This post contains spoilers through the Aug. 4 episode of Louie.
I think Marc Hirsch is overstating the case slightly in this otherwise excellent piece on Louie to say that the character “exists outside of continuity,” because I do think events in the series resonate from one episode to the next even if they’re not followed up on directly. But I think he is absolutely correct that “C. K. is, in many ways, the preeminent short-story writer currently working in the television medium.” So there’s something fitting about the fact that this week’s episode is commentary on Louie’s diversion from the traditional sitcom format, and a short story that O. Henry might have written if he had kids and they wanted Lady Gaga tickets.
It was also a nicely feminist episode. Louis C.K. often goes to places that I’m uncomfortable with when women are on screen, but I’m generally uncomfortable, as I was in the episode where he ends up spanking a crying PTA parent, because of the things that are happening are true, not because they’re sexist. So there was something wonderful about seeing C.K. on a sitcom set, complete with a laugh track, treating the actress playing his wife badly, and unable to go through with a scene where he lies to her, admits it, and gets told “I love you.” “Why would you say that? I just did a really dick thing. Why would you say ‘I love you’?” he asks her, genuinely bewildered. And he just can’t get back into the groove and pull the sitcom, and by extension, a more stable life for his own real family, together. “This woman is trying to raise two kids and her husband keeps shitting all over her, chipping away at her furniture with his bad attitude. Are you folks seriously buying this shit?” he tells the director. “We’re making all the same mistakes, the wife that’s too hot for the dude, and the friend who I would never hang out with.”
This is the kind of thing that makes Louis C.K. such a favorite for those of us who think about comedy a lot, and have to watch the same thing over and over, and why he can get Dane Cook on camera and directly address the vote-stealing controversy between them—his work both implicitly and explicitly acts as a critique and as a remedy to our current state of comedy.
The reason that Louis and Cook end up in the same room is that, having disappointed her years ago by failing to pull off the sitcom, apologizing to infant her that “Sorry, baby, your dad is a comedian. It’s your tough luck. Okay. Let’s put you to sleep,” he’s now trying to make it up to her. Confident he’s nailed the perfect birthday present for her, Louis jokes around with her at a diner, telling her an envelope is “for the little old lady who lives in your nose” when she asks if the present is for her. But it turns out the joke is on him — his daughter’s moved on to Lady Gaga, a move that has Louis decidedly dismayed. “I want you to grow up to like yourself and have a job and be strong and think about who you are,” he tells her. “I don’t want you to think it’s all about your looks, and glamor, and stuff.” But she’s a good little fourth wave feminist, and asks him “Can’t I grow up like that and still like Lady Gaga?” Being a comedian may not make you an ideal parent, but as Louis proves time and time again on his show, it’s possible to make up for that.