We begin our weekly Louie recap with season four premiere, Back.
Season four of Louie kicks off, literally, with a bang, as a team of garbage-men dive through our eponymous hero’s window, smashing up his room and making a cacophony of irritating noise in the process. This is Louis C.K.’s way of saying “the garbage-men are too loud in the morning.” To fans of Louie, this is familiar territory: a surreal, hyperbolic riff in a show which blends them into an otherwise ordinary world. It is the comic’s version of a bit made cinematic, an aside made visual. Louie is both realistic and absurd, both poignant and silly, and, as the first episode commences, we thus look set to be in for more of the same. And I for one am all for that, because nobody else makes television like this, trust me.
Much of this season’s first episode – Back – is light. That is, light in terms of Louie, a show which has the tendency to turn into the darkest territory imaginable for a program too often labelled as a ‘comedy’. But still, for the sake of ease, let’s call ‘Back’ light. Much of what happens here is pretty minor in the grand scheme of the show, but that doesn’t really tell us much given that Louie is prone to having a splattering of stand-alone episodes in amongst the narratively cohesive ones (C.K. has said that season four will have several multi-episode arcs, along with some singular episodes situated around more basic, simple comedy).
Back, then, falls into the latter category of that parenthetical. The main premise, if that’s what you can call it, is that Louie injures his back. Injures it shopping for a vibrator. Injures it shopping for a vibrator to supplement his own masturbation. Injures it shopping for a vibrator to supplement his own masturbation after a roundtable conversation with fellow comedians about how a vibrator can be beneficial to a man as well as a woman. This exchange has numerous contenders for line of the week, most of them coming from Jim Norton: “Knowing that I have a dildo in the draw…that makes me feel bad…and that helps me come”. The winner, though, has to be this beauty: [Jim, on being questioned about being gay] “If I was gay I’d just shove that jolly dildo straight up my stupid asshole.” Our inaugural Louie line of the week is going to taking some beating off. Pun intended.
Elsewhere, there’s Louie’s impression of The Beatles; a Pinocchio joke told wrong; the usual stand-up sections; and a wonderfully weird exchange with the doctor Louie sees about his back – the doctor segment is the only time this episode really goes into anything deeper than masturbation jokes, the only time that C.K. delves into something a little darker than what you’d expect from a popular ‘comedy’ programme. Indeed, the doctor (laconically played by Charles Grodin) tells Louie to come back when he has something more interesting, “like a blood disease”. The episode ends, as only Louie can or would: with an elderly woman rubbing a magic wand (if you don’t know what one of those is, look it up. Chances are though, if you’ve watched porn, you do) over her own ailing back as some sort of remedy. The cut to Louie taking his own magic wand out of the bag is both obvious and brilliant in equal measure.
After already previewing episode two of Louie’s fourth season, I can tell you that it is much closer to the pitch black humour and poignancy which makes the show so masterful. But that isn’t to say that episode one is superfluous, and one only needs to witness the sweet old lady who helps Louie to a cab after his injury (a subversion typical of the show) to understand that, in amongst the absurdity and ludicrousness, in amongst the quite aggressive bitterness of the show, there still lies that bit of tenderness, that pin-hole of light that illuminates the show and bathes it; bathes it in the warm rays of occasional human kindness.
What this episode really tells us, then, is that Louie is back. Pun not intended.
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All images: FX