In the stand-up bit that opens the fifth season premiere of his critically acclaimed FX series, Louis CK opines that we shouldn’t search for intelligent life beyond our own planet since there are no possible good outcomes that would stem from that discovery. It’s our own rampant narcissism, masquerading as an interest in something foreign and different, that makes us even care about it in the first place. We’re really just interested in seeing our own selves reflected back through a fun-house mirror image. In our imagination, aliens are defined solely by their otherness (“We’re the aliens. You’re the people – we’re just part of your experience.”) and making actual contact with our universal neighbors wouldn’t change our inherent egotism or make us view them as actual living beings with their own complex civilization, they’d still merely be lesser “others.” Worse yet is the very likely possibility that their society would be far more advanced than ours, thus relegating Earth to the role of “South America planet to another America planet.”
It’s a typically funny CK bit and one that perfectly sets up the episode to follow, as “Potluck” is rife with examples of that particularly American brand of narcissism CK skewers in the joke, from the feigned interest in connecting with others as a purely selfish endeavor to our tendency to each see ourselves as the shiniest, brightest diamond in the mine. The episode proper opens with Louie delivering a droning, whiny litany of white people problems so uninteresting that he lulls his therapist to sleep. The fact that he can’t even pay someone to act interested by his ultimately unimportant neuroses prompts Louie to the mini-epiphany, “Oh my god, I’m a boring asshole now.” As a result, he decides to set aside the naval gazing and be a little social, calling Marina (Judy Gold) and inviting himself last minute to the potluck dinner she’s hosting for the fellow parents of his daughter’s classmates. The fact that Marina clearly doesn’t want him there is irrelevant to Louie – he needs to get out, so he’s going to go – and he won’t even concede to bring the dessert she requested. His attendance at the potluck doesn’t represent an actual desire to get to know the parents of Jane’s classmates, but rather the need to feel better about himself after he nearly bored his therapist into a coma. As Marina mutters “asshole,” while prepping food for the evening, Louie goes home and whips up a batch of unwanted fried chicken and heads to Marina’s apartment. (I have to say that for some reason, I always enjoy seeing Louie in the kitchen and judging from CK’s direction here and the loving close-ups of the cooking process, I have to assume CK is a pretty good cook in real life. I’m a vegetarian, but goddamn if that chicken didn’t look delicious.)
When Louie arrives at Marina’s building (late, of course), he follows some apparent potluck attendees to an apartment on the fourth floor. Marina’s nowhere in sight, but a woman greets him with a warm hug and excitedly announces to the crowd the arrival of the fried chicken. Louie doesn’t recognize anyone, but everyone is friendly enough until the chanting begins and Louie is revealed as an outsider. Louie’s slow and bewildered realization that he’s somehow stumbled into some weird, New Age-y cult gathering is hilarious as is the host’s abrupt, “Forgive yourself” (definitely a coded “fuck off” from the guru-ish hippie) as he shuts the door on Louie and directs him to Marina’s apartment two floors below.
When Louie finally arrives at the right party (with some hastily-plated KFC to replace the home-cooked chicken left with upstairs), he’s greeted with a much cooler reception, as Marina tosses his dish on the table and abruptly walks away. Marina’s party is a bizarro version of potluck going on simultaneously upstairs – the guests look similar (there’s even a Louie doppelganger who, hilariously, also enjoys the fried chicken), but no one’s warm and inviting, just hunkered down in their own private conversations. Louie briefly chats with the mother of Checkers, one of Jane’s classmates, but she’s quickly offended by the fact that Jane takes private violin lessons at the prestigious Juilliard while her child merely attends an after-school program. (Of course, it’s not surprising that someone who named their child after Richard Nixon’s dog would bristle at the idea that young Checkers isn’t the most special or talented child on the planet.)
Across the room, Marina is holding court and talking about her very own special snowflake-to-be, as she and her partner, Donella, are expecting a baby through a surrogate who was impregnated via “sperm from a gay friend, who died” and a shaken blend of their own eggs. Judy Gold is great as Marina, the type of smug loud-mouth whose liberal views are belied by a rigid close-mindedness and a disinterest in anyone other than herself. She harangues about the evils of maternity wards and vaccines and extols the virtues of natural childbirth, not so much out of interest for the mother or the child, but more as a status symbol – this is the right and best way to do it and so that’s what I want for MY child. Marina’s utter disregard of her surrogate, Julianne (Celia Keenan-Bolger), is played for laughs in this scene, as she allows her friend to touch her pregnant belly without her permission and then proudly points over Julianne’s head and cheerfully proclaims, “She is getting NO meds!” Though Julianne is the one actually carrying the baby, she clearly has no say in Marina’s carefully crafted birth plan because in Marina’s eyes, she’s not a real person, just an alien who’s part of her experience.
In fact, we don’t even hear Julianne speak until after she follows Louie out of the party and offers to share an Uber with him. Since Louie is the only person to show her any attention or concern the entire evening, it’s no surprise that after he helps her up to her fifth-floor walk-up and comforts her after a hormone-induced breakdown with some genuinely sweet words and, more importantly, a little human connection , that they wind up having sex. (I read the scene in which Louie slowly retreats from her apartment as he compliments Julianne’s pregnant beauty, desperate not to appear as though he’s taking advantage of her vulnerable emotional state, as a response to the criticism levied against last season’s uncomfortable encounter with Pam, which some viewed as a bit rapey. Louie wasn’t trying to make a move here – of course, he responds when she makes one, but only after first making sure she really wants to. And the fact that Julianne would be turned on by Louie’s description of her as a “life goddess…erotic, gorgeous, and cute” is totally understandable, as well.)
Because Louie is still a sitcom, after all, it should also come as no surprise that this causes Julianne to go into labor and Marina’s birth plan falls apart as Louie brings Julianne to Bellevue instead of the all natural, unsanctioned Brooklyn birthing center Marina had chosen. Indeed, the final moments of “Potluck” had much more of a traditional sitcom feel than the often-contemplative Louie usually possesses (in fact, the hospital scene where an irate Marina unleashes a hilarious, foul-mouthed tirade against Louie was totally reminiscent of Susie Green and Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm). As such, “Potluck” serves as a light and funny way to kick off the show’s fifth season, a tasty little fried chicken appetizer to whet your appetite for what’s to come.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Louie airs every Thursday night at 10pm
Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs is a Senior Writer for Pop-Break, regularly covering Game of Thrones, Louie, Futurama, and Boardwalk Empire, as well as other delectable nuggets of TV, film, and music throughout the year. Since graduating with Highest Honors from Rutgers University with a degree in English, Kimberlee currently finds herself in a financially comfortable, yet stifling corporate environment where her witty and insightful literary and pop culture references are largely met with confused silence and requests to, “Get away from me, weirdo.” Still, she’s often thought of as a modern-day Oscar Wilde (by herself) and one day hopes her wit, charm, and intellect (again, self-perceived) will make her a very wealthy, very drunk woman. She’s also the mother of a darling little boy, Charlie Miles (aka Young Chizzy) who she hopes will grow up to not be too embarrassed of all of the baby pics she relentlessly shares of him on various social media sites.