Louie: “Late Show (Part 1)” (3.10)

TV Reviews louis c.k.
Louie: “Late Show (Part 1)” (3.10)

There’s no real means to an end for stand-up comedy in the world of Louie. It gives our titular comedian money and laughs, but it always seems more like a compulsion than a job, and every time he’s required to do something in order to promote it or use his stand-up just for cash Louis balks at the idea. He hates doing radio shows; he doesn’t want to tour because he’d prefer to just go down to the New York comedy clubs he loves. Given his druthers he’d be happy if things stayed the way they are for the rest of his life, with his stand-up an outlet for personal anxiety but that’s really it.

However, there’s a certain temptation that seems to exist for many comedians when it comes to talk shows. I’m sure knowing you’ll always have crowds is a lot of it, and TV money is great, but it often seems to go beyond that. This has resulted in a proliferation of hosts, despite an already saturated market and declining viewership, and while there are plenty of other things that happen in “Late Show Part 1,” the essential question here is mephistophelean in nature: Does Louis wish to take the show and risk it all despite almost certain failure, or does he go on doing what he does without ever really getting his name out there?

Despite some very funny parts, the episode felt a bit short simply because so much of it was taken up by Gary Marshall’s offer at the end, and what came before this serves merely to set up the idea that the Louis who appears in the show could be offered a talk show. And this really does require that much set-up, because while Louis C.K. is now an extremely famous comedian who sells out huge theaters across the country, that doesn’t seem to be the case for the Louis we see on TV. I was shocked when we learned he had a TV show in an earlier episode, because that level of success seems beyond Louis the character. Louis has clearly enjoyed playing with the state of his character’s fame, but this is the first time it’s really felt strange to not know more about this. It’s very different for a virtually unknown comedian to get an offer like this than a comedian who already has a successful TV show (though maybe the Louis character has only made Lucky Louie, so he just has an unsuccessful TV show?).

So how do you go from nothing to a contender for Letterman’s successor in one night? Going viral online is a bit of a stretch, but not that much of one. The explanation that he’s being used as leverage when the network wants someone else would make little sense were it not that something almost like this (though not quite) happened in the case of Conan O’Brien, whose show Louis C.K. used to write on.

When it comes to the choice Louis makes, which will have a big effect on the future of the show (the next two episodes, at least, are also about the Late Show), we have some of the most expressionistic filmmaking the show’s ever had. Louis seems to have been channeling some Orson Welles instincts when shooting this section, and while Garry Marshall’s speech goes on a little bit too long when he’s playing the head of CBS, the actor’s stentorian performance and the baroque camera angles pull this bit of drama off nonetheless. This story arc ends on a riveting cliffhanger that also feels much more natural than the season’s previous multi-episode arc. This is really where the heart of Louie lies, so it’s great to watch the show really push at the complex relationship between Louis and show business, emphasis on business.

Stray observations:
•It’s impossible not to notice Louie’s seeming obsession with featuring disgraced and semi-disgraced comedians: Dane Cook, Robin Williams, and now Jay Leno. I’m not really certain what the project is, here, either. While it’s true that all of these men have been given angry treatment by the internet’s comedy police contingent,
they’ve also all done some things they really shouldn’t have. It may be related to the show’s relationship with the dark side of the business… or it may just be to screw with the expectations of fans, who’d be much happier if, say, Louis performed on Letterman.
•Doug the agent looks like the kid Woody Allen always used to cast for young versions of himself.
•Why did Louie sleep in so late, considering that it’s not like they shoot the Tonight Show live?
•I’m quite enjoying Louie’s world of terrible TV shows and movies. Those were some fun posters.

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