Tuned In

Louie Watch: Dad of Anarchy

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Louis CK and Gaby Hoffmann in the season premiere.

Spoilers for last night’s Louie below:

In “Something Is Wrong,” the the season premiere of Louie, Louis CK’s alter ego protagonist bought himself a motorcycle. I’ve seen the first five episodes of the third season by now, and it’s clear that Louis CK is driving a powerful vehicle, as well, and the accelerator is jammed: after an already strong second season (#1 on my best-shows list for 2011), each episode is better than the previous one. I am beginning to worry that if it gets any better, it will break my TV.

The return episode is strong enough in its own right, and plays like a kind of sampler of Louie’s strengths. I was weeping at the opening masturbation / reading glasses joke, capped off by the guilty assumption about the sales clerk at the pharmacy. (“You ain’t readin’ shit!”). There was the surreal comedy of the parking gag, with the just-ever-so-off street signs. There was the midlife-crisis and physical comedy with the motorcycle (accompanied by one of the show’s occasional montage-love-letters to Manhattan).

And above all, there was the brilliant breakup exchange in the diner, with Louie’s girlfriend guessing that he wants to split, and Louie only able to confirm that she’s right–or realize that she’s right only because she brought it up?–only through his silence. From the conversation, we get that April and Louie have been a thing for a while, though he’s been hesitant to get too serious. But the genius of the scene is how the dialogue–or near-monologue–gives us the sense, just through the language, of how old and tiring this relationship is, even though we’ve just been dropped in the middle of it. (“Oh, god, why does it have to be like this? What is this, a game of relationship charades?”) It’s a fine performance by Gaby Hoffmann as April, and another good example of how well the show casts actors who look and sound like everyday Manhattanites.

It may be a stretch to say that individual seasons of Louie are “about” something. But if the first season was one in which we met the character, adjusting to life after divorce (the guy we saw start crying on a date), and the second showed Louie gaining confidence as a single father and expanding the community around him, the third seems to show him putting himself out there, dating and venturing into the larger world. (Again, I’ve seen five episodes, but won’t spoil anything for you from them.)

After Louie wipes out on his bike (an accident he admits to his ex-wife but is too embarrassed to relate to April), one of the last things April tells him is that he could spare them both a few years of their lives wasted by being honest about his feelings before he commits. Which is to say that getting back on that bike—literally, or metaphorically in dating—means exposing himself to the possibility of injury, either physical or emotional. It may not be painless for Louie, but it’s exciting for us.

Over two previous seasons, Louis CK has built himself quite the machine here. Let’s see what this baby can do.

A quick hail of bullets:

* We see Louie’s ex-wife for the first time, which is quite a surprise since we’ve never seen her before and also because she’s black. (Hispanic? In any case, darker-complected than we would expect from his sister’s description of the ex in last season’s “Pregnant” as a “pasty, big-titted, black-eyed guinea bitch.” When I interviewed Louis CK last year, he said he deliberately avoided showing his character’s ex on the show at the time, and that he took care to change real-life details in any references to her, so as not to seem to depicting his actual ex-wife. I suspected when I first watched the episode that the color-blind casting was a distancing attempt for that reason–and/or an outgrowth of the fact that he’s never cared a lot about some elements of continuity. In an interview with Indiewire, his explanation is a little of both—that, he says, and he simply really liked Susan Kelechi Watson’s audition.

* Speaking of continuity, or lack thereof: his niece? Not around, as far as we can see. Pamela? Still off somewhere, or out of the picture?

* Having dropped a giant water jug through the roof of a car its first season, Louie now destroys one with construction equipment. Here’s hoping they find another way to wreck a car next season. (And given the show’s tiny budget, good thing the first take evidently worked.)

* As mentioned before, I’m on vacation, and Robo-James is posting this while I’m away. So I probably won’t be able to join in the comments section, but have at it.