Louie Season 5 Episode 2 Review: “A La Carte”

Louie

Often in life, the truth is not funny. It’s depressing, frustrating, embarrassing… especially those truths known and unspoken, the ones that lie in our subconscious and haunt us, many times without us realizing it until it’s too late. It’s why facing a hard truth can literally feel like going into a state of shock; it’s also why as humans, we actively avoid situations that reveal these truths to us, something that is increasingly easy to do in today’s world: living out delusions is even easier than ever, even in the so-called “information” age.

But all of this is also why the truth can be such a funny thing: it’s a powerful weapon, one that can bring as much joy as it can pain. Louie is unlike many shows in how it revels in the darker side of the truth, observing how funny and ridiculous it can be, but also never shying away from the horrifying ugliness that often resides underneath it. Anyone who has seen Louis C.K.’s stand-up can attest to this; his self-deprecating schtick often leads to societal reflections that point out horrible truths in even more horrible ways, his vulgarity becoming the metaphorical brush with which he paints his portrait of Americanism, and the attitudes that come along with it. “A La Carte,” the second episode of Louie‘s fifth season, captures this as well as anything I’ve seen in recent memory, a series of vignettes that observe Louie spending a day facing horrid, embarrassing truths.

The first of these is the most innocent, and classic Louie material: while out shopping with his kids, Louie has a severe digestive situation, which quickly devolves into the girls screaming to random strangers “My dad needs to poop!” As odd as this sounds, it really brilliantly sets the stage for what is to follow; not only does it involve the part of the body we never want to talk about (a thought John Oliver and Michael Bolton had something to say about recently), but it’s in front of his children, doubling down on the cringe factor as he uncomfortably sprints around the neighborhood, trying (and ultimately, failing) to find a bathroom. No matter how hard we try to hide the ugliest, darkest truths inside us, they are bound to come out at some point – and the more we avoid it, the worse the end result is.

This idea is firmly rooted in the latter two segments of the episode, the first of which features young, new comedian Bart Folding, who asks Louie C.K. for advice after a Louie-hosted open mic at The Comedy Strip. Problem is, Folding doesn’t tell jokes, just depressing anecdotes about peeing the bed; he’s got no angle or epitaph to engage an audience with his stories, absent of punch lines or poignant revelations (which in Louie’s stand-up, are often one and the same thing, going heavy on the “punch,” right to the proverbial gut). He’s just not funny, and Louie struggles to explain this to him, unable to really express the obvious feelings he has about the guy, ultimately leaving him with the half-baked advice to take on a funny voice to hide the absence of having anything of substance to say.

In a vacuum, Bart’s story doesn’t really come together: it kind of feels like a meta attempt for Louie to explain how difficult his particular brand of comedy is to perfect, and that anyone with a gimmick can get a five-minute set on The Tonight Show. But that’s obviously not the point Louie is ultimately trying to make: once Pamela returns to berate Louie about not being able to speak honestly (or when he does, ruin things by being a weird pansy), the balance of horror and humor in truth comes to light – especially when “A La Carte” dips into surrealism for a scene of a waitress grating parmigiano directly onto the chest of a busty customer.

Say what you want about Pamela – some love her, some hate her personality; personally, I love her character, which is what seals the episode for me, though I also love Pamela Adlon in everything, so I’m probably biased (she also co-wrote the story for this episode, as she often does in episodes she features in). As always, she’s willing to call out Louie (and their dating situation) for what it really is, and cut through a lot of the typical expectations and fantasies we present ourselves about happiness: life is really a selfish pursuit of pleasure, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Accept that about yourself and everything becomes a little bit easier – and according to Pamela, funnier. She doesn’t see the humorous side of Louie – she gets the anxious, desperate Louie, the one who is as closed off and stunted emotionally as the French woman we see in the crappy arthouse film Louie drags Pamela to go see: he couldn’t even cry if he was sad, he’s so unable to connect with his true emotions and desires, and that truth is really what nails home the thematic core of the episode.

“A La Carte” is Louie at its finest: reflective, brash, fragmented, wandering, and endlessly uncomfortable. Thus is the nature of truth after all, the elusive thing we spend our lives seeking out, often while ignoring others who are pointing it out to us with big neon signs. When you get right down to it, isn’t that as darkly hilarious as anything can get?

[Photo via FX]

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