Author Archives: Jane Hu

Recapping From the Green Room

Dearest Lili, Phil, and Evan,

I left off last time on the topic of vehicles, and particularly that bus in “Looking for Liz/Lily Changes.” Since then, I’ve been waxing symbolic on all the possibilities in choosing bus over car, but I’ll spare you. Here’s just one thing I liked about that directorial decision:

  • When I wonder why Louie brings his daughters home on the bus (instead of the car we know he owns), I remember that broken car window from last week’s episode
  • Then I remember that the wrecked car was a rented one.

This kind of slant continuity—punctured narrative logic—seems, whether C.K. means it to be, representative of his show.

There has been greater continuity in Louie this season. Does this account for why some of us have reservations about it (to glance at the off-screen dialogue surrounding Dear Television)? Prior seasons were more episodic and disjointed, while this one carries single narratives not just across an entire episode, but two, and now apparently three. Could hesitations about this season be a product of its increased continuity and lengthier storylines? If so, these hesitations are also contingent on the continuous storyline’s resistance to commit all the way. As Lili mentioned, sometimes an episode’s ending just takes it a few vehicles too far.

Premises and characters reappear across this season, but they might as well be different people. Posey’s character has popped up in three separate episodes thus far, but in each she possesses an entirely different character. Yes, it’s important that Liz continues to haunt Louie, but it does seem that her role mostly serves to give him greater—not less—room to develop his own narcissistic and increasingly claustrophobic perspective. Is he really growing then? We can logic away Liz’s incongruous characteristics by diagnosing her as bi-polar, but as Lili queried: what about Louie? Sometimes a storyteller can only push so far until his audience grows suspicious, and then even weary, of him.

Jeanie, Chloë Sevigny’s character, tells Louie: “Make it meant to be.” What a thought! Since that is summarily what C.K. does with his show all the time. Riding a stolen motorbike followed by a stolen boat? Don’t mind if I do! I loved all of Sevigny’s lines, which could alternately read as Creative Writing How-Tos: 

  • “’It wasn’t meant to be’ is bullshit.”
  • “You have to go through something to get what you want.” 

Finally it does seem like she’s encouraging herself more than her interlocutor, especially since Louie (or is it Louis?) already knows all that.

I’m nit-picking. Why can’t I just relax and enjoy the show? At night, I lose sleep, worrying it’s my “Asian suffering.” It’s funny when entire ethnicities function as throwaways in a punch-line about white privilege. Funny-funny, actually. But beside the point.

On stage—dolling out joke after joke—Louie appears as his most reliably “continuous” character. There, his job literally is to remain funny, confident, and in control—all of which he very much is. To make the jokes “meant to be.” Walking backstage after his opening routine in “Late Show: Part 1,” Louie meets Ross Mark (a producer from The Tonight Show), who praises him for his controlled storytelling:

The order’s terrific, […] But the great thing is also that it timed in at four minutes and thirty seconds, which is the perfect—the perfect—amount of time. I mean with the audience reaction and everything else, for our studio, it’s the time we’re looking for.

As we find out throughout the episode, such seemingly undetected timing can go a long way. Back stage, Louie is confronted and controlled by make-up and wardrobe, schedulers and show-runners, like clockwork. On stage, he is a viral success. Thanks to Tom Cruise for ducking out at the eleventh hour. Let’s not forget, as well, C.K.’s own control of his environment, filled with personal touches, such as the imagined TV posters (The Big House) in the CBS office.

“Late Show: Part 1” gestures at how media manufactures what looks like luck and timing to bring us celebrities, successful shows, or even simply a successful stand-up routine. In his “behind the scenes” meeting with Louie, Gerry Marshall lays out the potential plots that could follow Louie’s acceptance of his offer to host late night. They don’t sound like predictions so much as promises, or threats. The music in this scene is particularly dramatic (one can’t help but notice!), as though emphasizing the codes of media manipulation it accompanies. These exaggerated dramatic effects work to bolster the scene’s artificiality. Simultaneously, they drive home Louie’s own unmanufacturedness. He didn’t bring a jacket to Leno! He’s a late riser! Totally blind-sided by his overnight success! Even in an episode with such a narrative through-line, one can feel jerked about.

Is it working for you guys? Can Louie have it both ways? Can it spotlight Louie as a naturally lucky natural, even while reminding us that Louis is working overtime, meticulous and editorial, behind it all?

That out-take of Ed Gelbin at the end isn’t just there for kicks; it’s not just some quirky leftover. These closing “marginal” shots are very much centred and placed—as much so as the close of “Hecker/Cop Movie,” which assures viewers C.K. is the good guy, and Louie the bad.

Testing, testing,

Jane

Daddies

Dear, dear TV,

I would apologize for being so very late on my response to Lili’s wonderful recaps (three episodes!), but it would mean repeating a narrative we’re all familiar with. Belated apologies, nonetheless: Louie’s and mine (but mostly mine).

Apologies are difficult. As Louie shows in “IKEA/Piano Lessons,” they’re often best repressed to the point of being forgotten. When Maron explains to Louie that they’ve already had this conversation five years ago, Louie comes off even more the jackass. Does he have to apologize for having forgotten to apologize now too? Does it matter since the sincerity behind all Louie’s apologizes has now plummeted to hover right above zero? If Louie’s initial apology to Maron comes from not realizing that they fell out over an issue entirely Louie’s fault, then how much are we urged to believe that all of Louie’s estrangements are founded on an ability to blame the other (so as to obliterate his own guilt)? It does begin to seem that all relationships—all scenarios—in Louie could go either way: “fuck you, or sorry.”

As Lili writes, “Everything that’s wrong is everyone’s fault, probably, but the point is something else.” The pointed finger also often falls somewhere else, until (as shown in the final scene of “IKEA/Piano Lessons”) it returns directed at one’s own chest. And again, and on, and on.

While many note the elements of surprise and off-model counterintuitiveness that energize Louie, the show often feels to me like a continuous circle—or at least a spiral. There is a kind of balance to the episodes—and I don’t just mean in how the frequently dash-split titles weigh one premise exactly against another. No matter what, we always return to Louie—and there is stability, predictability, and safety in that. As the show grows increasingly claustrophobic in its Louie-inflected dream sequences (“Dad”!), Lili suggested that Louie might be a tad insane. It’s true that the surrealness of some episodes might stretch our systems of realism and belief, but if we’re willing to buy into the fact that Louie’s world is, well, Louie’s, then any train of stolen vehicles also feels routine.

Much later, yes, let’s talk about Dad.

That title is great! It implies a dash without drawing a typographical one. There’s Louie as dad, opening the episode by castigating the virtuosic Jane for playing the violin. Then there’s Uncle Ex (a sort of surrogate dad to Louie), treating him to Cornish hens at an expensive restaurant Louie would otherwise probably not frequent. There’s, of course, the illusive literal dad (and figural Dad) of Louie’s, who we never see because son flaps like a young hen and chickens out just as dad’s shadow approaches the door.

Having two actual dads (Louie’s and then Louie himself) seems too much for one title, not to mention one scene. As Uncle Ex colourfully describes with a condom metaphor, the encounter at some point might just become too close: “Between the father and the son there can be no separation. No boundary. A father calls; A son answers. A father beckons; A son comes.” What happens, though, when the son becomes his own kind of father, as Louie so clearly is at the start of “Dad?

Moreover, what happens when you’re both dad and single dad, yet still someone’s son? The existential crisis was worked out beautifully right up until the hallucinated end (unlike Lili, I adored it—found it perfectly nonsensical in its flight from frantic sprint, to stolen motorcycle, and finally stolen boat; a fish out of Boston waters).  As single dad, Louie tells Jane to finish her homework (“Go to your room!”), and then picks up a pile of dirty laundry. This scene is followed by Louie arriving at an electronics store in a huff, interrupting a bro circle between four coworkers there, which leads me to my next point:

What are the resonances between infantilization and threatened masculinity? Problems of fatherhood (for father—and now for child) often mix with problems of masculinity in Louie. The show is fascinating in how it often swirls and blurs these two topics and positions. There can be no separation.

At the Russian Tea Room, Uncle Ex orders for Louie, who responds with an “Uh…O–K?” look on his face, a rather child-like response. Who was this grown man to be ordering for this other grown man? Except they are family, and such things are often difficult to change. “This is for Life Louie,” his uncle emphasizes, “for life.” In order to convince Louie to visit his father, he works on his nephew’s sentimental side, telling him how his father cries “like a woman.” Of course this line is said with mocking disparagement, for Uncle Ex likes to make clear the divide between genders. In illustrating Louie’s eternal bond to his father, he compares it against the condom-wall erected between men and women. Between the father and the son there can be no separation. In “Miami,” Ramon tells Louie: “When my uncle says all men are brothers, it’s true right?” An uncle can say that—but can a father?

But Uncle Ex isn’t Louie’s father, ultimately, and he won’t be there to clean up the vomit his words inspire. Louie throws up while playing poker with his all-but-one-male comedian cohort, though the one who responds with “Sweetie, are you okay?” is of course Sarah Silverman. (She cracks jokes during this boy’s club, making fun of another man’s childhood masturbatory habits, but she’s also the girl who’s just terrible at poker!) Like single dads and children, women and children can be conflated and then sorta equated.

Such are the jokes of sausage fests, but here–in the middle of one on porn–Louie vomits. And he just can’t seem to stop. A taste of his own medicine sends Louie to the doctor where he lists his recent diet: “Cornflakes, pizza, Cornish hen.” Sounds like he needs some taking care of. There’s also the question of moms, women, single fatherhood, masculinity, and children I’d like to explore especially in regard to “Lilly Changes.” Lili asks, “Why do all the moms at the school…only trust and confide in him?” Another question: “Why only moms at the school?”

Like an infant, Louie starts losing control of his body, and then gradually his mind. His car window suddenly bursts, but if we’re to follow Uncle Ex’s Freudian logic, there might be a broken mirror in there somewhere too.

“Be a man. You’re 44 years old. It’s your fault!” the car rental saleswoman shouts at him. Another woman’s voice comes across the car mapping device: “Why are you being such a little pussy about this? He’s your father. It’s not like he touched your dick or something.” Don’t be a pussy, Louie, and please don’t be a girl—but oh whatever you do, please leave another dude’s dick out of this. “Think about that you queer,” a muscular Boston man tells Louie after their cars bump one another. He’s had to do with a dead father, so why is Louie so nervous about visiting his own live one?

There are many vehicles in the world of Louie, and while some of them add to his masculinity (motorcyclesmotorcyclesmotorcycles), others take away (Laurie’s truck, or not wanting to strap his daughters’ seatbelts because that would mean getting his hands dirty). There’s a bus scene in the next episode that I want to linger on, since it feels off (Doesn’t Louie own a car? Did he really have it totaled then?), but I’ll leave that for the next post.

Again, SORRY,
Jane

After Sex, After Yes (Season 3, Episode 4)

Dear Lili, Evan, and Phil,

Let’s start at the very beginning with the title: “Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 1.” This is, speaking of formal surprises, Louie’s first two-part episode yet. CK has seemingly taken so many swerves with his show that now seriality—perhaps the defining convention of televisual narrative—now feels erratic, even devious. As other writers have suggested, good things cannot be waiting for Louie in Part 2. This is perhaps a prejudice, but, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself–

“Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 1.” The title speaks with the subject as and from the perspective of the daughters, but the entire episode is still, as usual, seen from the eyes of Louie (this might be the most consistent aspect of the show). Though Louie’s status as a dad (and a single one at that) is firmly tied up with his self-identity throughout the series, this does not preclude his myopia and, oftentimes, selfishness as a single man.

Early on in the episode, stand-up Louie riffs on the term “prejudice,” which his daughters have asked him to define. Dad stumbles. Prejudice as a general phenomenon is, as Louie explains, exactly what the word says: “You judge before. Pre-ju-dice.” (After reading Litvak’s The Un-Americans this week, the homonymic pun between Louie’s emphatic pre-ju-dice and pre-jew-dice seems almost too convenient. But don’t judge me on that.) Prejudices, as markers of individual personalities, however, are more difficult to define—touchy in their simultaneous predictability and ability to shock. Louie, so articulate on stage, mocks his then-mumbled attempt to explain prejudice.

He goes on to assert with confidence that he “just knows” Scarlett Johansson would be terrific in bed, though his riff ends with this acknowledgment: “I still jerk off to that wedding album I found in the garbage.” Is it easier to be committed to your prejudices, or prejudiced toward commitments?

Rewind. Back to the title. “Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 1” implies a commitment to narrative continuity. Girlfriends, too, imply a status of romantic commitment. (You don’t have to marry them, though you might.) Over diner food, Lilly tells Louie about “mom’s friend, Patrick” who is “pretty funny.” What underlies this comment is that Louie used to be mom’s “friend”; Louie is pretty funny. The daughters go on to ask Louie when is he going to get a girlfriend. The look of dismay on dad’s face is palpable. This episode is as much about “Daddy’s Girlfriend” as it is about “Daddy’s Girls.” Throughout the episode, you wonder if Louie goes to seek a girlfriend because of his daughters, or for himself.

We’ve seen Louie—as single dad—navigate the corridors of hook-up culture aplenty. Many episodes centre around him having sex with women who then never appear again in the show itself, though they likely do in Louie’s life, however sporadically. (The final joke of episode 2 this season was Louie agreeing to see Laurie again—and I little wonder that he does, from time to time.) Even this episode shows Louie trying to stretch a booty-call situation into girlfriend material. His “hanging out” with Maria Bamford means meeting on the corner of a sidewalk, going to her apartment, and promptly having sex. After sex, Bamford and Louie lie on the bed watching reality television, which already points to the lack of connection between the two (the physical connection is apparently just as shoddy). Determined, though, Louie (likely inspired by the idea that Bamford could be, for his daughters, the female counterpart to ex-wife’s funny friend Patrick) asks Bamford to come over and have dinner with his daughters. She immediately senses where this is going, and with a scrunched-up face, stresses that booty calls should not come with “added features.” As her metaphor “now I’m all dicked up in the head” suggests, certain dick encounters start down there (“I’ll blow you so you’ll get hard again”) and certainly should stay there.

Against all prior hook-ups where Louie essentially drops his role as decent male (aka decent dad), this one with Bamford offers a difference: he’s trying to link his sex life up with his family one. A favourite episode of mine, “Bully” from Season 1, shows Louie on a date rather than a booty-call; with a potential girlfriend, we see Louie then take into consideration his daughters and prioritizing—even articulating—his responsibilities as a dad.

“Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 1.” There is something almost gruesome in the title–a joke on modern relationships in liberal culture generally. Dads don’t live with moms. Moms have friends. Dads have girlfriends. Marriage albums end up in the trash. Dad masturbates to them. Dropping Lilly off at school, Louie entertains fantasies of taking a teacher (how convenient!) as girlfriend for him and his daughters.

As he cruises classrooms from the hallway, a soundtrack (somewhere between doo-wop and bossa nova) kicks in as the camera pans slowly over the long skirts, tights, and pony tails of smiling schoolteachers. The combination of slow motion and bubbling ballad emphasizes their conservative dress as to almost attenuate, and so summarily extinguish, the allure behind sexy schoolteacher tropes. Indeed, if Louie is seeking a girlfriend, then he’s looking for a relationship that goes beyond one hallucinatory bout of soft-focus sex on a school-desk. The soundtrack primes us for a sexual encounter, but it’s not the kind that expands into girlfriendship. While one teacher shuts a door in Louie’s face (which also abruptly shuts down the music), another quickly loses girlfriend potential when Louie spots the engagement ring on her finger. Marriage isn’t sexy. Someone else’s romantic beginning marks sexual foreclosure for Louie. Only the dregs of broken vows offer erotic promise.

Louie’s male gaze (helped by camera and soundtrack) is pronounced exactly so the audience can get some distance on these scenes of obvious objectification. This form of prejudice can be dangerous. The third and final teacher Louie cruises is gesticulating at the children. Her arms make wide movements. She seems nice. She seems funny. But as the camera emphasizes, funny women come with stereotyped costs: this teacher is heaver than the others. Following this, Louie images a scenario where she’ll want sex from behind. *Cue: stop music.* Her body speaks a kind of logic about how she wants her body to be handled. That, indeed, is some shitty prejudice. And the fact that we as viewers understand it (even if in a mocked form) is shitty in itself.

This is, as Evan as previously stated, how the structure of Louie works. CK sets us up for a kind of narrative logic that then gets turned. And what makes the show so funny and surprising is how viewers recognize that they were primed for narrative to turn another way. If Louie’s endings (or in this case, his Part Twos) intercept our first impressions, how do we make of our ability to move on—or to move with—where these conclusions take us?

At a bookstore, a version of sexy schoolteacher is presented through a bookstore clerk (played by Parker Posey). The same ballad starts when Louie spots her, except this time the camera doesn’t focus on Posey–it focuses on Louie. He inches toward her, his awkward body taking the initiative to come beside hers, rather than using filmic close-ups to get hers right before his eyes. The song is interrupted once by her male colleague—“Can I help you?”—but it starts again, as though this narrative could have a redo, or doesn’t necessarily need to go without a stutter.

Posey isn’t hot, she’s “h-horribly cute,” as Louie tells her later. She wears glasses, which she takes on and off during Louie’s various interactions with her. He doesn’t ask her out on a date during their first encounter. Instead, he repeatedly returns to the bookstore, and they, in a sense, get to know one another. She, additionally, gets to learn more about Louie’s daughters. Posey loves the children’s section. Maybe these added features are actually that–features. Her initial recommendation of a funny book doesn’t work for Jane, but she does seem to understand the power of novels to take budding female anxieties out for “a safe kind of spin.”

Like the reality show that appears as something of a meta-text throughout this episode, the novel is a site of safe projection. As the credits roll, the reality show returns as a kind of mediation and meditation between Part 1 and Part 2 (the final lines holds its speaker in suspense: “I just want to go home”). Like real reality shows—and like Louie—this made-up one follows the rhythm of alternating between people who speak to the television, commenting on their actions/character (engaging the audience much like stand-up Louie does), and then the actual scenarios where character gets played out.

That the reality show mirrors the form of Louie begins to beg the question: what is the genre of Louie? Does it have a start or a finish? Does it have endless starts? Are there parts that add up to a whole? Or is everything just a part? Is Louie autobiographical in the way that all reality television is based on an ability to “cheat” the real? Or is it as transparently artificial and predictable as this fake reality television show emphasizes? Are we to judge it—even pre-judge it—by a supposed genre? Or do we wait for it to surprise us?

Louie is wrong about expecting a “no” from Posey when he asks her out. Even if he harbours an obscene amount of visual prejudice against women, Louie uses his charming brand of vulnerable stuttering to talk Posey into a date by preemtively talking her out of her prejudice. Posey, though, counters his prejudice against her; she doesn’t “choose guys based on looks” and agrees (“of course!”) on a date. This disequilibrium between them is what suggests to me that Part 2 might be the last segment for these two.

Fist pump,
Jane

Manners, Please (Season 3, Episode 2)

Dear Evan, Lili, and Phil,

I’ve been thinking about the phrase “I’m not comfortable with that” this past week—about how it’s both abstract and euphemistic, and how goddamn polite it is, especially when thinking of its deployment in, say, the bedroom. Or even in sexual encounters less “polite” than a bedroom scene. When Laurie asks Louie to return her sexual favour by eating her out, his response might as well be: “I’m not comfortable with that.” The general tone of this sentiment is at least present during the scene, what with Louie trying in his most passive and apologetic Louie-like-way to say no, hoping that his posture at prudishness won’t scan as (and I agree with Evan here) laziness. Laurie doesn’t take no for an answer.

A commenter felt that Evan was being a little too polite himself in describing Laurie’s rather impolite demand-cum-threat as an act of “persuasion.” The conversation that ensued in our comments section turned to look at notions of rape, sexism, and gender double standards–all of which there already are precedents for in Louie. This one comment by Evan, I believe, deserves some mining:

One reading of the scene, then, is that if Laurie’s behavior toward Louie *is* rape, then she’s invalidated her own implicit double-standard argument by allowing herself to engage in behavior that, if the genders were switched, she would think was immoral. (This is assuming that Laurie doesn’t think of her own act as rape, which is probably the case.) The hypocrisy is not Louie’s — for receiving oral sex but refusing to reciprocate — but Laurie’s, for calling him out on immoral behavior while allowing herself to suspend the rules of sexual morality simply because she’s a woman.

By introducing a character like Laurie who refuses “the rules of sexual morality simply because she’s a woman,” C.K. seems to be (again, again!) presenting a radical form of sexual politics where the woman is the impolite one—the one who doesn’t give a fuck without getting one in return. Which is why it has been distressing that C.K.’s public response to Daniel Tosh’s devastating rape threats to a female audience member was not condemnatory, or even brashly rude (as I would hope and do expect from him now, at least based on his show), but actually complementary.

The fact that Tosh would propose (and later try to justify) an aggressive rape scenario under the guise of a “joke” is fucked up enough, but that C.K.’s response would pile on additional jocularity is more than depressing.

As Evan explains in his post, “Louie the show knows that surprise is the only formal structure it can trust.” Louie is adamant on working against classical forms of narrative television, as well as narrative jokes–and more often than not this working against is a way of moving forward. As a stand-up comedian, Louis C.K. is primarily a storyteller—both inside and outside of his show. I understood his not-so-polite on-stage criticism of sexism as something that didn’t really change, regardless of his status as Louie or Louis. As Lili noted, on stage is when Louie the character is both the most confident and has the greatest perspective; it’s when he most resembles Louis.

C.K.’s response to Tosh was a surprise, indeed, though not the one I’d wish for. As a variant on Angus’s final sentence on this subject, so what am I supposed to do with this story now?

Last episode begins and ends with scenes of begrudged acquiescence–of pushing and pulling, sucking and blowing, quite literally and physically–though to vastly different effects. It opens with Lilly’s attempts to force Jane (just noticed the name confluence with Dear TV) in responding to her knock-knock joke. Lilly’s silence rises to a vocalized resistance when Louie tells her to respond: “I doesn’t want to [open the door].” She eventually does, and they laugh at the utter silliness of Jane’s joke (it’s incomprehensible and harmless, though entirely endearing). The tussle with which the show ends, however, begins with taunts that quickly escalate to a broken car window, and then, well, rape. If the first scene spotlights a joke that falls flat, but still garners chuckles, what do we make of the final one?

As the episode ends, Louie seems stunned by the turn of events, but his face also reads as pretty blasé as he agrees to Laurie’s: “ You wanna go out again, right?” C.K., though, should know that what amounts to a public congratulations/joke toward Tosh (“your show makes me laugh every time I watch it/and you have pretty eyes”) isn’t something many fans will take with as much blaséness his Louie might. (Probably because this instance of rape wasn’t about Louie or Laurie, but a girl entirely beyond the limits of his show.) If C.K. wants to join the conversation, it’s important for him to acknowledge her presence. For him to do otherwise, as he did, is not only not at all funny, but indefensibly rude.

Jane

“Oh, all right, just go ahead!” (Season 3, Episode 1)

Hi, hi Dear TV!

Happy to be back. Lili, your opening post to our discussion on Season 3 of Louie was both expansive and specific—and entirely on point. It was, ahem, the smartest thing I had read on the Louis-C.K.-brand of white maleness, and not at all lazy. Not surprisingly, it spurred a discussion both on Twitter and in our comments section not seen in our prior conversation about Girls. Louie resonantes with an audience that didn’t (or couldn’t) watch Girls, despite, well, the obvious resonances between Dunham’s and C.K.’s projects. Hopefully readers will continue to weigh in. Weigh in! Please!

When so many women said how Girls did not speak to them, men were all the more exempted from expectations to identify with or even watch Dunham’s show. Willa Paskin’s oft-quoted statement that Girls was “FUBU: for us by us” felt integral to female audiences’ initial obsession over it.  The argument runs the other way too, as expressed in Emily Nussbaum’s riff on Louie: “I’ve met guys who love this show, and I’ll bet it speaks to a certain audience—maybe if I identified with Louie more, it would feel cathartic.” Louie might not be “for us” ladies, and it certainly isn’t “by us.” (Though I think C.K. deals with food fixations and emotional eating far more realistically than Dunham—it is far less parodic, far more honest.)

I mean, I can’t even.

So, there’s that: the sex difference thing. And, as you noted, the age-difference thing, as well as the narrative -style and -pacing difference thing. Aside from a few marked similarities of setting and authorship, Louie and Girls come at semi-autobiographical representation in fairly different ways. They are, after all, fairly different people. What did strike me as threading Louie to Hannah was their shared passivity, both seemingly driven by an impulse not to be the guilty party at all costs. Regardless of whether Louie is, as you posit, a more good person than Hannah, his refusal to take responsibility for his desires seems just as selfish as all the moments when Hannah forces her interlocutor to become aggressive, to ask her “is this what you want?!” In episode 1, Louie sits dumbfounded—moving his mouth without vocalizing a word—as his exasperated girlfriend cries: “You’re gonna make me break up with myself!” Mmhmm.

Louie has a blurry penis. Or Louie thinks he has a blurry penis. Either way, he doesn’t know what his dick wants sometimes, or his dick just won’t see eye to eye with, well, his eyes. April (played brilliantly by Gaby Hoffman) is attractive—as attractive as many of Louie’s prior dates (many of whom he directly told were too beautiful to be with a sad sack like him). Nonetheless, it’s clear from the moment the diner waiter sets the ice cream before Louie, that he’s no longer content with April. Unlike Hannah, Louie is old enough to know what he doesn’t want. While he gawks at April, unable to articulate the words “I’m breaking up with you,” there’s another Louis on stage that has a story about “y’know how it’s really difficult to break up with someone? . . .” Hannah doesn’t have this sideline figure yet, though she does have Lena on Twitter, very, very, very obliquely playing out story B.

Lili, your analysis of narrative continuity was right on. Not only does Louie eschew all conventions of televisual seriality, Louie as a character does as well. Like you say, his only commitment is to his daughters. Girlfriends, siblings, mothers, wives–those come and go. Fatherhood does not. In terms of viewer’s brushing off the Janet’s (which I do presume is meant to be interpreted as: wife is white, actress is black), C.K. has suggested that his audiences will suspend their disbelief (as he has prompted them to time and time before):

To me, the racial thing is like — when people probably first see her, their brains do a little bit of DNA map and go “I’m not sure I get how that would happen,” and then I think with my show most people, they go “Oh, all right, just go ahead.” And then they watch the scene. The thing that’s important is what’s getting said.

Indeed! “What’s getting said” has always been important, but this–unlike radio, unlike improvisional stand-up comedy–is television. On a television show, visual inconsistencies and shifts must be taken into consideration, even if finally to be discarded or ignored. C.K.’s call for viewers to just let go—to move on to the next clip or next story—is itself a fascinating comment on television’s propensity to forget, even its urge for its dedicated viewers to forgive. Whether one watches Friends or Mad Men, one is often surprised at how quickly characters move past  trauma. “It will shock you how much it never happened.”

C.K., again on Louie:

I also like that when people are watching the show, they don’t know how long they’re going to be told a story for. I think that makes it exciting. . . I think one reason TV always done well is because there is something comforting where you kind of know what you’re going to be taken through. But a different—and probably a smaller—group of people would rather watch a show where they don’t know how long this is going to go on for. They don’t know if they’re going to see this character’s face ever again. This character might be in the rest of the season, or who knows? I think it’s more organic that way. Life is built that way. You stick with things that are compelling, and you drift away from things that aren’t.

Television as immersion. Television as escape. Which brings me to one of the last points—and my favourite—of Lili’s post:

Transportation as spectacle—transportation as punchline, transportation as a means of annihilating sympathy—these all date back to the pilot, and it’s interesting to see that theme revived in Episode 1.

It had not occurred to me until this how much Louie is a show about transportation—a story about navigating New York (something that Girls hasn’t done very much of yet). Cars, taxis, trucks, buses, ambulances, pedestrians, and sometimes helicopters or limousines, litter C.K.’s scenes. The opening credit, as Lili mentioned, so very consistently lets us know that Louis, as well as Louie, is rooted in and by the subway system.

To rank transportation by its costs, then, is crucial not just to the character Louie’s life, but also to director Louis’s process of filming. Vehicles, and vehicular crashes especially, are expensive. Louie notes in this episode to the storekeeper after learning that a bike costs only $7,500: “So it’s actually smart to buy a motorcycle!” For a father? Maybe not. For a television show? Sure!

To see the Infiniti get crushed (yes Lili, it’s the Infiniti!) in this episode no doubt meant a financial cost to the show–a choice that hopefully reaps compound comedic and symbolic gains. The camera certainly lingers on the scene, forcing Louie and viewers to face the agony of watching one’s car be totalled. It also harkens back to an earlier episode where Louie gets high with his neighbour, who then throws a water gallon from his apartment window down to a car below. The car’s roof and back windows are smashed. (The shock of witnessing this is part of what makes Louie so excellent–and also what makes the costs of losing a car, I suspect, worthwhile to the show’s producers.) Any subsequent consequences for the act aren’t mentioned—all that happens is a replaying of the scene in reverse during the final credits—an aesthetic relishing that, again, capitalizes on the real costs of losing a real car. “Transportation as spectacle—transportation as punchline.” If you can run that punchline multiple times and still have it be effective, why not?

Destroyed cars, like the motorcycle crash, smacks of a boys-will-be-boys logic, and Janet’s unamused “good luck with that” speaks as little sympathy as I suspect C.K. believes his character should get. “You could just be a man,” April tells Louie as she leaves his apartment, in which she means, Louie and Louis could for once meet half-way and do the good thing, instead of the one that feels nice or easiest at the moment. Even before Louie asks April to stay, he understands it’s a bad idea. She knows it’s a bad idea, yet he just can’t quite move on past his guilt to say it outright. Don’t worry though, he’ll soon get over it. By the next episode, it’ll show just how much this never happened. We’ll get over it too.

Have a good one.
See ya sometime,

Jane

Season 1 Finale: The Marriage Plot

Dearest Lili, Phil, and Evan,

Apologies for the long silence–my excuse for it isn’t sufficient, though it might seen rather appropriate. I’m currently moving out of the Greenpoint apartment I’ve been subletting these past two months. Early tomorrow morning I’ll be travelling by subway (hopefully in the right direction) to JFK, and then some.

Endings are by nature more difficult than beginnings, which, really, could start anywhere. Beginnings (like pilots) promise expansion, evolution, revision; they’re a glimpse into what is possible. The answers to what is possible—to what is even simply likely—falls upon endings. So. . .the finale to the first season of Girls happened. It did! As the episode title says, “She Did.” Jessa married Thomas-John. It might not have seemed likely—especially from the vantage of episode one—but it certainly doesn’t lie outside what is possible in the world of Hannah Horvath.

There’s a reason endings are so often spoken of in terms of consummation and satisfaction. Novelistic endings, as David Haglund points out, end with either a death or a marriage—and often both. Against the traditional marriage ending, however, Dunham’s show is again off-model. If Girls contends with what happens to youth after college, it’s now also engaging with what occurs after their weddings; two realms The Graduate approached, but never entered. As I’ve said beforeGirls begins where that film ended. She did. Now what?

Marriages are normalizing acts—they civilize and socialize. As the most unconventional girl in Girls, Jessa has suddenly become the most traditional. As the most unpredictable, she has to some extent satisfied our first impressions from the pilot. Except, the classic marriage ending comes part and parcel with a marriage plot: an entire narrative that leads up to the “she did.” By the time she does, readers are supposed to understand why. Jessa’s entrance into the world of legal domestic companionship happens too fast and, more importantly, too soon for these girls. What one can sympathize with from this twist ending is how especially bizarre it must also seem to Hannah’s aspiring New York cohort.  Shoshanna is rightly upset to watch this all fly, quite incomprehensibly, by her. Jessa’s wedding comes as a surprise—a “mystery party”—that leaves viewers with a sense of unease. Is this the ending we “deserve,” or expected?  There are things to solve here, and I’m, at least, compelled to tune in next season to make sense of what we’ve been left with.

A mystery can turn horrific quite quickly, but as we’ve rehearsed here, things are never truly threatening—only elegiac at worst—in Girls. Hannah gets robbed on the subway home—which she gets on heading in the wrong direction. (The other Carrie I’m reminded of here is Dreiser’s, which also offers its own twist on the marriage ending.) Hannah herself, though, is left unharmed (still armed with cake!), ready to translate this mishap into worthy memoir material. Upon exiting the F, she doesn’t look for a map nor even so much as glance at a sign. Instead, she shouts to a group of girls: “Where am I?” Their response—“Heaven”—doesn’t satisfy, because this episode is not about to end with death. Hannah doesn’t want Heaven, and for the moment she doesn’t even yearn for home. Rather than retracing her steps by getting on the subway heading back, Hannah walks toward a beach.

Growing up no longer culminates in a wedding. More often, it happens quietly. Sometimes you’re by yourself. You might not be aware of growth as it occurs. You might even be eating.

LIMINALLY,
Jane

Episode 8: The Economy of Friendship

“I’ve got a world of chances for you, / I’ve got a world of chances, / Chances that you’re burning through.” – Demi Lovato, “World of Chances
 

Yo Lili, Phil, Evan,

When you’re young, you want to do everything. Even if you don’t, you still believe you could. I’m not so young anymore—foreclosure is now something pondered daily—but my desire for possibility has hardly waned. Having, or wanting, it both ways is as close to a credo that I possess. Like Dunham’s girls, I’m at a juncture where I (still, still!) expect a lot without understanding really how much one must give in return. That’s privilege, yes, but it’s contingent on a model of privilege practiced by the generation that raised us. In a recent Times interview, Dunham explains her parents’ response to her post-college decision to move back home: “Do you realize that none of us would have accepted help from our parents?” Their time isn’t Dunham’s time, however, so I wish people would stop making that comparison as justification for “Gen-X” laziness.

How much to give in return? I’m weary of hearing adages about getting what you give, about no free lunches, about aspirational narratives that begin with ascent and conclude with achievement. People are learning, earlier and earlier, that you can do everything right—you can, goodness forbid, give more than you need—and you might still feel shortchanged. That’s part of existing in a privileged society too. “Your integrity is all that matters,” Adam tells Dunham. Well, yes and no.

It seems like everyone is contemplating reciprocity right now, and perhaps it’s due to the current impossibility of any adage-promised reciprocity. Sometimes you give and you don’t get. Like an abusive relationship. Like an abusive relationship with New York City. How difficult it is to know one’s worth when standards for rewarding that worth might have little to do with effort or ability. How lucky that “discovering one’s worth”—and maintaining integrity while doing it—even gets to factor into Hannah’s and Adam’s respective ideas of growing up, which is, to become artists.

Girls, as well as our relation to it, is about investment. Adam thinks his time (or, more exactly, his creative talent) equals someone else’s $2,000. He tells Hannah in the pilot: be no one’s slave, except mine. Except, now  in a mutually dependent—genuinely striving-to-be healthy and happy—relationship, Adam needs to return his ear to Hannah:  “you have to teach them how to please you. Or you have to compromise.” “She’ll show you her tits if you give her some ice cream” no longer flies. Sometimes you’ll have to pull $5 from your shorts instead of your dick with the trust that your bond is stable enough for the other to reciprocate similar love in future.

Jessa thanks Thomas “for handling the cheque” who, as a venture capitalist, knows his share about risky investments. His logic here might not even be entirely unfamiliar: buy two girls some drinks and they’re more likely to come home with you. Open an expensive bottle of wine and, accordingly, they’ll certainly be more likely to sleep with you. Following such investment logic, Thomas translates spilt wine on his $10,000 rug–a rapid escalation in the cost of the night’s events–as meriting some serious sexual payback: “If you’re really sorry you better be planning to make this a very special night for all of us.” (That the inverse of this also applies is suggested by the fact that Jessa is no longer employed: she doesn’t put out and so is laid off.) It’s like Adam revenge sex part two and, indeed, something about Chris O’Dowd’s whine reminds me of a 15 year old’s incredulous disappointment. “This can’t be the way that this goes,” he cries. Welcome to the girls’ world, Thom. We’ve all discussed how Dunham’s girls run this world—without consequences or violence; with minimal risk. O’Dowd’s over-the-top character (tipping into caricature) makes him a weirdo, but it doesn’t make him a rapist or an assaulter. He doesn’t scare the viewer, and he certainly doesn’t scare Jessa. How much this incident will come to haunt Marnie really? He never made them pay. And where did I learn to think like this?

Lili, will you be my friend? I want to braid your hair. I want to enter into a conversational braid that involves you and Evan and Phil too, except rather than talking about makeovers and makeunders, I’m going to tease out a sentence strand you made in parentheses: “I love that Jessa is this programmatic about her distress.” How to be a friend? For Marnie, it involves patience, because Hannah is distracted (even if, as Jessa says, she’ll later repent by “apologizing for it like you’re going to shoot her”). Sometimes it involves sitting around while a friend ignores your present needs. The nice thing about braids, though, is that there requires more than two strands. Cue Jessa.

If Hannah is learning how to be a good friend, Adam is navigating how to be a boyfriend period.  For Hannah, standards might have seemed low until now but—even for a girl who has only gay men as exes (whatever that indicates)—they do exist. So, first learn to apologize. Because in relationships there are rarely do-overs, only make-overs. Lili, you wrote about makeovers as an act of love, and Phil earlier spoke about forgiveness in Girls. Forgive me for braiding my own hair, and largely ignoring yours in this post? Cue Evan? Phil?

Sorry
Sorry sorry,
Jane