In light of the high quality Louie has maintained in pretty much every area over the course of its four and half seasons thus far, it’s easy to forget that it started out as a very different kind of show. C.K. has talked pretty openly about the heavy influence Woody Allen’s had on his work, and in its broad strokes, the progression of the show lines up fairly closely with that of the Allen filmography; he started out doing something that was almost purely for laughs, an extension of his stand-up act that was filled with blackout sketches and visual/verbal cartoons. But even in that first season, there were hints that he had more on his mind, and when he wrote his character an Annie Hall-style nervous romance (“Daddy’s Girlfriend,” aka the Parker Posey episodes), the emotional stakes were raised; the comedy became more grounded, more about the real world, and more concerned with genuine emotion. All of which is a long way of getting around to noting that last night’s episode, “Untitled,” was in many ways the closest thing he’s done to that inaugural season in quite some time: a bizarre exercise in pure absurdity.
Back in those early days, Louie wasn’t all that concerned with structural soundness; some of his episodes (or half-episodes, as he was wont to do) were less stories than jokes, illustrated and disposed of. It was only in the later seasons that we began to see complex multi-part narratives (like the “Elevator” series) and portraiture of pain (as recently as “Cop Story” a couple weeks back). The early scenes of “Untitled” play like a day-in-the-life episode (which he’s done before)—a series of vignettes, their primary commonality that they happened to him.
And they’re filled with wonderful little touches, many of them thanks to the invaluable Ursula Parker as little Jane; their interaction with the snitty lady in the doctor’s waiting room is priceless (“She’s not very friendly. Well, she’s not.” “Well, you’re not!”) and there’s something just perfect—especially as a parent—about the throwaway thing with her insisting on ringing that doorbell on the way into Lilly’s friend’s apartment.
This leads to yet another of Louie’s magnificent scenes of painfully awkward social interaction, this time as the friend’s mother, a recent divorcee, asks Louie to help her move a fish tank. He begs off, and she almost immediately lapses into a giant meltdown—and it doesn’t affect him in any way beyond making him eye the exit. Listen to the delicacy of his dialogue here (“I’m sorry, I… I’m really sorry you’re going through that, but ah… I don’t really know you, so I feel like this is a private thing, I shouldn’t stay while you’re…”), and the honestly of his playing; he really doesn’t wanna be there, and you really don’t blame him, but it still seems mighty heartless of him to just pull that blanket over her wailing head and close the door behind him.
When he returns to the scene of that crime later in the episode (at the urging of Flavorwire fan Nick Di Paolo), it connects this and the seemingly random bits that have followed—namely, a series of horrifying nightmares and dream sequences—together with the cleanness of a Seinfeld or Curb climax that combines the A/B/C plots, but without the schematic feel that sometimes infects those shows. It’s a neat little bait-and-switch; C.K.’s clever teleplay lulls you into thinking none of this is connected to anything else, and then he pulls the thread. Sure, the is-this-real-or-is-this-a-dream fake-outs can get tiresome, but some of that is allayed by the sheer horror that is his nude waxed-up nightmare fuel—seriously, what the hell is that thing, and how mad is James Wan that he didn’t get it into an Insidious movie?
Throw in unexpected and welcome return appearances by Todd Barry and Charles Grodin, plus John Glaser (aka Parks and Rec’s Jeremy Jamm) as a skeezy joke-stealer, and you’ve got one of Louie’s oddest, yet most satisfying episodes. And on that note, I’m off to the iTunes Store to hunt down an MP3 of that bonkers song at the end. Sing along, everybody: “I hate those dying babies/why don’t they just die/their smiling faces give me diarrhea/sweet dying dying babies/in my diarrhea.” That tune’ll be sweeping the nation by Sunday, mark my words.