Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 3, Episode 1 of FX's "Louie," entitled "Something Is Wrong."
Despite Louis C.K.'s reputation as the Funniest Man Alive, his show "Louie" (Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on FX) has a rap for being a bit of a downer.
It's easy to see why. Last season had the joyless, tear-filled hook-up of "Bummer/Blueberries," the laugh-free confrontation with Dane Cook in "Oh, Louie/Tickets," and a half-hearted attempt to talk an old friend out of suicide (which most likely failed) in "Eddie."
Season 3's premiere, "Something Is Wrong," opens with a great stand-up bit -- Louie realizes he needs reading glasses when his penis starts to look blurry while masturbating -- but moves right into an awkward, one-sided break-up with April, a character we've never seen before.
"Why does it have to be like this?" she asks Louie almost immediately after meeting him for lunch.
He's quiet and sitting with a cup of coffee, waiting for the ice cream he ordered before she showed up, and clearly uncomfortable. She knows something is wrong, but he won't explain.
"You are depressed," she starts guessing. "You feel like I'm pushing too hard, you are scared of going to my mom's house for Thanksgiving, you just want to break up with me and ... "
Louie hits a new level of quiet. She reads it on his face that, yes, he wants to break up with her, but he won't admit it. So, after a few seconds of silence, April takes the lead.
"You're going to make me break up with myself," she says. "We shouldn't be together anymore."
Then, 17 seconds of silence to let it become true and it's done. She leaves and Louie finishes his ice cream alone, smiling and sighing.
This is all played straight, without any laughs. But it's wedged between two amazingly absurdist scenes. On his way to meet April, Louie parks his car but can't make sense of the parking signs, one of which says there's no parking before or after midnight.
And after April dumps herself, Louie sees construction workers at his parking spot, and one of the guys is operating a digger right next to his car. They don't seem to actually be constructing anything, so Louie asks what they're doing.
"I don't know," one of the workers tells him.
Then the digger smashes in the roof of Louie's car, right in front of him. Not by accident, either -- that machine doesn't stop until the windshield has been destroyed and the entire vehicle has caved in on itself.
Both are great examples of the sorts of surrealist touches C.K. uses to balance out the show's more sobering moments. They're also a great articulation of one of the central ideas in C.K.'s stand-up career: A lot of the things people say, do and base their behavior on are pretty much meaningless. It doesn't matter why they've got an excavator on an open street because they're just there.
The episode's second half shows off just how nimble "Louie" can be (as our own Maureen Ryan pointed out). Rather than get another four-wheeler, Louie impulsively buys a motorcycle after a dealer convinces him that owning a bike is actually a smart thing to do, despite the dealer showing off all the scars he's earned from accidents over the years.
Cut to a montage of Louie in a leather jacket and goggles, cruising through New York City. It's a quick, refreshing series of shots reminiscent of Woody Allen's driving scenes (which makes sense, considering that C.K. drafted longtime Allen-collaborator Susan E. Morse to edit this season). This sequence opens up the show's scope in a way the previous two seasons never did, and it's the sort of cinematic flourish C.K. discussed with The Huffington Post earlier this week.
Then reality comes crashing in ... literally. After feeling neutered by a biker gang who seem to be doing elaborate tricks because they're bored or just want to make Louie feel small or both, Louie collides with a truck and ends up in the hospital.
"There's nothing dumber than riding a motorcycle," the doctor says.
Right there is a large part of "Louie's" charm: C.K. is a serious artist who doesn't take himself too seriously. He doesn't just balance comedy and drama, but he also gives weight to opposing ideas of himself: the brutally honest stand-up of the show's in-between segments and the mealy-mouthed mumbler who naively buys a motorcycle and who is too afraid to break-up with his casual girlfriend.
April reappears at the episode's end to pick up her laptop, but once she sees Louie limping (he says he was hit by a truck, but doesn't admit he was on a motorcycle after his ex-wife chewed him out for that), she's taking care of him, making him lunch and laying him out on his couch.
As she's on her way out, Louie says, "Stay?"
He's not sure what he wants, except that he knows he doesn't want to hurt her. But April insists that by staying with her to avoid awkwardness, he would be hurting both of them, for years.
"It's kind of weird for you that I'm here, helping you and feeding you," she says. "And you're feeling bad and guilty because I'm being nice, so now you're just saying this."
That's the sort of truth-telling C.K. has made a career out of, but he saves that for his
other characters, not himself.
"You could save yourself another divorce and years of false living," she tells
him. "You could just be a man in this one moment."
He stays quiet. She says good-bye and leaves him alone, on the couch, left to think to
Some things don't need to be said. Some things are just understood.
"Louie" airs Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on FX.