As Louie sits there test-interviewing a middle-aged European cleaning lady called Elaine, it looks like the three-part “Late Show” arc has been building to Louie finally acknowledging how wrong he is for the job. Except for his comedian friends, his daughters, and his various catastrophic romantic encounters, Louie is essentially a shut-in (if not a misanthrope); not the first choice for someone who can amiably converse with strangers on a piece of marquee network programming. Louie can barely form a sentence in most situations he’s not fully invested in; not the guy you want monologuing five nights a week on a show he got intimidated into.
Then comes Jerry Seinfeld to tell Louie he’s not even getting a chance. Thought process at this point: Good God is that bleak. Or it’s not — it’s just Louie, right? Of course he wouldn’t even get a chance, it’s just not that kind of show.
But then it is that kind of show, at least this week. Seinfeld was being a snake (a game gesture from Seinfeld, similarly to Leno last week), lying about the Late Show war having already moved into treaty phase, and Louie’s doing his test show, dammit. Which goes amazingly! Suddenly we remember Louie C.K., the show’s hapless protagonist, shares the stand-up comedy DNA of Louis C.K., that he has this remarkable ability to be transcendentally hilarious and edgy and relatable.
Late Show With Louie C.K., the bits of the one episode ever made, is terrific. Louie’s pinstriped suit and shiny tie somehow don’t look foolish. He’s got a good president joke. He breaks the fourth wall to talk about the evils of cue cards. He’s able to incorporate or at least reference his line-toeing brand of humor, holding up a placard reading JEWS and politely demurring to comment. He tells Susan Sarandon he lost his masturbation-virginity to her, then ribs Paul Rudd about his actual daughter’s name, Darby (both those exchanges would easily make the grade for Vulture’s Last Night on Late Night). It’s such a success that comic Todd Barry, who has only ever told Louie how much he sucks and what ways he’d like to degrade Louie’s mother, turns soft: “I gotta say, you stepped up. Great job.”
Because this is Louie and we need an escape hatch to ensure this doesn’t turn into any show but the one it is, we discover Garry Marshall’s scheming executive Lars Tardigan was using Louie (and Seinfeld) to show Letterman there were sturdy alternatives out there, forcing Dave to take a $2 million annual pay cut. Even that’s not a return to standard Louie bleakness, but the opposite — Louie gets to remain an involved father and a comic’s comic, and he’s found some of the self-worth that can sustain him through both those responsibilities. He heads to the Ed Sullivan Theater and has his final Rocky moment, hoisting his arms up and screaming “I did it!” and “Fuck you, Letterman!” The contemplative do-or-die music revs into a horn-blasting triumph theme, Louie walks off into the sunset of Times Square, and we get the show’s biggest — one of its only — heart-warming moments since Louie took his daughters out to a sunrise breakfast at the end of season one and that absurdly uplifting “Bad Night” song played. It’s a perfect New York ending, twenty-story Diddy billboard and all.
• C.K. being banned from Letterman isn’t total fiction; while there’s no actual grudge there, there kind of was for a while.
• How well-timed was the Letterman pay cut angle, just a month after Leno voluntarily took a massive paycut to save his staff from a nasty layoff?
• As soon as C.K. stepped through the curtain and started nailing it, I wondered why I hadn’t remembered that it’s totally feasible for an offbeat, kinda funny-looking redhead guy to make a great late-night show. There’s already one doing it. Duh.
• Commenters have been clamoring for more Jane lately. How about her dumping on Louie’s get-in-shape regimen? “Daddy, but you’re not skinnier. Daddy, you’re a fat daddy.” He takes it on the chin, grinning and allowing that he’s “a big guy.” Jane: “You’re not a big guy! You’re fat!”
• “Here’s the thing, champ — that’s short for champion — if you wanna be a talk show host, it’s better if you’re funny.” David Lynch’s Jack Dall is back, substituting his obsessive ear-rubbing tick with an eyebrow-rubbing habit. Dall had no idea Louie was a comedian, thought he was a newsman. Dall and Pamela could have a nice laugh about how unfunny they find this so-called comedian.
• Seeing how badly Louie wants not necessarily to host Late Show but just to succeed — for himself and for his daughters — is spellbinding. Set to that dramatic score, he comes close to tears in Dall’s office before nixing it by launching into a diabolically unfunny moment of silliness, spouting off something about a “pencil … penis … parade” and rubbing his belly.
• Louie’s manager Doug has been painted as incidental all season. How about having him sitting in a room for an entire scene and not seeing him till the end, when he’s asked to leave?
• Anyone wondering if C.K. actually videotapes his bits at home?
• Another Rocky nod in Louis C.K.’s three-part personal Rocky: The kids joining Louie as he runs through the city.
• The girls’s good-luck card reads “Dad Night Live.” Awesome.
• A commenter last week was disappointed I didn’t shout out The Wire’s Clay Davis (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) as the boxing trainer. He’s back this week for less dialogue but happier times with Louie.
• By the way, Lynch returned his pay to C.K. In July, without spilling the beans on who that his mystery guest would be Lynch, C.K. told the AV Club that “on the flight back, he told his assistant, ‘Please give them back all they paid us. I had no idea how little help he has.’ [Laughs.] Like he felt bad that he drew a paycheck from me. Because once he worked on the show … He had a really good time, and the crew was really small, really small amount of equipment, and so whatever we negotiated to pay him, they returned all his checks to us, the travel money, everything.”
• Next week is the hourlong finale.