Friday, July 6, 2012
Louie - "Telling Jokes/Set Up"
I can't believe I've waited this long to profess my love for the acting powerhouse that is Melissa Leo. Obviously, damn near everyone is familiar with her work in The Fighter, but she's been banging away at the acting gig for years, turning in stellar performances in a string of forgotten and/or undersold movies and TV shows. In a way, it's almost shocking that it took this long for her to make an appearance on Louie, since her career proves such a perfect corollary to that of Louis CK. They have the same work ethic: just keep attacking the art, keep getting better, never stop working, and eventually people will have no choice but to pay attention.
And her performance in the second segment of "Telling Jokes/Set Up" was, as usual, nothing short of stunning. She and Louis get roped into a blind date dinner at the house of comedian Allan Havey. It's awkward. Everyone knows it's awkward. When Leo and Louis head outside for a smoke, they commiserate over the awkwardness of it all; they can't understand why a married couple would try to suck other people into the misery that is married life. And then they head to a bar together—to the excitement of Allan Havey's wife.
But before I get to the rest of this story, I think now is a good time to mention the first segment of the episode, "Telling Jokes." In this seemingly minor piece, Louis listens to his daughters tell knock-knock jokes, which segues into a stand-up routine on the nature of his youngest daughter's jokes. She, untrained in the ways of comedy, will tell jokes that come out of left field. Seemingly pointless, they will travel in the most unexpected directions. Louis, having worked as a professional comedian for twenty-five years, is so well versed in the ways of joke-telling that he knows the punchline to any joke as soon as it's set up—except for his daughter's jokes. And that's why he loves them.
Sometimes the most inspired pieces of art can come about unintentionally. I think that's why I love so-called bad movies so much. The people who make them are so inept, so ignorant as to the ways of "good" movies, that their mistakes are frequently awe-inspiring. Good directors rarely fuck up in such inspired, unexpected ways. I think it's this mentality that Louis brings to his TV show. In the best episodes ("Bully") we are never quite sure where the hell the stories are headed. We are so used to the rhythms of conventional story-telling that when Louis bucks these conventions it's genuinely surprising. During the best moments on Louie, I never know where the hell the story is gonna go.
Which brings us back to the Melissa Leo story. After a few drinks at a local bar, she and Louis really hit it off—their mutual distaste for marriage proving a particular bonding point. When they decide to call it a night, Melissa gives Louis a ride in her truck...and then she parks behind a building and blows him. Louis lets her. When she asks him to eat her pussy in return, he refuses; he didn't realize that the blow-job was meant to be reciprocated. She feels insulted and calls Louis selfish. And here's where things get weird.
Leo bets Louis that she'll get him to "strap on the feedbag," at which point she calls his masculinity into question. Louis is defensive, but still won't give in. And then she gets joyfully violent, shattering the passenger-side window with Louis' head. The overpowered Louis relents; he goes downtown. And then they happily decide to see each other again. This scene is everything: funny, awkward, tense, and scary...simultaneously. Most importantly, it's unexpected. I truly didn't know what the hell would happen, which kept me on edge.
But it still all makes sense. That Louis would agree to see Leo again after such a bizarre night speaks to his character's go-with-the-flow passivity. Is it really all that different from his silent breakup with Gaby Hoffman last week? Well, this night didn't go as he'd expected, but overall it was pretty good—he got a blowjob. He'll keep going with this thing until it no longer goes.