The usual warning: this post contains spoilers through the first episode of the second season of Louie.
The thing I love about Louie is that it’s a fundamentally decent show, without clear, or even any, villains. It’s like a sadder-key version of Parks and Recreation if tone if not in conception. It’s also, in its own way, a really good primer on Feminism for Guys, and this night’s episode, in which Louie dealt with father-daughter relationships and brother-sister relationships, was a wonderful illustration of that.
The episode begins with a fundamental challenge to that decency, that fragile equilibrium, when, while brushing her teeth, Louie’s youngest daughter tells her father, “I like Mama’s better. I like Mama’s better because she makes good food. And I love her more. So I like being there more…I like being here too, just not as better.” It’s a horrible thing for anyone to say, but she’s a child, so Louie just tells her, “Okay. Alright, baby,” and puts her to bed. It’s an illustration of how buffeting the world can be.
And that decency gets challenged again when, making what looks like a beautiful dinner for his children the following night (presumably in reaction to his daughter’s criticism of his cooking), Louie gives her older sister a mango pop, and then refuses to give her anything. It looks like an act of petty tyranny, of overreach in trying to teach a child that her sister is “a separate person from you. You’re never going to get the same things as other people.” But then he turns it around, trying to make the story a lesson about compassion, telling his daughter “The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure they have enough,” before making her share her chocolates with her sister. It may be, as Louie says in his stand-up routine, that “The five-year-old, not much good at anything, really. Not to put her down, she’s five. But she’s shitty at pretty much everything.” Turns out, though, that she and her father are kind of bad at the same things, including consistency, clarity, and not hurting each other.
Even as the episode starts with an anecdote about the pain of being a parent, it ends with a story about how awful it could be not to be one. I loved the conversation between Louie and his sister about her miscarriages, which while not protracted, I thought was usefully frank and sad and real. “When we lost the last one, we just went through too much,” Gretchen tells Louie. “It got ugly. He left. And I said screw it. I’m in my forties. I’m fatter than shit. I don’t want a man. I want to be a mom. You know, Mom is the only person I ever admired.” That kind of foregrounding means that when she freaks out over a gas attack, she’s not some dumb hysterical broad (and it says a lot that Louie manages to show vastly more respect for women who don’t look like supermodels than mainstream movies ever manage to show for most gorgeous ingénues). Her terror is understandable, as is Louie’s concern for her. He genuinely loves his sister enough to leave his kids with his newly discovered, profoundly decent gay neighbors, one of whom promises him, “If we steal your kids, come knock on our door and we’ll give them back.” And there’s actually something sort of beautiful about watching Louie’s concern for Gretchen, the purity of his love and fear, enlist a miniature army of neighbors, cab drivers, and doctors, all of whom assemble around Gretchen’s bed.
And in a way, that love, that decency, that’s scarier than isolation and abandonment because it can go away. Your little daughters can find you wanting. Your neighbors might not want to be your friends any more. But the thing that’s beautiful, even radical, about Louie is that the show and the comedian don’t really suggest that you can be anything other than open to the world. It’s a real rebuke to ideals of stoic masculinity. And I dig that.