One of the things I find most compelling about Louie it’s the show that most makes me feel like I’m actually getting a sense of how men see the world, and not in a Cosmo-style, “what he’s really thinking” kind of way. And I think it’s because Louis C.K. is a very particular person rather than a type of guy—a bro, a nerd, a master of the universe—that his perspective actually ends up feeling useful and broadly applicable. It’s fully coherent, shaded in at the edges, idiosyncratic but internally consistent, and the fullness of that view of the world feels more useful than trying to extrapolate what men think about certain topics from tropes.
And it really is different. There were three anecdotes in last night’s episode that made me feel sort of off-kilter, and it was only after thinking about them for a while that I was able to decide how I felt about them, precisely because they were experiences that I’ve had, but that Louis reacted to in ways I wouldn’t have.
The first was Louis’ opening monologue. I’ve long thought questions of male body image and self-confidence are weirdly underaddressed in our popular culture, and the opening bit aimed squarely for that uncomfortable space. “It’s weird to live as an average-looking guy,” Louis explains, describing his usual M.O. when he has sex. “I’m always on my back, and that’s for her benefit. I don’t want to make a woman see this. It’s just not fair. She’s so nice to let me fuck her. There’s just no way I’m going to put her through that. And I always gotta have my shirt on, too [because his stomach and chest are like] a mother dog.” It’s the kind of thing I think it would be hard for a female comedian to say in a sitcom without all sorts of hedging, or sarcasm, or the promise of a journey of self-improvement and transformation to follow, and as such, it’s kind of refreshing to hear, even as I have a hard time parsing that kind of self-criticism divorced from an action plan, which is the logical pop-culture follow-up.
The second was less Louis’ first date of the night, and more the odd incident that preceded it. On his way to a date with a woman who clearly isn’t very interested in Louis, a crazy guy on the street rushes him, Louis ducks, and the guy runs headlong into a garbage truck, which decapitates him. No one who has ever physically intimidated me has ever suffered gruesome death in the immediate aftermath of it, but I (and I think most people who live in cities) have had similar experiences. When I first moved to DC, I was in the public library when a woman started having some kind of violent episode a row over, and I know my immediate reaction was to get out of the way as fast as possible, and to make myself absolutely invisible. But the fact that Louis reacts by locking eyes with the guy coming in his direction, has this fantasy that the guy is coming after him specifically, and then ducks rather than running away, struck me. Maybe it’s a different kind of bodily awareness, that bulk that’s embarrassing during sex also means that someone probably isn’t going to knock you down or bowl you over easily, even if they are coming for you rather than flailing randomly down the street. It was a moment of real unfamiliarity for me, though Louis’ plaintive attempts to make his date work afterwords felt charming and recognizable.
And finally, there was Louis’ second date of the night, if going over to the house of a woman he barely knows for sex counts as a date. After last week’s episode, it was interesting to see Louis interacting with another parent, even if it’s to tell her “I think that board is fine. I think a plasma screen would be okay. I doubt it would be propaganda, but I don’t know, so I kind of don’t care.” When Dolores, the other parent, invites him to come over and fool around, telling him “I’m approaching you about this because you seem safe and discrete. It would be uncomplicated, at least from my end,” it’s an interesting moment when their expectations for the evening diverge. Louis tries to make the evening an actual date, showing up with a bottle of wine, only to find that Dolores is making no effort whatsoever, donning a frumpy nightgown and sending Louis out to pick up condoms, lubricant, a vaginal ointment, and blueberries, though she gives him along a twenty because “You are not buying my Vagatine. I’m not going down that road.” It’s a funny double-reversal: Louis’ is the one trying to create a potentially complicating emotional attachment, while Dolores’ version of “uncomplicated” is actually sort of logistically complicated, even as she’s trying to keep the encounter itself free of any sort of ritual of seduction.
And also, as it turns out, declaring that hooking up with Louis would be uncomplicated in terms of long-term attachment, or word getting out at school, doesn’t mean that the sex itself is uncomplicated. I actually thought giving Dolores daddy issues was the one off note in this episode, if only because it was such an easy default. What makes it work, though, is the way Louis is pulled between his general impulse to be accommodating, particularly if it’ll let him connect with someone, and the discovery that Dolores is probably not someone he wants to connect with after all. He even sticks around for blueberries. It’s a hard scene to watch as a woman: I sort of feel for Dolores, even as I desperately hope never to be anything like her.
And I suppose that’s the bargain of Louie. Louis C.K.’s decisions to be radically honest (within a fictional context) about himself and his experiences doesn’t mean that you’ve created this zone of safety and comfort—instead, if you wander into the frame, he gets to be radically honest about you too. Contra a million romantic comedies, showing vulnerability doesn’t always mean you’re bonding.