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.