Comedy

I Never Wanted to See ‘Louie’ Fall in Love

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On last night’s finale of Louie, as Pamela and Louie were cozying up in a bubble bath and expressing their mutual “like” of one another at long last, I had one resounding thought — I don’t want this! It has taken Louie four seasons to crawl toward a romance that wasn’t purely episodic, a gimmick, or flat-out doomed, and there it is, packaged in a five foot-tall gutter-mouthed pipsqueak with a bad attitude. Because, here’s the thing: I never actually want to see Louie fall in love.

Part of the success of Louie to me has always been about how he navigates isolation. While there might have been Parkey Poseys, Melissa Leos, and Maria Bamfords serving as romantic red herrings in the past, Louie is (or was) really, at its heart, a show about the absolute experience of being alone. Some of the most successful earlier plot arcs involve the comic’s solitude: a trip to Afghanistan, confronting a young bully, and a long Lynchian plot about facing potential Late Show success. In all of these, Louie worked at refining his particularly damning and elucidating comic lens. The show succeeded as a comedy-drama hybrid about the piercing and hilarious horrors of everyday mortal existence. It was a daunting and audacious conceit to box in trim 22-minute episodes, but for three seasons, Louie tightrope walked around plot and character development and landed somewhere near secular gospel.

Which is why Louie in a bathtub with Pamela gazing at her lovingly – while a beautiful human moment – feels mostly overwrought and, as Slate points out, unoriginal. In favor of slightly pedantic plots about dating overweight women, impending hurricanes, youthful transgressions, and loving a foreigner, Louie lost its critical eye. Sometimes that’s the side effect of a television show letting its characters fall in love. As Tolstoy pointed out, happy families are all alike. Louie, at its best, is not a show about a happy family. Season Four was lacking meditations on masturbation, dream-like excursions with one-off guest stars (ahem, Robin Williams), and gross examinations of sadness.

Louie seems more poignant, more socially responsible when Louis is thinking about the whole world and not the world as it’s attached to women and romance. The finale episode ended in the exact opposite space as the previous season — remember that remarkable scene where Louie gets on a plane and flies to China by himself? — and though it was fine to watch, we miss that social commentary, that Gogol perspective Louie was always known for. If Louie’s never left alone, as is the case in “Pamela Part 3,” how can he dissect our lives?

On a notable Conan O’Brien appearance last year, Louis C.K. went on a tangent-rant about cell phones: “You need to build the ability to just be yourself and not be doing something.” It may be an argument against our perpetual reliance on technology, but Louis is also saying something about being alone — spending time by yourself is important. Healthy, even. It’s a thesis that reached through every significant plot on Louie that has really stirred me: making it, surviving war, guilt eating, the trials of parenthood. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not down on the subject of love itself. Those Louie plots have been fruitful. My favorite Louie scene of all-time might even be the one where Louie finally confesses his feelings for Pamela at a flea market. It’s lovely, and socks you right in the gut.

At the time I first saw this Season Two episode, I myself was in a riveting, unrequited love affair with a man who loved Louis C.K. as much as I did. We’d talk about latest episodes on most of our dates. One evening, I scored tickets to a cheap stand-up preview of Louis C.K.’s comedy tour at a small venue in Brooklyn. I brought the man I was in love with, and though he wasn’t in love with me, it was the best date of my life (we saw Louis C.K. live for $10, remember?) There was just something enormous yet fragile about C.K.’s voice when he spoke about the pain and loneliness of human existence, the same kind of feelings of isolation that were standing by my elbow holding a glass of tequila. As we watched together in the crowded hall, I knew I was sick in love. My date had me captive in the same emotional space Pamela held Louie in at the airport in Season Two: “I’ll wait for you!” But waiting for unrequited love is purgatory — it’s a wasted overnight toothbrush and a wasted plus-one ticket and a wasted subway token. It’s also, as Louie taught me, a miraculous way to learn and one of the freshest ways to renew your world view.

On the show, Louie tells Pamela, “I feel like I’m gonna die if I can’t be with you, and I can’t be with you, so I’m gonna die.” For at least six months, I was so in love I felt I was going to die. I was underwater when I wasn’t on the phone, sparring, or holding hands with the man I was enamored of. But there was one man who could rescue me from that emotional car crash and he was balding, wearing a plain black t-shirt, and falling asleep on a bag of Doritos. He was Louie without love, and his worldview was precise. He got my loneliness, and if Season Four was any indication, he was best in the detachment of his solitude.

Which is why Amia and Pamela’s plots this time around began to grate on me. Me, the #1 Louie fan who would wear a baseball cap saying such if I could find one. Me, the person who built a mythological love castle around the idea of having one unobliging man with an attitude — a Pamela. “New season of Louie is absolutely devastating btw if you haven’t seen,” my ex texted me last week. “Who do you think I am? It’s brutal,” I responded, unfazed by the message. Like Louie, it was absolutely okay that I couldn’t get in a bathtub and soak with my unobtainable musician, talk about my awkward first kiss with my high school boyfriend, and stare lovingly at him, knowing he accepted me. I still had the rest of the world.

As Louie says initially when Pamela won’t be with him, “It’s fine. I’m actually fine with the way things are, that I’m in a constant state of agitation. It’s actually better than any real requited love/sex thing I’ve ever had.” If FX orders a fifth season (and they better), I’d like to put away the living room sex scenes and meteor showers in Central Park (as lovely as they are). When it comes to Louie, nothing seems right without that constant state of agitation.