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Our Marathon Diarist Discovers That, In Its Third Season, Louie Finds The Plot

Season 3 adds healthier portions of humour and plot; let's hope it's because Louis C.K. realized it's possible to do that without 'selling out' or whatever.

By the end of Season 2, I was worried that I'd hit the wall. I thought that perhaps Louis C.K. had become too big, that his extracurricular activities were impossible to ignore, that I couldn't get past the fact that one of the funniest and thought-provoking comics in some time was producing a self-indulgent series that wasn't meant to be enjoyed so much as endured. C.K. is clearly writing about his own search for truth, and while I admire that, that's not the same as enjoying it. I'd assumed I'd laugh as much as I do when I watch Veep. (In hindsight, that seems like way too high a bar to clear, even if that were what C.K. is after.)

So I regrouped. It's a marathon, not a sprint. And I decided to break off the remaining episodes in season-long chunks. I don't know if it's because of the different approach, or that my expectations of what this show is trying to do have finally been reset after two seasons, or if the episodes are actually better. Could be all three!

Season 3, Episode 1

How long has it been since the last season? Long enough for Louie to have gotten into a relationship that's gone on long enough for them to be in a rut. Long enough for them to have forgotten what they (presumably) liked about each other to begin with. So thank god they break up almost immediately. Then Louie's car gets crushed (clearly deliberately) for a parking violation, and he goes out and buys a motorcycle, which he immediately crashes, putting himself in the hospital.

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We finally see Louie's ex-wife, after two seasons of this show deliberately avoiding showing her. I admit to being curious about the reasons for both her absence and sudden presence. She's African-American, which is worth noting because her and Louie's kids are white. (Their whiteness having been part of Louie's standup in which he talks about their privilege, in fact.) This show has already demonstrated a willingness to disregard continuity in service of a single episode, so it's not a big deal, especially when I can't completely turn off the part of me that think C.K. did this at least partly because it would give him the chance to tell people, "So what if she's black?" in a "maybe you're the racist for bringing it up!" kind of way. It's very easy for white men to say, "I actually don't see colour." We can afford not to. It's usually more comfortable for us to think so.

Season 3, Episode 3

There are a few things I like about Louie. I'll get to others later, but one of them is when the show addresses, in a new or non-traditional-sitcommy way, things I can relate to. In "Miami," Louie does a show in Florida, and strikes up a friendship with a beach lifeguard who mistakenly (but understandably) thought Louie was drowning.

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I am blessed with many dear friends in my life; more are always welcome. But what happens in middle age when you can't make friends the way you used to? (Which is to say, by being in the same class or happening to live next door to each other.) In the straight-male-friendship equivalent of sending a woman two dozen roses after a first date, Louie extends his stay to hang out with Ramon some more, immediately making Ramon wary and prompting an updated "not that there's anything wrong with that" scene in which each man cringily feels the need to explain, albeit not explicitly, that he's not gay.

Season 3, Episodes 4-5

So Louie can't do friendship right -- can he at least do dating right? And I don't mean the weird kind of relationships he finds himself in, where Melissa Leo blows him in her truck soon after the two of them are set up together by friends, and then, when he declines to (orally) reciprocate, punches him so hard his head cracks the truck window.

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Louis meets Liz, played by Parker Posey, in a bookstore. He's immediately taken with her, because she's cute, funny, and charming, and he asks her out. She then turns out to be nuts. I will say this: at least this show makes her a manic pixie nightmare girl, which seems much more likely than any kind of Garden State situation. Even so, later in the season, Louie will find himself looking for Liz, leading him first through Chloë Sevigny masturbating in a coffee shop, and then to a hospital where Liz dies moments before New Year's Eve.

Season 3, Episodes 10-12

Again: I don't know if it's Stockholm Syndrome from having made it through three seasons of this episode, but I really enjoyed the three-part Late Show arc, in which Louie is up for the job of replacing David Letterman on CBS. (As the president of CBS, the late Garry Marshall gave me a little lump in my throat. Robin Williams also appeared as himself earlier this season.) The show smartly elects to have Louie be a dark-horse candidate who will at the very least give the network an option in negotiating with Jerry Seinfeld for the job.

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Louie's ex-wife won't let Louie pass up the chance because of his fatherly obligations, pointing out that his daughters need a role model, and the rest will sort itself out. Louie starts exercising to get into physical shape (er...relatively speaking) and works with a hilarious David Lynch to get into talk-show shape; Lynch has an endless supply of decades-old Reagan jokes. Louie also gets (not great) advice from Jay Leno and Chris Rock. And when Louie does a practice show, he nails it, defying his and anyone else's honest expectations. (His telling Susan Sarandon he masturbated for the first time after seeing her in Rocky Horror Picture Show is less charming than she makes it out to be, or maybe that's in hindsight.)

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I doubt anyone thought Louie would actually get the job (I mean, as a plot point), but when he doesn't -- not because it goes to lying snake-in-the-grass Seinfeld, but because Letterman isn't actually retiring (on Louie, at this time), and the network needed an option that would at least make Letterman bring his price down a little -- it's genuinely disappointing.

It's a captivating three-episode story that combines my favourite aspects of the show: stand-up insight, Louie's daughters (I haven't written enough about them, but I love them and the way the show captures the capricious sweetness and caustic honesty of girls their ages), and actual jokes and plot. Even Louie's failure doesn't bum him or me out that much, because he takes solace in knowing he could do it, not to mention the fact that the reason he won't be in Letterman's chair wasn't (and never was) anything to do with him personally. The season starts with Louie in a dead relationship that he's too passive to end, and ends with him actually making an effort.

So: three seasons in, two to go, and suddenly I'm actually looking forward to what remains. (God, I hope no one reading this who's seen the whole series is thinking, "Oh, you poor bastard.")

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Episodes Watched
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Episodes Left To Watch