While last week’s Louie felt very much like a back to basics episode, with laugh out-loud absurdity scattered throughout its three loosely connected vignettes, this week’s installment blends the longer story arcs and poignancy that characterized the show’s fourth season with some of the most straight-up hilarious moments the series has ever offered. “Cop Story” thus brings together Louie’s best elements – the humor and the pathos – and, thanks to an absolutely stellar performance from guest star Michael Rapaport, it’s an instant classic representative of the series at its best.
The episode opens with Louie attempting to purchase some high-grade copper pots at an upscale Manhattan cooking supply shop. He flags down an employee (Clara Wong), but she refuses to show him the pots, blowing him off with the comment that, “Oh, those are for serious cooks.” After a brief romantic interlude with a male mannequin modeling the latest in chef wear (one of those killer moment of hilarious absurdity the show is so great at), Louie heads to the register and attempts to go all Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman on the clerk, pointing out the huge mistake she made in ignoring him (since he’s the type of idiot who likes to drop $2000 on cooking supplies he doesn’t need) and asking if the store’s owner would appreciate her behavior. She coolly responds that she is the owner and when he asks why she refused to help, she retorts that her clientele are typically young, discerning, and passionate about cooking, not middle-aged men coming to “have their ego stroked by a young Asian clerk.”
Louie is taken aback by both her racially-tinged assumption and her rudeness (“I didn’t even know you were Asian. I would have thought you might be Welsh,” he offers lamely) and criticizes her approach to business with a back-in-my-day type harangue about the way a customer ought to be treated. She’s utterly unfazed by his threat to take his business elsewhere and counters his criticism with the smug and snotty retort that, “Well, I’m twenty-four and I have my own store in Manhattan.” She’s been nothing but condescending and rude throughout the scene and just when I was expecting Louie to rip into her, he folds and admits that, yes, he is intimidated by successful young people. The scene then takes a shift, as the store proprietor (who remains arrogant and obnoxious even as the conversation turns more friendly) rightly assesses Louie’s intimidation is due to a fear of aging and becoming obsolete, but then offers that this is a good thing because it signifies progress and means the world his children are inheriting is better than the one he inherited from his parents. “If you feel stupid around young people,” she sums up, handing him his bag of over-priced kitchen gadgets, “things are going good,” a line that could easily be a punchline in one of CK’s standup bits.
Louie’s admitted fear of growing older and becoming irrelevant perfectly sets up the storyline that follows, as upon leaving the shop, Louie runs into his sister’s former fiancée, Lenny, an abrasive NYC cop seemingly stuck in a permanent state of adolescence. We all know a guy like Lenny, someone whose sophomoric cockiness, loud attention-seeking, and bullyish demeanor mask bone-deep fear and insecurity. Lenny offers a tiny bit of exposition, embracing Louie and yelling, “I ain’t seen ya since your sister dumped me in the trash like a dead baby,” a crude turn of phrase that barely hides the pain of rejection beneath. While it’s a testament to CK’s skills in character crafting that we can identify exactly what kind of man Lenny is within seconds of his introduction, it’s clear the moment Lenny appears on screen that this episode belongs to Michael Rapaport. Rapaport perfectly captures Lenny’s frenetic braggadocio and ball-busting boorishness and is utterly hilarious as he harasses Louie from his patrol car, insults his comic talents and choice of cell phone, and bullies him into hanging out all within his first two minutes of screen time. It’s a great scene and Rapaport’s breathless, rapid-fire delivery of a sea of obnoxious comments (“He don’t care, he’s Chinese,” being my personal favorite) had me breathless with laughter throughout.
Yet Lenny can’t keep up his cocky façade for long and each unfolding step in his evening out with Louie seems to knock him down a peg. First, he promises to take Louie to a Knicks game (pushing, shoving, and dunking an invisible basketball on him along the way) only to be denied access to the security entrance at MSG by a fellow police officer. Lenny visibly reels from embarrassment and calls the other officer an asshole before agreeing to go watch the game at a bar like “real fans” (again, a perfectly written line of dialogue, as guys like Lenny always try to spin their own shame and disappointment into proof that they’re somehow still better than others). After a few rounds of drinks, Lenny becomes depressed and melancholy and, in what serves as a nice echo to Louie’s early conversation with the snotty shop owner, laments that “guys like you and me, we’re being selected out.” Women get to decide who gets to have a family or a girlfriend and although women have always found him attractive (or so he claims), they’re no longer interested in him. Time is slipping by for Lenny and, as he finally tells Louie, who hasn’t been able to get a word in edgewise the entire night, “Sometimes, I just feel really bad.” Even as he grows more contemplative and depressive and the scene begins to take a darker turn, Lenny manages to work in some insults, telling Louie, “ You’re up on stage and yeah, that’s sexy, but you got no face at all. And you’re fat.”
Upon leaving the bar, Lenny is seemingly in good spirits again, giving Louie advice on how to improve his “not that funny” comedy (his recommendation that Louie should be mean and insulting, like the clown that people dunk at the fair, is obviously very telling of how Lenny’s cultivated his own personality) and slapping him around a bit. After that unsolicited critique of his craft and the umpteenth incident of physical assault of the evening, Louie finally reaches his breaking point and calls Lenny out for acting like a total asshole – telling him he’s insulting, physically aggressive, and generally unpleasant to be around. Lenny, of course, turns all of Louie’s justified grievances right back around on him, asking Louie how he could be so hurtful as to point out his obnoxious behavior when he’s already well aware that no one wants to be around him. When Lenny describes in detail how much of a loser he is, it’s hard not to feel bad for him, though it’s clearly a manipulative move designed to force Louie’s sympathies. Lenny takes it one step further, or course, and goes to pull out his gun to emphasize how much he wants to blow his brains out, only to find that whoops – he’s somehow lost his weapon over the course of the evening.
A frantic search for the missing gun ensues and, since the few remaining shreds of his ego are rooted in his identity as a police officer, an increasingly desperate Lenny falls apart under the fear of potentially losing his job. As Louie and Lenny retrace their steps, Lenny’s swagger is completely stripped away and he’s suddenly rendered very much a little boy (the costuming team deserves a shot-out for so accurately conveying Lenny’s immaturity through his wardrobe. Rapaport’s ill-fitting, beat-up Knicks sweatshirt looked like Garanimals for grown-ups). Lenny practically whimpers as he begs Louie, out of fear of his mistake being brought to light, not to tell anyone what they’re looking for at the bar and later throws an all-out tantrum back at Louie’s apartment when the gun doesn’t turn up there, either. As funny as Rapaport was in the earlier scenes, he’s almost frighteningly pathetic and childlike here, as he sobs on Louie’s floor, hitting and calling himself stupid. Louie leaves Lenny in the apartment and hits the streets once more, eventually finding the gun on the sidewalk by MSG (I loved the scene – very reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs’ “commode story” – where Louie dropped the gun on the street in front of a bunch of clueless cops, a necessary moment of levity in an otherwise dark stretch of episode).
When Louie returns to the apartment with the gun, Lenny tackles him in a bear hug, crying huge, body-shaking sobs of relief. I’ve said before in these reviews that a lot of comedy is about striking that perfect balance between comedy and tragedy and no one walks that razor’s edge better than Louis CK. That final scene of CK comforting his weeping man-child of a former almost-brother-in-law was as emotionally stirring as the episode’s earlier moments were laugh out loud hilarious.
One of Louie’s greatest strengths is its ability to simultaneously make you laugh at and feel for its characters and, as a result, “Cop Story,” thanks largely to a brilliant turn from Michael Rapaport, is an unquestionable series’ great.
‘Cop Story’ airs tonight at 10:30pm on FX’
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.