Louie 4.01 & 4.02 Review: “Back” & “Model”

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After an extended hiatus, Louie is back, and television is all the better because of it. The strengths of Louie as a TV series are many, but what is immediately apparent after watching “Back” and “Model” is that the cliche saying that “there is nothing like it” applies to this series or else the saying applies to nothing. Pushing the half-hour format in all sorts of ways, the show doesn’t miss a beat after its long absence. The only difference here might be that these two episodes embrace some of the magic realism of past Louie seasons more heavily. Right off the bat, Louie is woken up by the garbage men doing their rounds. His representation of that experience is at once hilarious (and I’m talking legitimately laugh-out-loud funny in ways that sitcoms can’t manage as well because of how scripted they can feel) and truthful by use of fiction, to use that common paradox. Louie doesn’t bank on being funny, though, which is another reason why it works so well. There are times, including moments in these episodes, when the events portrayed are incredibly difficult to watch either because of how melancholic or awkward they are. Louie is an enigma of original programming and deserves that distinction as original more than any other series available. So, it would be redundant to say that “Back” and “Model” are good or great or whatever superlative someone else might use. More than that, they are–as Louie is in general–important to watch.

To expand on that quality of magic realism, which is used in fiction to denote a story that has preternatural elements within a seemingly normal world, “Back” and “Model” show how people within Louie’s world manifest as ideas. There are the people just passing by, such as someone who walks through a door that Louie has left open without any kind of acknowledgment. There are the garbage men, whose sole purpose in life is to disrupt Louie’s own life, breaking into his home, banging metal together and jumping on his bed. And there are also people walking at random, staring down at their cell phones, who need to be batted away by Louie like flies. When Louie has his one-night stand with Yvonne Strahovski’s model, she suggests that the whole scenario might be a creation of Louie’s mind. Even disregarding the fact that there is hardly any continuity in Louie, that the events in “Model” are imagined makes the most sense, since Louie certainly won’t be able to afford $5,000 monthly payments. Otherwise, that would be awful. But then, if you consider “Model” a fiction within a fiction, that is also painfully sad. This will be nothing new for Louie viewers, though.

Also returning is Louis C.K.’s flawless technical abilities as a director and editor, among other duties. Two shots stand out in particular. The first is the conversation Blake, the model, has with Louie outside of the benefit, where the camera is positioned just enough behind Louie so that most of his body is in the frame and Blake is many yards away in the distance as they speak back-and-forth, clearly having trouble understanding one another (or, in a few cases, Louie ignores some of the hurtful-but-true things she says about his set bombing; chickens are dumb!). It immediately situates Blake as an ethereal figure, giving her that air of unreality that’s all over “Model.” The other shot shortly follows when Blake runs out into the ocean while the camera stays behind with Louie as he slows to halt to look on. The way she shrinks and shrinks in the distance is absolutely gorgeous against the lighting (and whatever French soundtrack C.K. has drawn on often in the past returns to the forefront in the season four two-episode premiere).

For all these things, however, it’s the smaller moments–often throwaway lines in the script–that stick with me. Take, for instance, the bartender who practically begs Louie not to force her to turn him down. C.K.’s anxiety permeates Louie, and the fictional version of himself is often so intensely worried about every little thing in life that a moment like this one, in which the appropriate anxiety should come from working up the nerve to ask someone out, winds up turning into something more layered–in this case, anxiety from having placed a burden on someone else that makes them feel bad for having to deal with Louie. And then there’s the moment when Blake asks Louie what makes him laugh and he can’t remember. This leads to the gag that takes over the rest of the episode, but that idea of Louie not knowing what’s funny to himself anymore after spending so much of his life figuring out how to make other people laugh is fascinating.

Couple that with some of those epiphanies that C.K. writes in, and these episodes absolutely sing: that we should be grateful for every moment in which our backs are not hurting, that pretty much everything happens after you die (it just doesn’t happen to or with you) and that there are times and places in the world that an old woman can help a younger man into a taxi while he’s suffering. It’s only the last of these that’s played with an earnestness that doesn’t necessarily invite laughter, but all of them are wonderfully effective. At the end of the day, “Back” and “Model” can also just succeed on the merits of being new episodes of Louie after such a long break (relatively). Sometimes, we don’t realize the special shows we have until they’re gone, like HBO’s Enlightened. Most people who have seen Louie know why this is a series that deserves all the praise it receives for creativity and execution. To alter what the doctor in “Back” says about how the back was meant to be used horizontally and why we shouldn’t be surprised by back pain, I think scripted television can generally be described accurately and almost unanimously in certain ways. Louie is an exception. So, maybe the majority of TV shows are written “vertically” when they should be written like Louie, which doesn’t fit into a pre-conceived structure. Or maybe that’s the thing that gives it its flare. In any case, it’s probably a good idea to be grateful for every second that Louie is on your television screen.

[Photo via K.C. Bailey/FX]

Sean Colletti received his MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. He writes television criticism for @Sound on Site and at his personal blog, There is nothing on. His current favorite shows are Mad Men, Louie and Parks and Recreation.
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