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,