New Television — From the September 2015 issue

New Television

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In Season 5 of Louie (FX), Louie is a new kind of superhero. Like Wonder Woman, the canonical superhero he most resembles, Louie’s distinctive superpower is love. With loving understanding, he transforms his sister’s aggressive, gun-wielding ex-boyfriend into a gentle, giggling man who learns to knit. With loving understanding, he relieves the sexual loneliness of a pregnant surrogate mother and, in doing so, hastens new life into the world. This enrages the (nearly evil) nonpregnant parents, who had a detailed birth plan. “Some things don’t work out the way you planned them,” Louie says to them as he exits the hospital, fleeing their aspersions and our cheers.

Illustration by Demetrios Psillos

Illustration by Demetrios Psillos

And he is fleeing our cheers. Louie repeatedly attempts to correct the cosmic imbalance of things going so very right for him — as they have for Louis CK, the comedian and creator of the highly autobiographical and much-celebrated show — and so very wrong for pretty much the rest of the world. Louie seeks out rejection so that he can be himself.

The fourth episode of Season 5 begins with Louie’s brother, Bobby, calling to say that their uncle has died — which turns out not to be the case; the obituary was for another man with the same name. After the brothers attend the other man’s funeral, Bobby says he wants to share something important. Louie discourages him, but Bobby goes ahead. Bobby says that he is truly happy to see his brother’s success: “You got a beautiful wife, you got a divorce, you get part-time custody of two beautiful kids. Me, I got nothing. No money, no skills, no Twitter.” The overhead lights in Bobby’s apartment are on an electricity-saving timer, and at this point they promptly go out.

These scenes constitute just the first seven minutes of the episode. After that, Louie gets beaten up by a woman on the street while trying to stop a fight; his daughters laugh at him for being beaten up by a woman; his friend and love interest, Pamela, also laughs at him; and then, when he asks her for help covering his bruises with makeup so he can do that night’s comedy show, she convinces him to put on lipstick and have sex with their gender roles switched. When Louie later suggests that perhaps their relationship has reached a new level, Pamela breaks up with him. He’s great, she says, but she can’t give him what he needs and deserves. The last twenty seconds of the episode show Louie and Bobby at a diner, with Bobby laughing joyfully, presumably at Louie’s degradations.

Bobby’s joy is where the logic of the episode, and in some sense of the whole season, is clearest. Part of Louie’s superpower of love is his ability to occupy a position of humiliation and dejection, as if this might protect those around him from the same fate. Bobby’s laughter isn’t cruel, because we sense how relieved Louie is to have his debasement to offer to a brother he loves. Louie, for all his success, can’t give Bobby looks, charisma, or a career — “Tell me what you want,” Louie says; Bobby replies, “You’re throwing it in my face, right in my face” — but he can give him a moment of true humor and happiness.

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