If last week’s episode of Louie was big and ambitious, taking the show into new territory, this week’s is more familiar, but in a good way. Many of Louie’s best episodes are the ones that put together smaller incidents, and it’s a nice change of pace to have the show do a few smaller vignettes to link them together. And fortunately, both halves of “Barney/Never” are incredibly strong and make perfect sense together, since they’re both focused on misjudgment.
They’re also both very simple, with direct punchlines that compliment each other. The Barney half of the episode focuses on Louis and Robin Williams speaking about a deceased acquaintance of both of them, after they notice each other as the only people at his burial. They discuss what an ass Barney had always been, the way no comedians had liked him and that he literally stole from Williams and shoved this in his face. In his honor, they decide to check out Barney’s favorite strip club, where the staff breaks into tears upon learning of his death.
What keeps this half of the episode from being pat moralization is its last moment, after Louis and Robin exit the strip club and break into laughter. Before that, there’s a sense that this could be just a particularly well-made after school special, where people learn that there’s more to a person than meets the eye. The thing is, the laughter diffuses that and allows Barney to not be a saint, either. Hey may be a hero to the strip club, but it’s still hilarious because that doesn’t make Barney any less terrible the rest of the time. It’s a small part of him that they never knew, and is a redeeming facet for sure, but he’s still no saint. When Robin and Louis ask each other to attend their funerals, there’s also a sense of recognition for Barney within themselves. Do other people think they’re jerks they same way they thought of Barney? It’s impossible to say.
After the solemnity of the episode’s first half, there’s something particularly great about raunchy second half. Louie is asked to babysit for one of his daughter’s schoolmates. His daughter isn’t fond of the guy, but he still feels obligated to help someone out who’s asked. So he takes the kid home, and he is pretty much the worst kid imaginable, with no redeeming facets that can be seen other than that he’s still young and has time to change.
The loaded name Never for the child calls to mind the dictate his mother gives Louis before she runs off, that she never tells the child no. So he’s undisciplined and unpleasant to be around, and seemingly has no conscience whatsoever. Part of this half seems to be some bitterness of Louis directed towards parents who raise these little brats and see nothing wrong with their methods. If Never has no friends, then there’s probably something wrong with the way he’s acting. No one liked Barney, either, and as a result the only people who attended his funeral hated the guy.
“Barney/Never” is largely about tolerance, trying to live with the people who you truly don’t like. That’s part of why Louis takes the radio call, because it’s another group of people that he hates and tries to put up with. And of course the show says that there’s some depth to everyone, that people aren’t as simple as what you think. But some of them… you still really hate, and that’s a valuable lesson to act as counterpart to the first. Everyone’s a full, three-dimensional human being, even terrible morning radio DJs, but that doesn’t make some of them any less annoying to be around.
•I was happy about the reappearance of Louis’ 14-year-old agent. He’s one of the more amusingly whimsical parts of the show’s world.
•“If you can keep it cool while I’m on the phone, I’ll give you another bowl of meat.”
•Conversely, I realize it’s not part of the Louie universe, but I couldn’t help but think Louie should’ve been thrilled that the radio DJs (“the Hole”) were apparently huge fans of Pootie Tang. As were the gravediggers at the end of the episode.
•”Because you eat raw meat, and you shit in the tub, and you wreck everything.”
•Raw meat sure has carbon in it. So yeah that part makes no sense, though it doesn’t make the idea any less funny. Also: what food doesn’t?
•I can’t be the only one who, after first seeing this episode’s title, thought of The Simpsons’ chant “Wiggum forever, Barney never.”