life lessons

Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “Pamela 2” and “Pamela 3”

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Alex Russell

Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed show Louie’s fourth season runs as two episodes every Monday night. Rather than just answering the question of “are these episodes good,” (because the answer is always yes) we’ll talk about the big lessons imparted in each episode. This week: the season ends.

Episode 13: “Pamela 2”

Whenever you see someone on television wake up after they’ve had sex, they look like no real person ever looks after sex. It’s just the way sex is always shot, it seems even more unrealistic than it does in, well, real life. Real sex is awkward and full of absurd, funny moments.

In Louie, when people have sex, they have to think about taking their shoes off. They have to have their pants taken off both legs at the same time. They have to figure out how to get to the bed, because no one just sits on a bed. They sit on a couch. The bed is later.

This may seem overly simplistic to point out. Louie is a show obsessed with the “what is real” question in a narrative sense, but it’s also a show fascinated by the mundane. Louis C.K. became one of the most famous comics in America on the strength of the mundane as a comedic source. His show is less about how it’s all funny and more about how it all is consistent. Everyone takes their shoes off before they have sex and no one knows how to do it. There’s no sexy — or even practical — way to take off your shoes in a hurry.

It’s not all sex, but everything is that moment. Everything is taking your shoes off quickly to not let a moment pass or convincing someone to do something spontaneous before they make a joke. Everything in life is making the moment what it can be before it passes. When Louie is a sad show, it’s about missing those moments. Sometimes it’s something else, and this one is mostly something else. Just go out there and try, dummy. That’s all you can do.

Episode 14: “Pamela 3”

The choice to run all 14 of these episodes over seven weeks seemed weird when this all started. But now, after all of the “Elevator” saga and “Pamela,” it’s clear that this was the only way to run this. It could have just as easily been a one-night binge, I guess, but then I’d be dead. This was all rough.

I don’t want to spend too much time on recapping the season, but let’s review for a very short paragraph. This is the season of a show on television where Louis C.K. rescued an old woman from a stuck elevator, went on dates with three women (four women, maybe, hard to say with the model), and opened for Jerry Seinfeld. That’s what happened. Oh, and he also went back in time to show the breakdown of his marriage and his childhood and his family and his psyche and…

…back to “Pamela 3.” Long-time viewers of Louie (hello, all 13 of you) know that Louie and Pamela have an aggressive — but familiar — relationship. They rag on each other and riff and talk in dumb voices. Even one of the most romantic moments in Louie history was Pamela getting on a plane as she yelled “wave to me, dummy,” which was mistaken for “wait for me.” Pamela and Louie have had chances, but they’ve always been caught up in the armor of acting like you don’t give a damn.

But they do. It’s just hard to tell someone else that you’re going to finally drop the cynicism or the sarcasm or whatever your deal is and engage with them. It’s hard to actually be a person, because jokes are easier a lot of the time. We make jokes at funerals because funerals suck. We’d rather not engage.

It’s an old lesson, far older than most of the ones in this season of Louie. “Pamela 3” is about not getting what you want, but it’s about something even better than that. It will make you more kind, and it’s something that I struggle with all the time. The lesson in the finale of this season of Louie has to be that you have to let other people be themselves, because that’s all anyone should ever be. If you do that, and you still like them, then that’s what love is. Not anything else.

We’ll be back next week with a different show. If you have suggestions, leave a comment.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

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Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “In the Woods”

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Alex Russell

Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed show Louie’s fourth season runs as two episodes every Monday night. Rather than just answering the question of “are these episodes good,” (because the answer is always yes) we’ll talk about the big lessons imparted in each episode. This week: Louie struggles with “do as I say, not as I do.”

Episodes 11 and 12: “In the Woods”

This episode is dedicated to Philip Seymour Hoffman. It is about drugs.

Louie catches his oldest daughter smoking pot. Louie gets upset. She says, “what do you even know about it?” Louie remembers. That’s all you need to know about the “what” of the episode.

It’s almost entirely told in flashback, which is amazing. There have been a number of reality jumps and flashbacks in Louie over the years, but this one is the most fully realized. It helps that it’s a kind of double episode. You feel the pain of Louie’s mother as she feels her son slipping away. You feel the distance of Louie’s father as he both tries to help and shrugs at the same time. You feel the world of young Louie, which is both the actual history of the character and a dream state.

“Real” Louie has a brother on the show, but the brother’s not in the flashback. In a previous episode, a flashback revealed his wife to be white when she’s black in the “reality” of Louie. This all means something.

It never matters what happens. It matters what you take away from it.

Teenage Louie in the flashback gets obsessed with pot. He dedicates his life to obtaining pot and escaping his boring life by getting high. An episode dedicated to a man who recently died of a heroin overdose is about pot, which at first seems weird…

…but it’s not about pot. It’s about the ways we hide from the people that care about us. It’s about booze and pornography and music and general deceit and exercise and biking and cooking and smoking and comic books and religion and politics and whatever else your particular crutch is, really. It’s about Louie, a teenager, who is getting high not because he’s mad or sad or lonely, but because he just is getting high. It costs him his sense of self. It costs him the girl — and the scenes where he and a young classmate look longingly at each other over the gulf of addiction are dreadfully perfect — and it costs him the closeness of his family.

Adult Louie has to decide how to turn this memory into a lesson for his daughter. He has to figure out what we all have to figure out: how do you make your past mistakes productive? He wants to be a warning, but when she asks him if he’s going to yell at her, he knows he has to be careful.

There’s no way to spoil this episode. This is the pause between “Pamela 1” and next week’s season finale of “Pamela 2” and “Pamela 3.” This whole season has been about Louie’s love life, but it’s been more interesting to see how we got to the version of adult Louie in the show. The explosion is more noteworthy, sure, but watching the fuse is more fun. Louie’s childhood isn’t necessarily atomic, but it’s sad and relatable because Louie is some version of who we all were and — some days — still are. This one is heavy on the intended morals, but I take the following:

Pay attention to who you were, if only to be damned sure you aren’t ever them again.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “Elevator (Part 6)” and “Pamela (Part 1)”

louie-3

Alex Russell

Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed show Louie’s fourth season runs as two episodes every Monday night. Rather than just answering the question of “are these episodes good,” (because the answer is always yes) we’ll talk about the big lessons imparted in each episode. This week: Louie rents a car in a hurricane and forgets himself.

Episode 9: “Elevator (Part 6)”

These are two very different episodes of television. It’s been difficult some times during this (especially during the previous five parts of “Elevator”) to draw a meaningful distinction between the two episodes. That is not difficult now.

They’re set up that way on purpose. “Elevator (Part 6)” is the conclusion of what’s now a film-length dramatic romance told in six parts. No one could have expected Amia to stay, of course, but the act of her leaving is still brutal. Louie, like so many of us, hoped that the joy he could draw from a relationship with a forced expiration date was worth the expiration itself. To get inside Louie’s head, I’ll just ask you: Was yours?

The episode also features a hurricane, but that’s all visuals. It’s shot in a way that nothing on TV right now really is; you’re constantly lost and worried for the characters. Louie is forced to drive into a New York storm that will remind you of another recent one, and honestly, I couldn’t help but remember friends I had in New York at the time and the reality of Sandy. As someone who has never lived near a coast, it just seems unimaginable.

As Louie the show is about showing the world of Louie the character’s New York, the in-show disaster does a great job. Louie is lost and often helpless, but he will drive into the storm to try. He knows the direction he wants to go — be it towards his family or towards love with Amia — but he has no idea about anything beyond that. We’ll sum it up as he does: Move towards your goals, even if you only have two birthday candles, a light bulb, a flashlight, and a banana.

Episode 10: “Pamela (Part 1)

The end of the “Elevator” saga brings the start of the “Pamela” one, and it’s not an easy episode to discuss. I’m dedicated to not “spoiling” Louie, but there is one central element to the episode’s ending that has to come up in a discussion of the episode. If you haven’t seen it and are going to, go do so.

Yeah, right? See what I mean?

Pamela is played by Pamela Adlon, the voice of Bobby Hill on King of the Hill and Louis CK’s wife on his earlier show Lucky Louie. She’s the closest to a real “love interest” that Louie has ever had — there are others, but they don’t even seem to be real people, which is a whole different discussion about the “reality” of Louie that I will have with you over a pot of coffee sometime — and she is also the closest character in tone to Louie himself. They’re brash at times and they’re sweet at times (in a fashion) and they’re there for each other when it matters.

Louie loves Pamela. Pamela loves Louie, but Louie says no because he’s with Amia. Amia goes back to Hungary, Louie tells Pamela he’s ready, Pamela says it’s too late. A tale as old as time, and I’m being serious.

How often have you only too late noticed that you had a connection with someone? Or maybe you did notice in time, but it was too late for them, or vice versa? These are the real ways we interact, and they’re especially real because we recognize everything that comes along with them…

…until we don’t. Louie tries to kiss Pamela very forcefully when he comes home to relieve her from babysitting his kids. Pamela’s not interested, but Louie says that she said earlier that she was. The show briefly deals with this earlier in the episode by having Louie and Pamela share a “why are you so mean to me” and “why do you like it?” exchange. It’s fortunate that we know these people, because it reduces some of the horror of Louie’s monstrous act and it explains some of Pamela’s reluctance as emotional armor. It doesn’t do either act of explaining enough, but that’s on purpose. This is supposed to be a gross scene, and it really, really is.

I’m very intrigued to see the second and third parts of “Pamela” to see how they address what is just a kiss, but is also something awful at the same time. The lesson from arguably the worst thing the show has made Louie do? It’s most important with Pamela herself, but it’s also an episode full of Louie making little choices (he sits next to a guy talking to no one on the train and later tells a man to not spit on the bus) that are noble but ultimately pointless. Louie’s scale for “good” is way off. Remember to actually be good when you can, not “good.”

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.