Louie Review: "Potluck"

(Episode 5.01)

TV Reviews
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<i>Louie</i> Review: "Potluck"

Do you remember when Louie was funny? I’m not saying that just to be incendiary. I want to remind everyone that at one point in time, humor was one of the primary goals of the show. That’s largely been eclipsed for a while now, in service of politics and an odd, pseudo-surrealism, but it’s episodes like “Potluck” that really make me miss when the show could at least tell a halfway decent joke. Which isn’t to say that the show doesn’t think it’s funny, as in the opening and closing monologues of this particular episode show, but that’s a far cry from actual humor.

Anyhow, once “Potluck” starts going we’re introduced to Louis’ depression. It is, as he says, boring, and it isn’t long before we got the old joke about the therapist who’s so bored by the patient he falls asleep. Yes, it’s a dramatization of a joke so old Woody Allen would’ve found it unoriginal back in the 60s, but once we move past that, it’s onto what exactly Louis plans to do about this problem. While watching a busker perform on the street, he decides to actually go to a parents’ potluck for the first time in forever. The woman he tells this to doesn’t sound happy to see him, but whatever, he’s determined to become active in this way, insisting on bringing fried chicken. Nothing funny or entertaining yet, but maybe things are just getting going.

Spoiler Alert: no, not really.

After a quick montage of him actually cooking the chicken, he enters the wrong potluck. It turns out that this potluck is in fact for a religion or cult of some kind so we get a scene where he’s all out of place. This is mostly fine, I guess? I mean, we’re not exactly in the realm of insightful commentary here, and there are absolutely no new jokes about religion that haven’t been heard a thousand times before, but at least it’s not a terribly long scene. However, Louie left the chicken inside, so he just buys some from KFC and pretends he made it, which was actually what I’d assumed earlier on would be his plan for the night. Not that it’s relevant anyhow, and Louis of course ignores the only person at the potluck who seems interested in his food, seemingly just to make us hate his character even more.

That is one aspect of Louie that’s kept me entertained for a while now—this constant reminder of how horrible Louis the character is, while still making him a hero. Here, he’s selfish, mean, and in no way pleasant, but he’s still the protagonist of the show, so Louis the show creates identification with him. I’m never sure whether it’s intentional or not that the series wants us to hate this character, but in either case it’s an interesting choice, and he long ago transformed into yet another angry white man of prestige television. However, that does little to save the scenes that come next.

The woman hosting the party and her partner are having a baby through a surrogate, who they treat at the party as, at best, a servant. With a little prompting, Louis follows the surrogate to her apartment, where we’re subjected to several minutes of diatribe about the beauty of pregnant women. Yes, it’s Louis the pseudo-feminist butting his head in, interrupting the show’s realism for a well-meaning but still obnoxious rant. The woman is wooed by this, tells Louis how great he is, and then asks him to have sex with her, which completely undercuts everything the two of them just said. This is an episode in which pregnant women are reduced to sex and procreation. At this point her water breaks, she’s rushed to the hospital rather than the birthing clinic her sponsors wish she’d gone to, and we witness a nasty confrontation between Louis and the two women.

There’s two things going on here. First, there’s once again the Louis as savior storyline rearing its ugly head, in this case “saving” the heterosexual woman from the degradation of homosexual women and the rest of society. He does this, as he has sometimes before, through sex. Then, there’s the sheer meanness of the depiction of lesbian women who wish for a child. Not one positive trait or moment of complexity enters their portrayal; instead they’re just a mess of ugly stereotypes. It’s so over the top, in fact, that I kept waiting for the show to in some way diffuse this depiction, to show that these women aren’t just nasty, shrewish individuals, but that never arrived. Is this ironic? If so, it’s an arch irony that goes far beyond me.

And then we’re at the ending monologue, where we get a joke about when Louis’ friends want to be racist, and it makes them sound like the penguin from Batman. That’s pretty much the whole joke, so sorry if I spoiled it for someone—it’s not a good joke anyhow.

Stylistically, I loved Louis as ever. The show has never missed a beat when it comes to its direction and acting, not to mention the gorgeous cinematography around New York. For all the shows out there now, there’s still somehow nothing else that looks like it on television. There was almost nothing else to recommend this episode, though, which for the most part gave us limp, problematic takes on depression, surrogates, and lesbians with a complete lack of grace, intelligence, or even simply new observations. It was bad. On the bright side, the poorly done serialism from last season hasn’t seeped into the show yet, so there’s no reason why next week’s episode can’t be a massive improvement. At least, I sure hope so.