by Alex Greenberger
“Louie” isn’t the type of show where you know what to expect—it never has been, and it never will be. That is simply because Louis C.K. has such a distinct vision, one that is so different from any other comedy on television, that “Louie” is a show that simply cannot conform to the expected standards for a half-hour comedy.
A few days ago, C.K. promised, via Twitter, that the third season of “Louie” was going to be “really different and really good.” To say “Louie” is different is a bit of a no-brainer based on my earlier commendation, but since C.K. promised something really different, I knew I was going to be really thrown for a loop by the third season’s premiere.
Or at least I thought I knew. “Something Is Wrong,” the third season’s first episode, delivered the most unexpected turn for the show yet–a more conformist and less bold episode that actually had a story arc.
We haven’t really seen an episode of “Louie,” other than maybe “Ducklings” (which is my personal favorite episode), that focused so much on plot, as pertaining to the character of Louie specifically. That is why “Something Is Wrong” came as such a surprise to me. And it wasn’t a horrible surprise—“Something Is Wrong” definitely has its moments, notably one centering around Louie getting into a motorcycling accident (“I was in a motorcycling accident. Like I was on a motorcycle, and I had an accident.”)—but it felt like a more restrained episode.
“Something Is Wrong” makes a six-month jump from the end of the second season’s final episode by introducing us to Louie’s girlfriend, who soon “breaks up with herself” when she recognizes that Louie’s mouth indicates dissatisfaction while on a date. “I’m just tired,” Louie insists, but she continues on, believing that he only makes that facial expression when he is upset. Ultimately, Louie’s relationship with this unnamed woman dissolves over the course of five minutes.
The beauty of this scene set in a diner is the simplicity of it. We’re simply dropped into Louie’s life. Maybe the fact that we never met this woman, who should have been important in his life at this point, is significant because it shows that Louie really never cared about her. On the other hand, maybe it means nothing at all, which very well also may be the point. But nonetheless, C.K. has written some marvelous dialogue here that comes off a cross between Lena Dunham’s masterful sense for awkwardness in “Girls” and C.K.’s own signature cynicism. The scene is so engaging, largely because of the addition of a new crew member–editor Susan E. Morse.
C.K. fired himself as editor shortly before season three began, and Morse, who previously worked with Woody Allen on “Manhattan,” joined in. And that is as sound a choice as any for this show, considering C.K. is something of a modern-day Allen, minus the creepy pedophiliac tendencies. Morse notably breaks the Rule of 180 on several occasions in this sequence. Discerning viewers will appreciate why they feel uncomfortable; less observant ones may not realize but will definitely still feel alienated. Nevertheless, this is the episode’s high point.
It is unfortunate that after this and a brief but funny exchange over confusing parking signs (in broad daylight, a stranger asks, “It says ‘before midnight.’ It’s technically before midnight and after midnight!”), the episode descends into a more typical structure, though in the end, Louie still fails to get the girl as always.
By the end of “Something Is Wrong,” Louie is still single and very funny. The episode’s ending contextualizes his opening jokes about masturbation, which are no less risqué than usual (although this episode’s stand-up sequence falls slightly flat), and acts as a brilliant wrap-around plot. But still, the third season has yet to show me the edginess or hilarity of past seasons, and yet with a man as intelligent and consistently brilliant as C.K. helming a show like this, I’m not worried at all for the episodes to come.
Alex Greenberger is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.