I have been a fan of Louie since the series started on FX a few years ago, and I guess that is roughly the same time I started paying attention to Louis CK the actual guy, too. There was his remarkably emotionally honest reckoning with Marc Maron on the latter’s WTF podcast. Then that rant, “Everything is Amazing and Nobody’s Happy,” from Conan — cutting, poignant and hilarious in equal measure — that went viral. On a later appearance, a bit that started out seeming like lighthearted joking about how mean kids are and why his daughter can’t have a cell phone turned into a meditation on the essential quality of sadness, the lonely core inside us all and the value in letting yourself experience the full spectrum of human emotion. That clip has over 7.5 million views, and I think it’s one of the more radical, subversive things I’ve heard an entertainer say in public in the last couple of years — which I guess says more about the quality of our collective discourse than it does about the bit, but still, it was poetic and well-argued and true.
Season 4 started airing a few weeks ago, and so far, and with every episode, I’m more and more in awe of what CK is doing with this show. What began as a very funny, thoughtful comedy about a guy who never wins in life and always seems to wind up in bizarre, outrageous or deeply uncomfortable situations has grown into, well, still that same thing, but also something that occasionally flirts with completely unfunny, bald-faced meditations on beauty as the format has shifted from weekly bursts of absurdity to a weeks-long arc that deals with the same problems, themes and characters.
The show has come teasingly close to such moments in the past, like last season’s “Miami,” in which a new friendship forged on a work trip to Florida seems to be pushing Louie toward some kind of revelation about himself or his life. Then, just as fast, the whole thing is truncated as the new friend comes to believe Louie has feelings for him and Louie utterly fails to deny that. This season, in “Elevator Part 2,” just as he’s finding a surprising and delightful common ground with his elderly Hungarian neighbor, Ivanka, he’s called away on serious family business.
I had come to be trained by Louie to expect something to go wrong and spoil the mood every time it seemed like something touching was going to happen, or every time the show threatened to say something real about living. I’d heard him say that one of the rules of the show was that his character could never win. And I guess that’s why I was taken so off guard by this scene from “Elevator Part 3,” in which Louie’s love interest, Amia, who speaks virtually no English, plays violin with his daughter in a stairwell.
It’s such a beautiful scene, and played with so much finesse. Every time I watch it, I get all teary-eyed. The mystery of how Jane knows how to say “hello” in Hungarian, the spontaneity of the moment, the melancholy of the song itself, and most of all, the emotion — the wonder, humility, love, and occasional “is this really happening?” — in Louie’s face. I think it’s one of the most gorgeous, elegant, moving things I have seen on television. And it passes in a moment without any commentary, like so many of the random, beautiful moments in life.
I guess I’m kind of a raw nerve this last week or so, and it’s entirely possible that much of the emotional heft I’m lending the thing could be of my own making. But I also think it doesn’t really matter if it came from the work itself or if my brain poured all that meaning into it. I just like knowing it’s there when I want to revisit it, a touchstone of so many of the things I like about this guy who says things about being a person that resonate with me in a media climate I mostly find alienating and kind of repulsive. The dude’s got a big heart. And spending time with his weird, crass, deeply felt art makes mine feel big, too.