When we last left our hero, he had just faced off with his arch nemesis: the inner workings of his own mind. On the previous installment of Louie, the hapless comedian was met with the greatest career opportunity he has yet to see — the opportunity to earn a spot as the new host of The Late Show. A CBS chairman played by Garry Marshall took note of Louis’ prowess following a particularly successful endeavor on The Tonight Show, invited the stand-up (and his invertebrate agent) into a meeting to declare the classified information of David Letterman’s imminent retirement, and to present Louis the chance to do a screen test to take on the hosting gig permanently. While on any other show, this would incite ecstasy and excitement in the parties involved, Louis has experienced nothing but dread.
First off, he’s sure he won’t get the job. Opposite Louis in contention is Jerry Seinfeld, who has only one thing going against him: a significantly higher paycheck. Beyond this, if Louis were to get the job, he’s got plenty of things to worry about: seeing his children less, turning into something he’s not, growing unhappy (or more so) with his lot in life. These are all touched upon in this week’s followup episode.
Louis meets with his ex-wife Janet, whom we met via phone conversations earlier this season. Their relationship is a fascinating one. Whereas television divorces tend to produce either hostile enmity or some kind of bizarre friends-with-benefits scenario, Louis and Janet are something else entirely. She does not hate him, or even seem to dislike him… although you wouldn’t exactly call their rapport markedly warm. Louis admits the situation to her, lamenting his inability to achieve the position, and vexing over the potential loss of his time with his daughters, and how that might affect them. He produces reason after reason why going after the job would be a bad idea… and then it’s Janet’s turn to talk.
Another thing that TV divorces seem to get wrong: they often give us no reason to believe the two parties would have ever gotten married in the first place. But we can see easily why and how Louis would have fallen in love with Janet. Like Pamela, she is strong, forthright, deliberate, honest, and intelligent. She knows him better than he knows himself, and comes right out with the accusation that Louis came to Janet hoping that she would forbid him from going after the job. But she tells him — not as a reassurance, just as a fact — that he will get the job if he wants it, and that he should take it. The girls will be fine without him around all the time, and that he’d still see them on the weekends.
When Janet was first introduced into the show, I was a bit disappointed. I enjoyed her as a ghost figure: a mysterious icon of his plummet to failure that added a constant element of loneliness to Louis’ beautifully sad story. She was never there, so she was kind of always there, as it was Louis’ divorce that seemed to really do him in. But with this episode alone, the show has does such an exemplary job of delivering Janet as a character that I can no longer take issue with the decision.
After accepting Janet’s advice, Louis heads over to the office of a CBS executive played by the great David Lynch, one of the film industry’s most bizarre, dynamic creative forces. As Jack Dahl (that’s “Daaahl,” as repeatedly corrected by his secretary), Lynch walks Louis quite abrasively through his screen test, chastising the comic for his lack of timing and understanding of the trade. But Jack seems to soften as Louis opens up. He gives our hero credit for improvement, encourages him to continue and leads by example, and tries to reason with Louis about his absolute assertion that he will never wear a suit.
Following Louis’ screen test, he is sent to meet a fellow named Alphonse, who turns out to be a boxing instructor. Alphonse puts Louis in the ring against an experienced young fighter… we’re not quite sure why this is part of Louis’ training, but we’re just as game as he is to find out.
The whole ordeal feels way too earnest and intimate to be completely fictionalized. Louis C.K. might not have ever been in contention for David Letterman’s job (Letterman isn’t slated to leave the network anytime in the near future; in fact, he recently extended his contract through 2014), but it sure looks like he has some real life experience wrestling with the decision and process of accepting a high profile spot on TV. If not, good for him: the show has created something so vividly real that it’s hard to believe it’s not actually real. That’s just about the best thing fiction can accomplish.
Outside of the CBS studio, Louis gets a call from Jay Leno, playing himself: a sad, shifty figure who insists that Louis will hate the job once he takes it on, proclaiming (a paraphrase), “You’re hip right now. What they don’t tell you is that nobody can be hip every night.” Whether Leno is trying to scare Louis away from the position or is just lamenting his own misery is up to the viewer… either way, it’s a strong, dark, somber scene, and a testament to just how much everyone in comedy seems to respect Louis C.K.. Louie is quickly turning into an unprecedented project: a venue for comics and celebrities to take down their own images, to critique their lots in life, to chastise things they themselves have done and been through. Louie has already welcomed Dane Cook and Marc Maron, two comics with whom Louis C.K. has had very public, longstanding spats. The willingness to not only set aside these personal conflicts, but to actually put them on display to highlight all the flaws inherent in both sides of the arguments, is not only admirable, it’s fascinating.
After chatting with Leno, Louis goes to see his pal Chris Rock, who encourages his friend to keep at the gig and to forget everything Leno told him. Of course, Chris then goes on to call his own agent and get himself in the running for Letterman’s gig (proving right his own advice to Louis of not trusting anybody), which Louis finds out while watching television at the end of the episode. Not only does this knock him down a notch, it also violates the confidentiality agreement that Louis signed to not disclose the information to anyone.
Louie has already proven itself more than capable of delivering “illustrations.” Quick vignettes about life and emotion. But this is its first real stab at an overarching linear story, and it’s just as engrossing as anything else the show has accomplished. Beyond just wanting to know what will happen, we enjoy every beat: every scene, every odd turn of events, is laced with the same thick gravy of emotion that old episodes an monologues have brought. The ability to meld a story with this degree of vibrance shows that Louis C.K. is hardly just a comedian making observations about our world and ourselves: he is a genius storyteller.
[Photo Credit: FX]