In 2014 Louie went from a show which cared not a jot about structure or storytelling to delivering what were essentially three sprawling TV movies; ‘The Elevator’, ‘Into The Woods’ and ‘Pamela’ – which were existential, dense and often rather sombre tales. It’s easy sometimes to forget that Louie is a sitcom. CK stated though that this year he wanted to back away from such scary continuity and return to the old vignettes, and to the comedy. When it came out that we only even got a series this year because the comedian got high one night and called FX’s head honcho demanding to bring it forward, a decision he regretted the following day, it seemed we really were going back to a show that was ready to play fast and loose with its very being again. That wasn’t quite the case though.
It started off funny – with Louie in his therapists chair losing his hair over the fact he might have become a boring asshole only for the therapist to start nodding off as he speaks; but the first episode showed no signs of waking up from its slumber. In fact ‘Pot Luck’ was a largely forgettable entry, besides the snow on the ground and a joyous framing device splicing the narrative with a banjo player in central park. Louie has always been a joy to watch unfold because of the majesty it finds in such tiny moments; but in this first episode there was little but bleakness, with various women finding the need to chastise Louis with little justification.
The second episode though showed the writer/director/lead/producer back on fine form. It was a surprise to see Pamela Adlon back on Louie given the fact various romantic attachments have vanished from the show without further mention over time but she remains a welcome addiction – her messing with Louis may seem like bullying to some, but seems fairly voluntary from my end. ‘A La Carte’ sees the show on fine form too; the opening segment featuring a first time comedian asking Louis to critique his act only to deliver a monologue about how his mother hit him a child was hilarious; and the Pamela segment featured the exact sort of fluid reality viewers have come to crave from the show. It contains excellent self-commentary, both in the moment Louis starts reminiscing and a Season 4-style flashback begins only for Pamela to interject ‘this sounds long’, and a brilliant parody of the exact sort of pretentious cinema Louis sometimes aspires to make. There’s also a restaurant scene that features one of the best arguments for polygamy I’ve ever heard; featuring a brief interlude where a waiter starts grating parmesan over another diner’s breasts. It’s a fine example of everything the show can be.
Despite Louie getting somewhat bogged down by romance last year, it’s a strong through line this time round. Her other major feature in ‘Bobby’s House’ where Louie gets beaten down by a woman at a bus stop which unravels into their roleplaying in the bedroom as opposite genders was mind-boggling; and a month before Caitlyn Jenner revealed herself on the cover of Vanity Fair, it couldn’t have been more timely. The season’s centre piece though was and always will be ‘Untitled.’ One of the best moments of Louie so far was Season Two’s Halloween episode where Louis decided to tribute the festivities not with ghouls or phantoms but with some thugs in fancy dress threatening to hurt his daughter’s on a New York sidewalk. It wasn’t fake scary; it was real life scary, and ‘Untitled’ is the same. It’s the best depiction of nightmare’s I’ve ever seen on screen; they’re as bizarre and subliminal and, crucially, exhausting here as they are in our bedrooms. No other show on television could pull of a moment quite like when the rubber-faced contortionist leaps from the darkness of the doorframe, and its unexpectedness is truly frightening.
The only serialised episodes we got this year came in the form of two-part finale ‘On The Road’, although there’s little to connect them beside the fact that Louis’ on tour. The episodes really epitomise the downfall of this season, which is a hangover of complaints about the last; they’re bleak. Worse than that, they’re mopey. When Louis sees his motel room he complains to his agent that ‘I might kill myself in a place like this’ and it feels for a minute like the show might go there. This year is indeed funnier than much of last year’s stories but it’s an ironic and mocking humour. In these episodes the material is strong enough to make it worthwhile and the moments wrought from his nonchalance, like when he goes all-action when a girl is left by her family on the train but when she wanders off and he just shrugs his shoulders, is very funny indeed. The subtle tannoy announcement that the airline needs to ‘start pre-boarding customers who need assistance, or those who are dying or afraid’ is probably the seasons’ best line. But seeing Louis bring his chalet to tears because he feels like being an asshole, or conversely watching a crowd crack up at a hack doing a crappy, taunting impression of him on stage isn’t particularly fun or enlightening. Louis makes something of it though; the fabulous conversation between said hack and the lead towards the end of the finale and the moment of pathos it ends on are poignant and heart-wrenching in equal measure.
That being said, it is a beat that’s been hit before, and it means the show ends with Louie in essentially the same place as in the premiere, which is a first. Long story short; Season 5 was predominately as innovative, enthralling and witty as ever, but it’s mopey moments like ‘Pot Luck’ and ‘Cop Story’ were an unusual drag, and the free-wheeling aspects of the show might just be catching up to Louis now, because it’s all feeling a little rudderless. Though most went into this new batch hoping for a retreat from the serialisation of Season 4, ironically I’m leaving it hoping for a little more direction next time around.
Theodore J. Inscoe