This post contains spoilers through the July 28 episode of Louie.
One of the things I find really interesting about Louie, and Louis C.K. in general, is the question of how much judging yourself absolutely without mercy earns you the right to judge other people and be up front about your discomfort with other people. I know I would be uncomfortable if a homeless man took off a lot of his clothes in a subway station and prepared to rinse himself from a bottle of spring water, and I know I would be struck by the juxtaposition of a very gifted violinist playing in the space between me and that homeless man, but I’m not sure how comfortable I am watching Louis put that discomfort on display.
Societal rules tend to dictate that when we witness behavior that makes us uncomfortable, but that doesn’t threaten us, and that we’re powerless to change, whether because someone is mentally ill, or because it’s inappropriate because we aren’t their parents, is generally to sit tight. If you’re caught judging, you’re an asshole, a racist, potentially classist, or whatever the relevant -ism is. And you can’t really solve any of the things that make you uncomfortable, which is precisely why Louis’ fantasy of becoming a subway Sir Walter Raleigh and cleaning up the mysterious brown liquid on the seat is so compelling and so impossible. Cleaning it up wouldn’t win him the admiration of middle-aged African-American women and the desire of sexy young blonde ladies. It would make everyone else uncomfortable because it would force them to acknowledge it was there in the first place.
And this episode feels both artistically interesting to me as a critic and uncomfortable to me as an invested viewer because Louis’ affections for Pamela, who I don’t think much of, make me feel less good about Louis. Pamela may be some people’s ideal of a tough-talking, honest female friend, but I always feel awful and awkward when she’s on screen, mostly because of how terrible she is to Louis, whether she’s cooking an omelette for a guy who is occupying an apartment Louis’ thinking about buying, or calling her son a “little bitch” because he’s scared of amusement park rides. “Why did you want to come here? Did you want to take me here because it’s Frenchy and cool-looking?” she asks him, in a scene that feels like decency and friendship malpractice to me. “You picked it out because you thought I would think you would cool, which you’re not. You’re very, very uncool, Louie, and you’re very boring…You think I’m awesome, and I think you’re okay.” And yet, Louis confesses his love to her in a flea market, telling her “You’re fun, and you shit all over me, and you make fun of me, and you’re real. I don’t have enough time in any day to think about you enough…I’m crazy about you, Pamela. I don’t want to be with anybody else.”
And I think maybe this is the genius of Louie, that it convinces us to have an affinity with this guy, and that he’s kind of great despite his bad luck. And then it smacks us, hard, with the insecurities that make a woman like Pamela his ideal, or the passivity that leads him to stick around to spank an obviously damaged parent of a kid in his daughter’s elementary school class. And then it asks you to keep going because this damaged person is our main character, in fact, our only constant character, and there’s no way he can switch jobs and cities, or get beheaded, or move to Los Angeles and disappear. Louie asks us to attach to a character who is one of the closest things we have to an actual person. And while that’s almost always entertaining, it’s not always fun.