In the season 4 premiere of ‘Louie,’ Louis C.K. redefines the punchline

Louie returns to FX after two years, and TV looks a bit different. 

 

Audra Schroeder

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Published May 6, 2014   Updated May 31, 2021, 9:00 am CDT

There’s a scene in episode five of last season’s Louie, in which Louis C.K. and Parker Posey go on a date. It’s one long shot around different locales in New York City, and in the last half, Posey’s character, Liz, leads C.K. on a manic march to the top of a building.

There, she tells him what a wonderful time she’s having, before her face folds on itself like a faded map and the mood turns blue. It’s one of the most affecting TV scenes in the last five years.

That’s the push and pull of Louie, comedian Louis C.K.’s look at the highs and lows of life for a single middle-aged father. It’s episodes like those where Louie felt like one of the most revelatory shows on television, because it didn’t feel like a TV show anymore. It felt like a film.

After nearly two years, the show has returned to FX for its fourth season, and the TV landscape is a little different. Now, there are shows that feel just as revelatory: True Detective, Broad City, and now FX’s Fargo. In season three, C.K. dealt with the women in his life and role reversal. Early in the season, he goes on a date with Melissa Leo’s character, Laurie, and the episode explores the murky chasm between intimacy and assault. In the Posey episode, she forces him to try on a dress. In the interim between seasons, C.K. riffed on the relationship between men and women in his standup.

C.K.’s been perfecting the sad guy role, but he’s also a storyteller, and in the two-part series premiere, he starts pulling out the narrative threads a bit. In “Back,” his doctor (played by a wonderfully disinterested Charles Grodin) tells him his back problems are simply a function of evolution, and the rest of the episode follows that thread. C.K.’s getting older, and we’re watching him both evolve and devolve. He walks upright through the streets of NYC, then visits a sex shop, where he hurts his back and must seek help from an old lady.

In “Model,” C.K. agrees to do a fundraiser gig for his buddy Jerry Seinfeld, and he shows up to the lavish Hamptons affair in jeans, so we immediately know something awkward will happen. He bombs as the opener, but is later approached by the only woman in the crowd who laughed at his set, an impossibly beautiful model (Chuck’s Yvonne Strahovski, who also appeared in last night’s 24 premiere). They have sex, and afterwards she attempts to make him laugh by tickling him; he responds by accidentally punching her in the eye. At the hospital, he’s told her “pupil is paralyzed.” This almost feels like an in-joke for other comics—the sad guy who somehow gets to sleep with the model, then ends up literally paying for it.

At the end of the episode, C.K., nursing a broken nose after the woman’s astronaut father punches him at the hospital, retreats back to his natural habitat: the comedy club. We’ve watched him attempt to evolve, but he didn’t quite make it this time. He smiles, as if finally getting the punchline.

Photo via FX

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*First Published: May 6, 2014, 11:38 am CDT