistency-be-pretty-much-damned tradition, Abraham’s in a new role, and he’s impossible to figure out. He uses a baffling story about a boot-wearing duke and a credenza to demand Louie reconcile with his father. Along the way, he: deploys a terrifying condom-applying pantomime as a metaphor for father and son kinship; gesticulates meaningfully with his middle finger without realizing, or caring, that it’s synonymous with telling someone to fuck himself; orders two Cornish hens and some water.
There’s a reprisal of Louie’s comics-only poker game, nice in that it reminds us of the show’s deliberation on the word faggot, if not as memorable in actual content this time around. But it’s Sarah Silverman’s second consecutive appearance, and we do get to learn that Jim Norton jerks off to his own infantile porn doodles.
At the doctor, we get a great new encapsulation of C.K.’s worldview when he’s quizzed about any new stresses appearing: “I got kids and, uh, work, it’s hard sometimes, but boilerplate misery — alone in the world, might as well be a maggot sucking a dead cat’s face, what’s the point, but nothing new.”
“Dad” also holds more references to existing C.K. stand-up material than a typical episode. The lazy off-brand Staples employees? “You’re wearing a vest that matches the building; just do the thing that is the point of the place.” Doing something forbidden with a rental car (now, vomiting; then, in the Live at the Beacon special, abandoning it at airport parking)? Yup. A traffic altercation? Topic = mined.
Louie almost reuniting with his father is an anticlimax leading to a dance-remix-length version of the date fleeing Louie in a helicopter. Seconds before seeing his father’s face, Louie vaults into a breakneck run. He helmetlessly commandeers some insane three-wheeled vehicle I don’t even have a clue what it’s called. Then a climb and a jump on a Boston dock and Louie’s onto a tropical/Miami/eighties-themed speedboat and out into the ocean, as far from his father as possible, in the kookiest manner possible.
• C.K.’s actual father left when C.K. was young. “I imagine he’s seen my show. I haven’t really talked to him about it,” Louie said, perhaps cagily, in 2011.
• A couple nice behind-the-scenes bits from earlier pieces of Louie journalism: One, from Entertainment Weekly’s cover story this summer, said C.K. wanted to look genuinely sick before barfing onto the rental car, so he “wolfs down some Popeyes chicken, runs a few laps around the parking lot, and drops onto the gasoline-stained floor of the U-Save for a dozen push-ups. By the time he’s done, he looks like he’s going to have a heart attack. But that’s not enough.” He proceeded to have a crew member punch him in the stomach a couple times, once at “about 40 percent” and once “a little harder.” Jesus, Louis.
• Anecdote two, from the A.V. Club’s early season-three chat with C.K.: “I’m physically pretty banged up from this season from shit that I did. I fucking jumped into a boat that was ten feet off a dock, and I really hurt my knee. I’ve taken such a beating. But I do it because I know I’m not going to get an opportunity to do this for very long. This is going to feel like it was only a few years as soon as it’s over. I’m trying to really slow down time while it’s going on. And it’s really important to me that I earn it, that I earn what I’ve got in front of me by doing the show as well as possible. So that’s how I feel about it. It’s a big fucking deal.”
• Louie has ordered his daughters off to do homework so many times. Kids do get homework, but … ?
• Anyone else had the exact same experience in Staples or a similar place? “Please don’t ever make us help you and if we do help you we’re not going to help you help you.” New York’s Staples seem to operate solely on this ethos.
• You may have caught C.K.’s name sneaking into the editorial spot alongside former Woody Allen editor Susan E. Morse the last few weeks. This week the cut was all C.K.
• Louie getting out of the car and yelling “I’ll staht somethin’!” needs to get turned into a GIF immediately.