While the fourth season of FX’s Louie was pretty much universally loved by critics, many casual fans voiced complaints that the show too often delved into long dramatic arcs with too few punctuating laughs to classify as a comedy and was no longer actually funny. Indeed, Louie has always been a genre-defying show, its structure more experimental and the humor often more surreal than a traditional sitcom and while I’ve found Louie consistently entertaining, it is true that the laugh out loud moments last season were fewer and farther between. This week’s episode, “A la Carte,” feels like a response to those criticisms and also somewhat of a return to form, as CK returns to the vignette structure of the show’s early seasons, providing some of the out and out “funny” that was largely absent last season as well as a provoking discussion on what makes comedy work.
The episode opens with a great gross-out gag that feels like a bit of CK stand-up brought to life, as Louie and his daughters attempt to make a mad dash back to their apartment so Louie can unload a dangerously imminent shit. Flanked by Lilly (Hadley Delany) and Jane (Ursula Parker), Louie clenches and walks as quickly as he can (“I can’t run, it’ll make it worse!”), growing increasingly desperate until the inevitable is upon him. As always, Ursula Parker is just wonderful as Jane and I really hope she gets an Emmy nod for her work on this show, as she never fails to make me laugh. Her line readings are perfect and her anguished cries of “Daddy, no!,” as Louie finally gives in absolutely slayed me. Not to worry – the scene isn’t too graphic and all we see, as Lilly comforts her devastated sister in the distance, is a beatific look of relief cross Louie’s face, completely eradicating the shame and agony that were there just a moment before. Obviously, Louie shitting his pants in the street isn’t the show at its most cerebral, but it’s easily one of the most straight-up funny moments in recent Louie history (one that should easily satisfy the portion of the show’s fan base who lamented last season’s lack of laughs) and honestly, who among us doesn’t love a good “poo-poo” (in Jane’s parlance) joke from time to time?
Even more than the bit of potty humor that opens the episode, the vignette that follows reads as a response to the criticisms against the show’s recent genre shift towards dramedy, as Louie offers a little criticism of his own to an awful, fledgling comedian. Having been roped in to hosting open mic night at Comic Strip Live, Louie warms up the crowd and introduces the aspiring comics, announcing, “Open mic night is where anyone can get on stage. Doesn’t that sound great?,” the sarcasm evident in his voice. In between awful acts, he’s approached by Bart Folding (Nate Fernald), who asks Louie if he’ll watch his performance and provide him with some constructive criticism afterward. Louie reluctantly agrees and then watches from the wings as the kid absolutely bombs on stage. Bart’s act is a joke-free horror show, featuring tales of getting beaten for wetting the bed as a child. He’s stiff, awkward, and delivers lines like, “I don’t think my mother loved me” with a question-like inflection that makes his act feel more like a particularly uncomfortable therapy session that a stand-up performance.
Louie tries to renege on his promised critique, but then acquiesces and takes the kid out for coffee, where he delivers the brutally honest assessment that Bart’s just not funny. Bart asks for advice on how to improve his jokes and Louie cuts in to tell him the problem is that he didn’t have any jokes, just awkwardly delivered factoids from his apparently unbearably sad childhood, but the distinction is lost on Bart:
Bart: In comedy, you’re supposed to tell the truth.
Louie: But it has to make you laugh.
Truly, the best comedy is rooted in truth, but the truth of our daily existence in and of itself is not funny. Comedy doesn’t come from simply rattling off a litany of the indignities one has suffered ala Bart, but in finding a humorous, irreverent spin on those experiences. It’s like alchemy, transforming the bent and rusted scrap metal of daily life into comic gold, and the ability to do so is not a gift that everyone possesses. While it’s true that Louie has frequently steered away from comedy and veered into drama territory, it’s always maintained its own unique perspective and comic voice, though sometimes in a manner more quiet than uproarious. Yet when contrasted to the type of truth Bart thinks passes for funny, it’s clear just how difficult that balancing act between comedy and tragedy truly is and since Bart still doesn’t get it, Louie leaves him with the half-hearted suggestion to try using a funny voice instead (I’ve heard it’s difficult to play a bad actor so I would imagine playing a bad comedian is no easy feat, either and Nate Fernald was hilariously awful as Bart).
The final vignette and the one that gives the episode its title features the return of Pamela (Pamela Adlon), Louie’s kinda sorta girlfriend, and her attempt to keep their relationship casual after Louie tries to steer it in a more serious direction. While I generally enjoy the relationship dynamic between the two and often find Adlon funny, her character is sometimes really abrasive and annoying, particularly when she is adopting that adolescent, love is gross and boys are icky type of stance she often affects with Louie. After an abortive trip to the movies (the French film parody was hilarious – I always love those little throwaway shots of fake TV shows or movies within the world of Louie), Louie and Pam go out for dinner, where he floats the possibility of their moving in together. Of course, Pam declines, stating she prefers an a la carte relationship, a have your cake and eat it too approach that allows them to exist as separate people “who have a good time together and do dirty stuff sometimes,” and are also free to sleep with other people . It’s non-committal, but it clearly makes sense given their situation and the fact that they’ve both been down the road to ruin (in Pam’s eyes, anyway) that is commitment.
Personally, I’d rather see Louie and Pam just settle into the kind of laid-back, no strings attached relationship she’s a proponent of because I think they work best as a couple when they’re relaxed, laughing with and riffing off one another and I don’t really enjoy seeing Louie act like a sad sack while she ridicules him for his icky feelings. The night ends with Louie snuggling a sleeping Pam and flipping on the Fallon show, to catch the hot new comedian, Bart Folding, who’s kept the same awful jokes, but adopted a new squeaky, Godfried-esque voice. The look of bewilderment on Louie’s face was the perfect, full circle way to close a strong – and truly funny – installment of Louie.
Louie, ‘A la Carte’ Rating: 8 out 10
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.