I’ve always thought of Louie as Curb Your Enthusiasm times a thousand.
It takes those little, awkward moments and amplifies it to deafening madness. The first two seasons have done a superb job of balancing comedy, drama and reality a little bit of everything in in the same bit. The first two episodes of the third season, meanwhile, have really turned up the cringe-inducing bitter realities, which, depending on your point of view, have either hampered the humor or have highlighted it.
In “Telling Jokes/Set Up”, we get to see another balance: that of Louie’s life as a father, but also as a divorcee who still has game – albeit pathetic game – despite not wanting to be set up.
The opening scene demonstrates Louie’s infrequent and sporadic ability to wrangle and corral his daughters. Before his youngest, Jane, completely loses her cool, he diffuses the situation. She thinks Louie and eldest daughter Lily’s "insider" knock knock jokes aren’t fair, so Louie’s quick to include her once again by urging her to tell another joke.
The show’s always made a point to say "life isn’t fair." It’s one of Louie’s steadfast beliefs that he can’t seem to impart unto his daughters. And, as we find out later in the episode, his daughters aren’t the only people unwilling to buy in.
We then cleverly transition to Alan, a comedian who is just about the polar opposite of single dad Louie: a comic who’s married and voluntarily without kids. While Louie has this guilt-ridden soft spot for his daughters that many would say carries over to his encounters with the women he dates, Alan seems to be free of that wrath. He gives off the aura of a man who’s got it figured out and wants to help other men find their comfort zone. We soon see it’s a false confidence.
Turns out he and his wife, Debbie, could probably use the distraction/supposed nuisance of kids because they’re so bored they’re inviting friends over for surprise double dates, of which Louie and Debbie’s no-nonsense friend Lori (played perfectly by Melissa Leo) fall victim to. At the dinner table, it feels like the sides have switched.
While Louie was the dad calling the shots with his daughters, the comic and his wife are now Louie’s parents. He’s reduced to a teenager, devoid of social skills.
Right from Lori’s introduction in the liquor store, we know what’s up. She knows what she wants and wastes no time in getting it. She doesn’t make a big deal of it. She’s unapologetic in her abrasiveness (that knife cutting into the plate was unbearable at the dinner table) while Louie is an indecisive mess who wavers between being hyper self-aware and so lost in his own mind that he’s oblivious to standard protocol.
As that dinner and the ensuing bar scene unfold into Lori’s pick-up truck behind the bar, we see she’s leading this mating dance. There’s been a traditional gender role reversal. In a continuation of "Louie as awkward high schooler" storyline, he clumsily falls into a BJ, but then is peer pressured into chowing Lori’s box. This is Louie’s schizophrenic dilemma – a guy who attempts to be a strong father figure for his daughters who is absolutely reduced to a mooshy, weak-willed puddy by women his own age.
The show ends where it opened, with Louie’s daughter Jane telling the gorilla joke Louie mentioned in his stand up. What’s so crazy about Louie’s sarcastic post-dinner rant in which he criticizes his daughters for not thanking him or offering to clean up is that it’s self-effacing – the kids are a product of him. He lacks manners – or simply goes through the motions of appearing to have manners – just as his kids do. Yet, he has these odd principles and beliefs.
It’s these subtleties that have made the show a success, but I begin to feel like his abstract views and points will get so buried in subtext that they lose their comic appeal. Don’t get me wrong, each episode is an unbelievable course in character study, but it takes a few viewings for one to truly appreciate the comedic undertones. The hilarity of irony isn’t so obvious at first glance. There might come a point where the payoff isn’t worth the set up.
I don’t think it’s reached that point, but my knee jerk reaction has been, ‘what a jip’ so far in Season 3. Once I’ve had some time to fully absorb and digest, I kick myself for doubting its approach. As long as Louie continues to deliver those few unexpected moments, the show should plod on tragically satisfying. This episode was his daughter’s joke:
It was you’ve never heard (seen) before and that’s what makes it (and the show) so funny.