The line between Louis C.K. and Louie, the character, has always been intentionally small. And even though we the audience don’t have information about what stories in Louie actually happened to the show’s writer/director, even the more fantastic stuff that’s clearly just whimsy is still personal. Having an alter-ego isn’t much in vogue anymore when it comes to independent cinema, but there was a time when Jean-Pierre Léaud’s performances were difficult to separate from Francois Truffaut’s life and Robert De Niro would annually be unleashed to perform as Martin Scorsese’s dark inner thoughts. It’s this personal sheen that covers the whole show that lends it so much of Louie’s heart.
Far more so than usual, though, “Ikea/Piano Lesson” plays around with that fact, and builds on the way Louie’s barely fictionalized persona can look at Louis’ stand-up and reminisce about this. What’s more, he has a ton of friends in the comedy world to call upon for pretty much whatever reason. And part of what makes the episode so interesting is the contrasting methods, used back to back. First we have Maria Bamford reappearing as a version of herself who slept with Louis and gave him crabs, in a plotline that to the best of my knowledge is 100 percent fictional and has never been there to serve anything but plot purposes. After this, though, Louis finds one of his old stand-up routines playing on TV, as well as that of his friends. He calls up Sarah Silverman when he sees her and she mocks her old work (in a way that, frankly, rang just as true about what she does now…) and then Marc Maron comes on.
Louis C.K. was a close friend of Marc Maron’s, and then—for reasons that even after listening to to them chat for two hours on WTF remain unclear to me—they had a falling out. In reality, as in the TV show, they had a reconciliation years ago that never led to anything. The brief second apology we hear in a way replaces the WTF interview C.K. actually did with Maron, only here Marc just listens, growing increasingly unhappy before responding once Louie is finished: why don’t we just put this in the past and actually be friends rather than apologizing for something we barely even remember? It’s an interesting hypothetical version of their lives, and goes back to the show’s focus on communication. Here, it’s only flowing in one-direction and Marc calls his old friend on this. The apology may have worked great for Louie’s self-esteem, but that’s not all their friendship was about.
The first half of the episode, Ikea, isn’t as strong, and feels more sketch-like compared to what came afterward. There is, on Louie, a seemingly endless number of somewhat crazy mothers he’s acquainted with, and it’s unsurprising that one of them wants him to play surrogate husband for a few hours. This is funny, but the premise doesn’t really go anywhere unexpected, although it would probably be surprising if she doesn’t return again at some point, given the way the blowjob part of the plot thread is left hanging. The saving grace here is the way Louis never allows this to devolve into actually being a sketch, always keeping the woman her humanity, but it’s still nothing particularly special.
The show’s two halves have little to do with each other, thematically or otherwise, and they don’t particularly complement each other. However, the second half was so strong it still made “Ikea/Piano” a must-see episode, one that once again takes the show in an unexpected direction.
•“It’s not covered in AIDS and it’s not a portal to a nether place” – Louie’s standards for rugs are the same as my own.
•“So fuck you!... or sorry. I don’t know which one.” – Maria always gives wonderful performances, despite her tiny airtime.
•Why exactly didn’t Louie just look down at his pubic hair, rather than taking a photo?