TV Recap: Louie, ‘So Did the Fat Lady’ & ‘Elevator Part 1’

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“So Did the Fat Lady,” is the final stand-alone Louie for the season, as the remaining episodes are all part of longer, several episode-spanning story arcs. As such, “So Did the Fat Lady,” is a focused, self-contained gem, centered on Louie’s date with a cute, funny, overweight waitress and exploring the double standards regarding weight and attractiveness between men and women.

The episode opens with a bit of a role reversal, as instead of the familiar sight of Louie being rejected by a woman far out of his league (although that assuredly happens later on, as well), we see Louie instead spurning the advances of Vanessa, the Comedy Cellar’s lone overweight waitress (played with charm and intelligence by actress Sarah Baker). Though fat, Vanessa is still cute enough and we see through her banter with Louie and the club patrons she waits on that she’s warm, funny, and endearing. Vanessa should be a great match for Louie – they’re essentially equal in terms of physical attractiveness, she’s witty enough to make him laugh, and later, she even celebrates Louie’s finally accepting her offer with the same self-congratulatory golfer’s fist pump he favors in moments of personal triumph. Yet despite her many appealing qualities, Louie is initially visibly uncomfortable and clearly uninterested in the prospect of dating Vanessa and, judging from the type of women he typically pursues, one can only assume his reluctance is due to her less than ideal physical appearance.

Photo Credit: KC Bailey/FX
Photo Credit: KC Bailey/FX

The hypocrisy of Louie’s rejection of Vanessa is immediately highlighted in the following, series-classic scene in which Louie and his brother, Robbie (Robert Kelly, I’m so glad you’re back) embark on a gloriously disgusting two-pronged eating binge affectionately termed a “bang bang.” Louie and Robbie agree they need to lose weight and shape up (“Tomorrow, we hit the gym, we eat some kale,” vows Robbie), but first decide to give their soon-to-be-former fat selves a proper sendoff, tossing around several combinations of eateries (Mexican / Italian? Sushi / Pizza? BBQ / IHOP?) before finally settling on the frightening duo of Indian and diner food. I don’t know if anyone has ever made eating look as disgusting as Robert Kelly, face so stuffed with food that it’s falling out of his mouth, and the montage of the brothers CK gorging themselves is hilariously gross (I also loved the palpable disgust on face of the proprietor of the Indian restaurant). Their overindulgence borders on self-abuse, as a painfully full Louie remarks afterward, “That was brutal.” Of course, the moment the binge has ended, the precipitating plans to get in shape are immediately abandoned. For Louie and Robbie, their weight is a nagging, but ultimately inconsequential inconvenience – they know they probably should do something about it, but as men, their weight and physical appearance in general doesn’t really hinder their lives all that much. Sure, Louie is sometimes rejected by beautiful women, but he also manages to score a few from time to time so why not enjoy a good bang bang every now and then?

For a self-proclaimed “fat girl” like Vanessa, however, the impact of her size and the judgment it brings from others, is not so easily cast aside as it’s a central fact of her identity. After Louie finally agrees to go out with her (a decision partially motivated by guilt after she gives him hockey tickets), the two share what is easily the most relaxed, successful date in Louie history. The pair enjoy a friendly, easy-going banter, joking about death, first periods, and lucky pennies. When Vanessa begins to lament the difficulties of dating as a fat girl, however, Louie makes a terribly misguided attempt to assuage her. “You’re not fat,” he says, a lie intended to be comforting, but one that only serves to insult her. The double-standard regarding weight between men and women has been illustrated throughout the episode, but here Vanessa explicitly rails against it in a provoking, yet sometimes too heavy-handed monologue.

Photo Credit: KC Bailey/FX
Photo Credit: KC Bailey/FX

Overweight men like Louie can be self-deprecating, funny, and charming. They can gleefully and voraciously shovel an entire Indian meal in their faces and wash it down with diner spaghetti and we laugh at their manly overindulgence. Women, on the other hand, aren’t allowed to turn their extra weight into a charming quirk. If a woman cops to being fat, the assumption is she must be devastated by that fact, that her weight is a source of great sadness in her life (“If I say it, they call the suicide hotline,” Vanessa complains), so the typical instinctual response is to deny she’s fat in the first place. I don’t want to hurt your feelings by admitting what you really are, the lie implies and ultimately sends the message that yes, your weight is something to be ashamed of.

As the camera lingers on her sympathetically, Vanessa goes on to make an excellent point about how handsome men are unafraid to flirt with her because they are secure in their own attractiveness. It’s the average men – guys like Louie – who are hesitant to engage her (they’ll fuck her in private, but shy away from kissing her in public) because doing so would mean she’s the type of girl they belong with, rather than the knockout they’ve been trained to believe they want and deserve. We project our own insecurities onto our prospective partners, fearing that if they don’t measure up in some way, be it in looks or success, than we must also be lacking somehow. It’s an interesting thought and one that rings true as to why men would spurn an otherwise very desirable woman like Vanessa because of her weight. It’s not that men wouldn’t be attracted to her, it’s that they’d be afraid as to what that attraction says about them.

Photo Credit: KC Bailey/FX
Photo Credit: KC Bailey/FX

While Vanessa raises a lot of interesting points, the longer she goes on, the more heavy-handed and preachy she began to sound. (This is through no fault of Sarah Black, who shines in the moment. I just think CK was a little out of his element in writing such an impassioned plea from a woman’s perspective and ran out of steam towards the end.) Similarly, the idea that big girls are never viewed as desirable is reductive and untrue and it rang a little false that someone as confident, charming, and witty as Vanessa would have such difficulty finding someone to hold her hand. After all, for every dickish Jim Norton who sums her up with a succinct, “Yuck,” there’s a warm, friendly Dave Attell, perfectly happy to embrace her and treat her like a human being. For Louie, Vanessa’s words struck home and embarrassed him for what he saw of himself in them. At the episode’s end, he chooses to follow Attell’s example, taking Vanessa by the hand and engaging her in the titular fat lady joke. The joke serves as something of an apology for stupidly denying her size before and provides a way of allowing her to laugh about her weight in much the same way he is able to do through his stand-up. In effect, it makes her a person again, not just some sad fat girl.

I have less to say about the night’s second episode, “Elevator Pt. 1,” the first installment of a multi-episode arc that felt a bit incomplete on its own. The boundaries between reality and the surreal are often blurry on Louie, as we flow from Louie’s actually daily life to his dreams, fears, or fantasies with little to no demarcation as to what’s what. Interestingly, Louie’s youngest daughter, Jane, can’t seem to tell the difference either, convinced she’s stuck in an unending dream after Louie comes to comfort her from a nightmare. Jane tries to test the realities of her dream world by stepping out of the subway just before the doors closed, sending Lilly and a frantic Louie on without her, while she waits alone in the station. While the poised and mature Lilly seems to take after her mother, the odd and funny Jane is like a mini-Louie and I like how this subplot drew a parallel between the girl’s imagination and her father’s frequent flights of fancy. Similarly, the episode’s other storyline involves a sleeping woman, as Louie tries to help an elderly neighbor stuck in an elevator and is angrily chased and nearly assaulted by the woman’s niece, whom he awakens from a peaceful nap on the old woman’s couch. I’m not entirely sure where the storyline for the next few episodes is going, but it seems to be heading towards some type of relationship between Louie and the niece, who doesn’t speak much English, but arrived at his apartment bearing an apology offering of pie after she learned Louie wasn’t an intruder or rapist, just a neighbor trying to help her aunt. It’s hard to make much of a judgment on “Elevator Pt. 1” since it seems to provide just a small glimpse of the big picture, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out next week.

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