Sep 5, 2012

TV Recap: Louie - "Late Show Part 1"

Left to right: Louis C.K. and Jay Leno
Welcome to my recaps of season 3 of the FX television series Louie. Join me as I try to dissect what I hope will be another excellent season from one of my favorite shows currently on TV. I think what makes this show work is the ability for Louis C.K. to be self loathing and artful at the same time in unique and clever ways. Also, keep an eye out for my Breaking Bad Breaking Half column set for upcoming Mondays.

Watching this week's episode, I came up with a crazy idea. What if every episode of Louie was a two part episode? While I have complained that many weeks barely held together two segments, it is times like "Daddy's Girlfriend" and this week's "Late Show" that gives me some sense that maybe this show could pull off being an hour. At very least, I am just glad that it recognizes the potential in the occasional two part episode, and boy has it gone over greatly once again. While I am not as big of a fan as last season's "Duckling," some stories just need to be fleshed out, and I believe that this is one of them.
If there is some things that bothered me it was the subtle inconsistencies. Once again, the opening credits sequence is gone. However, we get a shot of the exterior of the Improv Theater. Louis C.K. is headlining on a Monday night. Cue title card, it turns out that it is Wednesday night and he inside performing a routine that includes a joke about when it is right to teach American children about the Iraq war and how lucky we are to not have to live in the havoc. He also claims that it is replaced by people who obsess over computers made by the same Asian suffering and that the Amazon reviewers are secretly maniacal killers who murdered their wives.
Coming backstage, he is talking to his manager Doug (Edward Gelbinovich), who is congratulating him on the set. Improv Theater owner Budd Friedman also makes a very quick cameo, walking by with a few positive words. Then up walks Ross Mark, who timed the set and claims that C.K.'s material fits the required time length for a spot on the Tonight Show. He is booked on Thursday's show, though to be warned that other guest Tom Cruise may go long. There is a sense that C.K. will get bumped, but Mark denies this.
Left to right: C.K. and
Edward Gelbinovich
Backstage at the Tonight Show studio, C.K. and Doug are in the dressing room preparing for the show. During this time, a Soundman (Brian Jarvis) comes backstage to state that Tom Cruise has cancelled. Host Jay Leno also badgers his way backstage to make sure the message got to C.K. before rushing him to get into make-up and out on the stage as soon as possible. When there is uncertainty to what C.K. should say, Leno tells him to just riff, because after all, he is a comedian. This could be his big chance.
He walks out on stage after rushing through a confusingly rushed make-up and confusion to why he isn't wearing a coat. We don't actually see more than C.K. walking on stage and shaking Leno's hand before it cuts to commercial. When we return, C.K. appears nauseous in his bedroom. The phone is ringing off the hook, and the thought of having direct sunlight is a bad idea. 
C.K. eventually answers the phone, and it is Doug, who claims that he has a meeting set up with some CBS president. C.K. is too tired to want to meet anyone, but Doug's insistence forces him to skip over his routine (which he claims included jerking off) to attend the meeting. 
After being buzzed in by a CBS Receptionist (Jocelyn Bioh), he and Doug come face to face with Lars Tardigan (Garry Marshall), who saw the video from C.K.'s the Tonight Show appearance, which has since gone viral. The rest of the conversation is about the retirement of CBS' host of the Late Show David Letterman. They are looking for a replacement and are considering Jerry Seinfeld, but are shopping around for a cheaper comedian, which Tardigan claims that C.K.'s value is around a million tops.
C.K. is reluctant because he isn't that type of guy. Still, Tardigan gets into his face and begins rambling a scenario in which C.K. is a struggling comedian who peaked five years ago. He is on the way down. Taking a job at the Late Show could revive his career. He rambles on about the dark path that not taking the job would take him, which includes teaching comedy at a community college. He leaves C.K. to think about the offer, but willfully states that this could be his big break. With a little help from Tardigan's assistant, C.K. can become a hit, or at very least a failure that in no way reflects badly on Tardigan.
The episode ends with a continuous take of Doug staring at the camera.

Left to right: Garry Marshall and C.K.
This episode is the reason that I believe that in a dream world, Louie could logically work as an hour long series. Besides the fact that many episodes feel truncated and the set up is often slow and worth it, the moments when he allows himself to expand on one story provides some great insight into what the character is going for. "Late Show Part 1" is more of an analysis of how C.K. can take the high road, or stick to his morals. He could be bought out or continue to suffer.
In a way, the Lars Tardigan character is more meta than the premise of the "Miami" episode. He is pretty much shoving the entire plot of Louie back at C.K. and stating how a TV show could change his life. That oddly reflects C.K.'s career, which has actually grown substantially since FX took a risk three years ago. He can now have anyone he wants on his show, whether it be Robin Williams or Parker Posey. He has the power, and in a way, this episode is reflective of that transition.
It raises an interesting idea that C.K. could host a talk show and be that guy. We may have to lose the raunchy masturbation jokes, but we'd still get C.K. every night. Is this something that we'd really want, or can we just expect the dirtiest guy on CBS to be is Craig Ferguson? This episode sets up a brilliant moral dilemma of a comedian who had a recent run of luck, headlining the Improv and appearing successfully on the Tonight Show. Does he take the next step for exposure? This is what makes this a brilliant set up for whatever the second half will feature.
As someone who has grown up loving the late night culture of these shows, I enjoy when we see behind the scenes work, even if it is just C.K. replacing Tom Cruise's portion of the show. It feels somewhat reminiscent of the Larry Sanders Show, which in that context, would have shown more of C.K.'s interview with Leno. Still, it is exciting to think that we don't know what made him so successful. What could it be?
There is plenty of intrigue, and the final scene involving Garry Marshall is probably one of the show's best ever. Not just because it is very meta and has some of the sappiest music ever, but because Marshall is a surprisingly effective actor. He talks down to C.K. in hopes of making him take the job. He is defeating him in ways similar to Walter White trying to manipulate Jesse Pinkman to stay in the meth business on Breaking Bad. He isn't necessarily evil, but his views on a future where C.K. doesn't take the chance are bleak. Marshall works as a business man, and boy is he good at it. 
There is little that I didn't like about this episode. It felt like it was building to something, and when it was revealed to be a late night show, it only made it sound better. However, it leaves me with hope that the second half can deliver, and possibly bring us cameos from Jerry Seinfeld or impossibly David Letterman? C.K. has the power to get these people. If anything, it is nice to see the series picking back up after a few lackluster episodes in the middle.

Favorite scene: The final one between Marshall and C.K.. I don't really feel the need to elaborate more than I have. The scene is amazing and I recommend you check it out for yourself. It really is possibly my favorite scene from the entire series ever. 

Great, isn't it?

Rating: 5 out of 5

Check out more of my work at where I post every Wednesday and have a podcast called Nerd's Eye View.

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