TV Review: Louie, Late Show Part 3

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By this point in the series’ run, pretty much every Louie fan knows enough about the way the show works to have anticipated that Louie wasn’t going to end up spending his evenings behind Letterman’s desk. From the repeated emphasis on his lack of polish and unease in the big-time spotlight to the consistently melancholy score, the “Late Show” trilogy seemed to be setting us up for an epic failure even by Louie’s standards. Yet despite the fact that Louie ultimately doesn’t get the gig, “Late Show (Part 3)” was easily the season’s most uplifting half-hour and ended with Louie not humiliated or disappointed, but triumphant for a change.

The episode opens with Louie jogging in the park with his daughters. Although the exercise appears much more effortless than his initial, huffing attempts, he hasn’t lost much, if any, weight and, as the ever-delightful Jane points out, he’s still pretty fat. Both Jane and Lilly are okay with their father as is, however, and don’t particularly want him to transform into a slim, slick celebrity. When Louie tells the girls he’ll have to see them less often if he gets the job, the girls are visibly disappointed, but still supportive, though it’s clear that the greatly reduced father-daughter time won’t be as painless as his ex-wife made it sound.

While Louie appears to be slowly getting into better physical shape, his odds of actually landing the job don’t seem to be improving at all, as he attends another disastrous meeting with Jack Dahl. Dahl, who reserves his few, carefully chosen words for criticism, has pointed out Louie’s shortcomings before, but never so brutally as he does here, when he mistakes Louie for a newsman rather than a comedian since, “I’ve known you for a week and you haven’t made me laugh once.” When he challenges Louie to make him laugh on the count of three, Louie protests, claiming, “I’m not that kind of funny.” In his act, he’s free to take his time and build into a joke, but in order to host the Late Show, Louie needs to be exactly that type of under pressure, off-the-cuff funny he feels is so antithetical to his comic aesthetic. Jack recognizes this and tells Louie that unless he can be that kind of funny, they’ve got nothing more to talk about.

Louie knows he’s gone too far to give up now, admitting that this opportunity is “either a door or a wall for me.” In order to get the job, he has to become that guy, even if it means giving up a bit of himself in the process. When Dahl counts down again, Louie, still unsure of how to be funny on command, just breaks out in a stilted shuffle, making fart noises and singing, “Pencil penis parade.” It’s not the clever, more cerebral type of joke he typically trades in, but it’s hilarious in its utter randomness and awkwardness. Jack, not so much as cracking a smile, simply announces “You bought yourself another week.” (I must mention that the reveal that Doug’s been sitting silently in the office the whole time was probably the funniest moment in the whole scene. Doug’s just one of those characters who can get a laugh without even uttering a word.)

With that, Louie kicks his Late Show training into high gear, continuing to attend his boxing lesson/pummeling sessions, practicing his monologue at home in front of a camcorder, and honing his interview skills on Elaine, the on-set cleaning lady, whom he reduces to tears in under a minute with an innocuous question about her parents (A disgusted Jack: “Tune in every night, folks – it’s the crying cleaning lady show!”). His frustration continues to mount, erupting in a Tourette’s-like tirade in front of his camcorder, until his ex-wife and daughters drop by unexpectedly to wish him luck with a homemade card. It’s a sweet gesture and a touching moment, but more importantly, his daughters’ support and belief that he can do it seems to provide Louie with the final push of motivation he needs.

While their crayon “Daddy Night Live” portrait has sparked Louie’s inspiration, the girls’ card hasn’t calmed his nerves, and as he glances at it in his dressing room before the big test-show filming, his trepidation is palpable. Jack shows up to wish him good luck and drop off the requisite suit, but before he bids adieu, shares with Louie the cardinal show business rules he’s learned over the years, most pointedly that, “If someone asks you to keep a secret, their secret is a lie.” Moments after Jack’s departure, Jerry Seinfeld (easily the show’s biggest guest star to date) enters the dressing room and after some quick small talk, breaks the news that although the network still wants Louie to go through with the test show, Jerry’s already signed the contract and the Late Show is his. Promising Louie future appearances on the show, Jerry wishes him luck and backs out of the room, mentioning right before he shuts the door that since no one really knows about his contract yet, Louie should just keep it secret.

Whether he’s merely pissed at the attempt to throw him off his game or newly confident due to the fact that Jerry clearly views him as a viable threat, Seinfeld’s ruse lights a fire under Louie and he goes out there and absolutely kills it. Everything we’d previously seen in these episodes and our prior knowledge of Louie’s particular brand of comedy had set us up to expect he’d bomb miserably, but instead, he came up aces. Louie nailed every aspect of his performance, from the opening monologue (looking polished and put together, as well), to the behind-the-desk prop bit (ala Leno’s headlines), to his breezy, hilarious interviews with Susan Sarandon and Paul Rudd. Above all, he was still very much Louie – funny, engaging, irreverent, and never pandering – particularly in his interviews, where he thanked Sarandon for providing fodder for his very first masturbatory experience and made fun of Rudd’s daughter’s stupid name. In short, it was glorious and although I said in an earlier review that I could never imagine Louie hosting such a show, those brief, wonderful snippets have almost convinced me that he’s capable of anything.

Afterward, as Louie celebrates his tour-de-force performance with his comedian friends over drinks, he learns via an Access Hollywood report that Letterman’s just renewed his contract as Late Show host for another ten years. A sad-faced Doug informs him that just like Seinfeld’s secret, the chairman’s was bullshit, as well, and CBS was just using him to get Letterman’s price down. He adds that since Louie succeeded in bringing Letterman’s contract down by $20 million, he’ll never guest on the show again.

(Interestingly, the real-life CK also had somewhat of a falling-out with Letterman. In an interview from a few years back, CK reported that although he’d been a frequent guest on the Late Show during the early and mid-90s, he was later told he had been banned from the show for undisclosed reasons and wasn’t invited back for fifteen years. He finally appeared on Letterman again in 2011, and although CK and the other celebrities who guest on Louie are clearly playing fictionalized versions of themselves, one has to wonder if this week’s episode had more of a basis in reality than usual.)

Yet rather than feel defeated by his ultimate failure at landing the job, Louie is triumphant and invigorated by his brief, yet bright moment of success, riding high on the fact that he tackled a seemingly impossible task and made the Late Show his bitch. Outside The Late Show studios, Louie pumps his fist and shouts, “I did it!,” before adding, “Hey Letterman, fuck you!” It’s a great moment and one that changes the whole tone of the “Late Show” trilogy. Over a rising, rather than melancholy score, the episode closes with a shot of Louie in the boxing ring, getting better and stronger, and we get the sense that the Late Show opportunity proved to be a window, not a door, for Louie after all.

All in all, the “Late Show” trilogy was a highlight of the season, consistently compelling and rife with great guest appearances, particularly David Lynch’s hilariously curt Jack Dahl. “Late Show (Part 3)” was easily the best of the three episodes and one that will prove hard to top for next week’s finale.

 

All Photos Credit: FX Network