The premiere episode of Louie, as it returns to television, was as uncomfortable as Louie always is. Add a dose of the freaky Cylon baby farm in Battlestar Galactica or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and you have yet another agonizingly awkward chapter in the story that is Louie.
Louie (the guy and the show) takes on a lot of uncomfortable, controversial topics. The inaugural episode of this season has Louie attending a potluck hosted by parents in his daughter’s school (and here’s a great description). Louie is never the most socially adept character, but the quirks and abrasiveness of other characters never helps. They always appear extreme in contrast to Louie’s socially awkward stance and in his interpretation of the interactions around him. At the aforementioned potluck, a parent named Marina and her partner introduce their surrogate to another guest and behave as though the surrogate is “a walking uterus” and absolutely nothing else. The surrogate is given no chance to answer her own questions or set her own boundaries. She has become nothing more than a vessel for these other people’s child, and while the whole conversation appears “normal” – Louie is the only person who seems to unveil the discomfort inherent in the situation.
Louie certainly does not do anything to unpack these awkward encounters or make them less uncomfortable. Some people revel in the squirming. Louie often holds up a mirror to society’s weak and squeamish subjects, and we get unflattering reflections back. For example, there was much ado last year after Louie went on a date with a “fat girl”. Many people posed the question as to whether Louie poked the issue but was still sort of an anti-fat chauvinist trying to give himself a pat on the back for going on a date with her at all – but isn’t his telling of the encounter a fairly incisive look in the mirror?
Most guys in our society, we are told, are not going to look at the fat girl. Most guys will not go out with the fat girl. If one is cornered as Louie felt, he might agree to go just to ensure the girl does not feel bad, to give himself a conscience-boosting pat on the back. But he is probably never going to call again. And he will be concerned with what others think of him. It is the society we live in – and Louie held up a mirror to all of these kinds of things. Not necessarily things that are universally true but things that are common enough to be recognizable when he projects them as part of his character’s experience. (Of course he also weaves “fantastic” – in the “fantasy” sense of the word – scenes in with real stuff, but I think the audience can tell the difference.)
Is it kind, is it NICE? Probably not. But does it have to be?
Again it goes back to this idea that somehow our entertainment, our tv shows, are supposed to teach us something – that they owe us some kind of perfection or search for enlightenment. But that’s not how real life is. Looking forward to the rest of the new season to see where Louie takes us.