What I Did With My Summer Vacation: Louie


Alex Russell

In What I Did With My Summer Vacation we explore shows you should catch up on during TV’s slowest season. This week: Louie, Louie, Louie, Louie.

FX just announced that Louie and Fargo are coming back with new seasons. This is great news for anyone that loves TV. You have roughly a year to prepare. Go watch all of Fargo, I already told you to do that last week. This week’s column is just an extension of the same argument I have with people every week: you have to watch Louie.

There is a ton of ink spilled over Louis CK every year. We’re certainly guilty of spilling ink sometimes at Reading at Recess (to the point where we specifically defended it) but overall, it’s just important to make an argument and to defend it. I don’t mind the thinkpieces about how Louie isn’t funny anymore. I think it’s definitely something worth discussing.

I’m not going to argue over if Louie is or isn’t a funny show. I’m going to tell you it’s a show that’s out to do something else. If you want jokes, Bob’s Burgers, Broad City, Inside Amy Schumer, and Review are all also coming back. Louie wants you to be uncomfortable.

This last season was hard to watch, but that’s what I want out of it. Louie made poor decisions as a protagonist. He approached feminism and body image and consent as topics, because those are the topics we’re talking about. I don’t think he always did so with as much grace as he could have. I do think he did it when no one else really was.

Right now Louis CK has the mic in pop culture. Your mom knows who he is and he’s the most popular stand up with your friend who has some actual cultural cred. His show isn’t wildly popular, but he’s the subject of thinkpieces (I hate that term and now I’ve used it twice, but it’s really all that works) because there’s something in his show that’s worth thinking about.

This last season was not my favorite season of Louie. I think Parker Posey’s character from season three will be my favorite part of my favorite show for a long time to come. My favorite moments in Louie have always felt to me like I wasn’t exactly sure what was being intended by them. What Louie is to me is not what Louie is to you. It’s not because I’m special; it’s because everyone is going to take away something else from that strange view of the world.

Louie isn’t very funny anymore. There are still great moments — this, the opening to the season with the garbage truck, is the hardest I’ve laughed in 2014 — but I don’t need to laugh at Louis CK on his show. I need him to take some risks. I need him to try to talk about delicate topics and not always do a great job. I need a full world that’s uncomfortable, like the couple next to you at the restaurant getting rude with the waiter. It’s awful, but that’s what actually happens when you go outside sometimes.

Louie can be dark or light, depending on the episode and your personal temperament, but it is always something considering. Season four had big character development (and undevelopment, at times) but it can also be the story of learning how to talk to your kid about drugs. It’s a lumbering beast at this point, and I totally understand if you don’t like what you see. Just keep in mind that for some of us, that’s part of the point.

You can watch Louie on FX’s website or on Hulu. You can also read our recap series about season four where we tried to find larger life lessons in each episode.

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.

Tough Questions: What’s the Best Thing You’ve Seen this Year?


Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s the best thing you’ve seen this year?

Rules are simple: what have we, like, gotta see, man? No, really, what have we gotta see? It’s the middle of the year and nearly everything worthwhile is on hiatus. Wonder if anyone here is writing about that? Is that the first meta-plug in the intro paragraph? Why are you reading this, still? Go find out what you’re missing! What’s the best stuff from your first half of 2014?

Alex Russell

“So Did the Fat Lady” is the episode of Louie that’s nominated for an Emmy, but I’m sticking with the entire “Elevator” saga. I’m Louie‘s biggest fan, and I’m honestly a little surprised every time I realize it competes for Emmy awards as a “comedy.” I guess it is, but the “Elevator” arc from this season is everything the show is supposed to be. There were a ton of thinkpieces written about how it’s not funny anymore, but if you’re watching Louie to laugh then you’re missing the point. It’s all about watching a woman try to explain “hairdryer” to someone with no shared language between them. DAMN this season of Louie was good, y’all.

Jonathan May


I’d have to say the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado. Clyfford Still was one of the leading American Abtract-Expressionist painters. The Museum houses 94% of the artist’s output, and he stipulated in his will that all of his work should be sealed off from the public (upon his death) until a museum devoted solely to it was built. The Museum opened just a few years ago, so I was lucky to be able to return to Denver to see it this year. Not only is the building itself absolutely gorgeous (concrete and steel), the paintings hang beautifully in chronological order, with many more in careful storage. I’d never been able to see his paintings in the flesh, so to walk through rooms and rooms of them was just heaven.


Brent Hopkins

I would say the best thing I have seen this year would have to be Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe in Japan. I’ve always been intrigued by Japan as a long time video game and anime fan, and finally had a chance to go visit. (I wrote about the arcade culture there way back when.) You always hear about Tokyo, but the other cities are so vibrant and lively that they shouldn’t be taken for granted either. Kyoto in particular had me feeling like I had lived there forever or could live there forever. Just a breathtaking place with amazing people.

Gardner Mounce

The best thing I’ve seen so far this year is the trailer for Boyhood, the new Richard Linklater film. I’m a huge Linklater fan, having seen all of the Before… movies a dozen times. I was smiling ear-to-ear when I saw that trailer. It looks like it’s going to be like the Before…movies but three hours long and with all the cringiness of puberty. That’s my kind of entertainment.

Colton Royle

Can we just talk about how incredible The Lego Movie really was? I mean here is a movie about a kid’s toy that was somehow also about globalization, free movement of capital, and the possibility for a post-nation state while also adding in a little Marxist criticism for the low income workers?

In all seriousness, the movie is really funny. Each cliché is tweaked just out of reach for comedy. Consider the foreshadowing of Emmit’s fall into the human world (spoilers, but it’s been enough time) with items like the “Blade of Exact Zero” and the enlightened flashes that included a cat poster. Consider how Morgan Freeman’s character Vitruvius thinks that a prophecy is true because it rhymes. And the first five minutes of the film in Bricksburg is the most satirical animated wonder since Shrek. While it definitely shows as not a movie for children, it is philosophical and quirky in a way that had me doing jumping jacks.

Andrew Findlay

The best thing I have seen all year is The Sopranos. I have been on a quest to catch up on all of the universally acclaimed television shows from the last couple decades, and The Sopranos has impressed me the most by far. Mad Men is dripping with style, The Wire is sprawling, complex, and incisive, and Breaking Bad is absurdly exciting to watch, but none quite hit the slow and workmanlike layering of a fully realized network of people. The Sopranos is a show about generational psychosis, the American dream, and family (both the kind you see at Thanksgiving and the kind you order to hijack a semi of fine Italian suits for you). All the shows I listed are amazing, but they are all missing something intangible that The Sopranos has, and I expect it to remain for some time in my top five cultural experiences.

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

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


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)”


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.

Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “Elevator (Part 4)” and “Elevator (Part 5)”


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 looks at his love life and does not like what he sees; Louie deals with Mentos.

Episode 7: “Elevator (Part 4)”

It’s very difficult to separate “Elevator” into episodes. Louie has always been compared to film in a stylistic sense — it’s much more like film than television — but only now is the structure of the show an actual damn movie. “Elevator” concludes next week, but we already know enough to work with it now.

Louie owns up to the fact that he isn’t really doing anything productive with his love life, and that’s a hard thing to admit. We’ve all had to admit to a drunk friend that we’re in a relationship that’s well past the expiration date, but Louie’s got the opposite problem: He can’t actually date Amia, because she’s going back to Hungary soon. He can’t start a relationship.

Louie is a “dark” show. When I’ve met people that aren’t into it, the most common complaint is that it isn’t funny. There’s nothing funny about Louie’s plight with Amia, or with his struggles to stay cordial with his ex-wife so that his kids will be happy, or his general life in the world of the show. The laughs are there, but that can’t be why you show up.

During a flashback, Louie deals with one night on a trip where he and his then-wife stay in a hotel room. It is the most realistic portrayal of a long relationship I’ve seen in months, and it’s that realism that makes the show feel cinematic. It’s not an episode of television that happens in a hotel room; it’s a look into people that have to leave that hotel room and go back to life later. I don’t want to spoil it, but the lesson is the same one any good Eagle Scout knows: Be prepared.

Episode 8: “Elevator (Part 5)

It’s hard to say how the fifth part is without the sixth, but the problem in it for Louie could exist outside of any continuity. Louie has to deal with what his relationship with Amia means if it doesn’t mean sex.

The best part about this whole story is that Louie loves Amia as an ideal. He loves someone who seems nice and fun and happy, but he just doesn’t really know that much about her. This kind of love story makes my eyes roll in most situations because there’s nothing worse than someone in love with the idea of love. You want someone to love specifics, not just “the essence of Sarah.” No one’s essence alone will get you to year two.

It works in Louie because it helps Louie understand that he’s not actually furthering himself. He’s just spending time with someone that feels like a partner, not a partner. This same story would be a happy one in a rom-com. It’s more than a little sad here because it reinforces the idea that everyone is a person first, and if you love them as an ideal then you’re just not actually in love with anyone who really exists. You’re not being honest with them or yourself.

Louie‘s love story will conclude next week and with that episode will be a larger lesson. Today’s, though, is a healthy part of a grown-up diet: Love someone for who they are, because all of that other shit will fade in two months.

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 2)” and “Elevator (Part 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 takes a woman to two stores on a date and has to decide if his daughter needs to go to private school.

Episode 4: “Elevator (Part 2)”

“Elevator” is a six-part episode, soeven at two episodes a week there’s much more to tell. Louie is in love with a woman he can’t really communicate with, though that leads to some outstanding pantomime in a drug store as the two try to exchange the idea of “hair dryer” back and forth.

Louie being in love with a woman who doesn’t speak English has some pretty obvious connections to his inability to communicate with women in general, and this wouldn’t be Louie if it stopped there. It’s not just that they can’t communicate, it’s that Louie the charactacter throws himself into something so fully that he turns down Pamela, the “love of his life” character on the show, when she comes back from Barcelona. Is Pamela back for Louie? Does Louie turn her down because he resents that she left, because he loves this new woman, or a little of both? This might be stand up for yourself when people act like assholes but with Louie, the flipside of that oft-given advice might be more important by the time this tale is told.

Episode 5: “Elevator (Part 3)

These two are also about Louie’s troublesome daughter Jane. Jane’s in trouble at school, but she’s acting out because she doesn’t buy into the established authority of the world. Louis C.K.’s comedy is a lot of things, but it’s definitely about the supposed “rules” that society needs to keep working. Things go poorly because people take too many cookies or they drive like assholes or they don’t leave their rental car at the counter. These rules, and our decisions to follow them, keep the whole damn puzzle together.

If that premise is Louis C.K.’s worldview, his jokes are about how we love to not play by those rules. Breaking down jokes is tough and mostly pointless, but the serious realities of Louie work the same way. Jane doesn’t like that she set up rules with a friend about time on a thing at the playground and the friend didn’t follow them. Jane’s not mean, Jane’s just frustrated that the world wasn’t fair when she was.

The episode is about love and how we fall in it, and our kids and how we want them to have better lives, and our lot in life and how we choose to view it. Louie runs into his doctor and a three-legged dog in the lobby of his building, and that scene doesn’t deserve me spoiling it. It does reinforce a beautiful lesson, though, and that’s that you can smash anything with a bat that you want, but you’ll always be your responses to the things you cannot change.

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: “So Did the Fat Lady” and “Elevator (Part 1)”


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 reluctantly goes on a date and almost loses his daughter.

Episode 3: “So Did the Fat Lady”

No one has perspective immediately. Right after watching a particular episode of a particular show, it feels more important. That one episode isn’t just 22 minutes of entertainment, it’s your Monday. It’s the time you sat in one specific chair and felt one specific way because someone who made something made you pay attention.

The third episode of Louie will get mentioned a ton this year as one of the best episodes of the show, and that makes it tough to digest fully just a few hours after its debut. In it, Louie presents the story of how he’s worn down into a date by a compelling woman at a comedy club that doesn’t fit the standard “expected weight” of a woman on television. It’s not an overdrawn morality play about how weight shouldn’t matter. It’s a story about how weight does matter (even when it shouldn’t), but how we treat people in life matters a heullva lot more.

Everyone will draw the obvious from it: It’s about being kind but still being realistic. It’s about how we think of ourselves as good people even though we sometimes click the “no thanks” button when Walgreens asks for money for breast cancer research. It’s about why we think of ourselves as honest even though we go without mentioning faults to our friends. It’s the story of the faults we all have that we don’t even always consider faults.

The episode will be a smash hit (as much as a Louie episode can be) because a 30-something woman talking about body issues in a real way is great television. It will stick with me because one of the secondary lessons is that it’s important to be a good person, whatever that means to you.

Episode 4: “Elevator (Part 1)

The second episode is a big step down in the “cultural issues” department, but it comes out of the gate with a ton of energy just the same. Louie tells his girls to repeat the “rules of the subway” as they get on the subway. Chekhov taught us that means that the subway rules are going to be broken, and sure enough…

…but the episode’s not really about losing the girls. It’s about Louie finding a woman stuck in an elevator and trying to help in a situation where he doesn’t have any real answers. There will assuredly be more in next week’s second part of this episode that explains how the subway scene relates to the scared woman in the stalled elevator, but right now we need to leave this one somewhat unfinished. It’s a great episode and it has something really sweet to say about language and shared experiences, though it isn’t a finished story yet. Both stories in it have the same lesson so far, though: Don’t bother running away from anything that can catch you.

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: “Back” and “Model”


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’s back hurts and he has to open for Jerry Seinfeld.

Welcome to this! Maybe it’ll work and maybe it won’t. That sentence had to come up in the pitch for Louie, so it’s as good of a place to start as any. I love Louie very deeply. I even loved Louis C.K.’s tonally similar movie. Louie is always going to mean different things to different people, but to me it means hope for the hopeless. The “world” of Louie is brutal and mean, but it is not without victory. After an extremely long hiatus, Louis C.K. had to come out swinging to remind people what both the world of Louie and the character of “Louie” are like. The first two episodes definitely do that.

Episode 1: “Back”

“Back” opens with the best joke structure possible: Big gets bigger. Louie wakes up in New York City to the sound of garbage men. Of course, they break into his house to jump on his bed and dump trash on him. His life literally gets worse from the moment he wakes up. It’s a fitting start to an episode that’s mostly about how hard it is to get older.

Louie always features stand up bits that weave the vignettes together; the one about hating a 31-year-old for complaining about aging will hit too close to home for a lot of people. Louie’s back goes out and a gruff doctor, an unfazed sexshop worker, and Todd Barry don’t have any time or interest in consoling him.

It’s tempting to label this “you have to take care of yourself,” but the doctor is insistent that everyone’s back hurts most of the time. The back pain is obvious both as a symbol for and the result of aging, so the first episode of the season is closer to the first line from the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Episode 2: “Model

Anyone with a passing knowledge of Louie or a working sense of dread will see the first twist in “Model” coming. Louie has to open for Jerry Seinfeld at a benefit. He doesn’t get enough detail and thus ends up in a T-shirt at a black-tie affair full of millionaires. The first 10 minutes is every bit as agonizing as you’d expect, but it’s when the episode turns to the model herself that it socks you in the gut.

There’s some good stuff that I don’t want to spoil, but it is enough to say that this episode would have consequences for the characters on another show. The “continuity” of Louie is always up in the air — outside of two extended relationships on the show, not much carries over — but it will be interesting to see if the show cares about the big blow it deals its main character in “Model.”

Probably not, and that’s more than fine. What’s more interesting is the lesson itself, revealed in the scene with the credits: It’s never all bad.

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.

Louis C.K. Made a Movie in 1998. He Just Released it for $5. Should You See it?


Alex Russell

In our rarely-running kinda-series Should You See It? we talk about movies that just came out. You can figure out the rest of the premise from the title of the series. That’s right: we talk recipes. Should you see Louis C.K.’s “lost” movie Tomorrow Night?

The entire world knows who Louis C.K. is, more or less. Sure, you have to restrict that to the “English-speaking world” and within that “people with TV or web access” and within that “people who aren’t the worst or have friends who aren’t the worst” but that’s basically everyone.

The unlikely hero of American alt-comedy (and really more than that, but let’s leave it there) shows up on Facebook whenever he weighs in on people whining about the Internet on planes or kids with cellphones. This is great, because it means that more people have access to someone that everyone should already love. Louis C.K. is one of the few comics (see also: Oswalt, Patton) that you absolutely have to like if you like comedy. He’s unassailable because he is unstoppable. He helped pioneer the idea of writing a new hour every year and retiring the old one completely. He still does it better than just about anyone and he’s as such raised the bar so high that comedy is in a better place in 2014 than almost ever in history.

If that sounds like high praise, good. You don’t need me to tell you Louis C.K. is one of the greatest comedic minds of our generation, but you might want me to give a quick history lesson. Louis C.K. comes from the old guard of comics that you expect your friends to know but don’t. He made it where many of them didn’t, and that’s into the world of people who don’t “know” stand up comedy. Louis C.K. is a name that someone who didn’t hear a single comedy album or watch a single comedy special last year will still likely know. He transcended comedy geekdom in a lot of ways, but the one that’s most interesting is with his show Louie.

Louie is a 30-minute exploration of the fictionalized life of Louis C.K. He shows the gritty, depressing, and sometimes-funny world of raising two daughters and not understanding the cards dealt to a person. It’s beyond me to describe it — it’s my favorite show on television, and the number two spot isn’t close — but all that need be said is that it is an Emmy-winning show that is essentially labeled perfect by the people that label TV for a living. Even if it isn’t your favorite show or you don’t even watch it, you have to be aware of the fanfare around Louie.

Louis C.K. made a show before Louie for HBO: Lucky Louie. There’s a different sensibility to Lucky Louie. The dark-at-times, surreal-all-the-time nature of Louie is replaced by brighter-but-not-happier themes and situations. Lucky Louie is about another fictionalized Louis married to Pamela Adlon (who you most likely know as the voice of Bobby from King of the Hill). They’re broke, they have a kid, and they live imperfect lives. It’s a show that Louis C.K. has likened to a modern-day The Honeymooners for good reason. Life is hard for the people in the world of Lucky Louie, but it’s a life worth living.

On Wednesday at noon, Louis C.K. released a feature-length film he made in 1998. You can go buy it and watch it for five bucks. I’m just not sure you’re going to like it. It depends on what you want out of Louis C.K.

It’s weird, but everything’s weird about Louis C.K. His “big break” in stand up style came when he started talking honestly about how hard it was to sometimes hate things he wasn’t supposed to hate. He talked honestly about the struggles of marriage and raising children and he didn’t couch his feelings in the typical hypotheticals. He brought a new voice that demanded to be heard because it didn’t sound like anything else.

Tomorrow Night is weird for a lot of reasons. He talked about the movie on his recent appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and detailed the story of borrowing money to make it. His description to Jon Stewart — that it’s a movie about a guy sexually excited by sitting in ice cream — is technically a true description, but it masks the tone of the movie completely.

The main character works in a photo store. He’s miserable because he can’t stand the untidiness of life. He decides that the way he can take back his little corner of the world is to call up every single person who has photos waiting to be picked up — the first of many reminders that it’s almost two decades ago in the world of this movie — and demand that they come in that day.

That drives the action. The guy meets a hypersexual woman who tries to seduce him and a mailman (played by J.B. Smoove, who is seemingly always just his character from Curb Your Enthusiasmwho wants him to get out of his shell. At night, he goes home and sits in bowls of ice cream.

It’s an absurd way to show that the character leads a double life. He’s obsessed with cleanliness, so he must defile himself in a graphic way to experience true freedom. He finds himself drawn to an elderly woman who keeps a tidy house and the wheels fall off in increasingly absurd ways. Someone is killed by wild dogs in the street. They go see a 1998 Conan O’Brien (who is a timeless man and possibly a wizard). They ride in carnival rides. There’s lots going on.

The movie isn’t “random” or exactly “surreal” because all of this really happens and it all happens for a reason. It’s just a little bit too much. One character, a dopey soldier stuck forever “at war,” sends letters hope to his mother only to have them all be thrown away by two cackling mail room guys played by Steve Carell and Robert Smigel. The results are hilarious here (and possibly worth viewing on their own) but they don’t fit well with the surrounding set pieces.

Tomorrow Night is more Louie than Lucky Louie, but it’s a little bit of both. It’s getting mixed reviews for good reason: parts of it are just bad. The husband of the elderly woman is played so cartoonishly evil that it’s impossible to even hate him. Lucky Louie-veteran Rick Shapiro plays a woman in mostly-unexplained drag that doesn’t really go anywhere. A lot of this movie is Louis C.K. saying “it would be funny if X happened” and going for it. He’s mostly right, but the results aren’t essential viewing.

Should You See It? It depends on your level of obsession with the creator. If you love the sensibility of Louie, there’s something here for you. If you don’t, or if you can’t get past that “sitting in ice cream naked” is supposed to represent something else less gross, then you can probably skip this. It’s a great piece of history to have, but it’s going to be too weird for people who just think he’s really damn funny.

Image source: ABC News