The final chapter of the epic “Late Show” trilogy was a riveting one. Turns out Bane breaks Louie’s back and Doug ends up taking his place as the dark protector of masturbation jokes…wait, no; that was something else.
“Late Show Part 3” actually was a very satisfying conclusion to an arc that, while executed very well, I had a somewhat hard time really getting behind. As I had previously noted, it was somewhat strange watching Louie struggle to fit a mold which seemed frankly very much beneath him. Of course I also concluded that the slightly fictionalized Louie is not the Louis C.K. we know whose recent success has earned him his own clout in the world of entertainment. Nevertheless it was still a bit jarring to watch.
“Part 3” opened with the somber piano music heard throughout the previous installments as Louie jogs with his daughters riding their bikes along with him. Their conversation in which his daughters ask why he’s trying to change and whether he actually wants the job perfectly encompassed what this saga has been all about. Just as C.K. has kept the answers to these questions ambiguous, Louie doesn’t answer his daughters.
Instead, the scene cuts to Louie sitting in Jack Dahl’s office taking shit from the veteran producer. This scene was quite funny, Dahl’s “Yes/No” phone conversation definitely being a subtle highlight, as was his apparently genuine surprise to hear that Louie is a comedian and not a “news man”. Dahl telling Doug to “Please leave this room,” was a very nice touch as well. The most important part of the scene was Dahl giving Louie the ultimatum of instantly turning on the comedy lest he give up on the whole enterprise altogether. Just when you think Louie is about to storm off and stand up for himself he admits that this opportunity is a make or break situation, “Either a door or a wall,” and attempts to merge his contempt for being asked to perform the type of comedy his career has been the antithesis of with a genuine effort to suddenly make Dahl laugh by telling him he’s a “pencil penis parade” and blowing raspberries at him while doing a kind of little jig. Though it doesn’t make Dahl laugh or sufficiently put him in his place, it does buy Louie another week of torture training.
Now that Louie has admitted his commitment to the Late Show, we find him and Dahl on the set to conduct a mock interview; emphasis on the mock. Although I found Louie’s interview with Elena the cleaning lady in which he accidentally makes the poor woman cry to be very funny, Dahl’s deadpan insistence to suddenly improvise an interview out of nowhere, like his “3-2-1-Go!” comedy challenge, felt a bit too ridiculous to be taken seriously.
The next scene found Louie pacing his home while the camera was fixed on the video recorder Louie has set up to tape himself rehearsing, something he can barely bring himself to do. As usual, Louie’s string of frustrated curses was as hilarious as his donning of a suit jacket was telling of his newfound dedication to the job, but the best part of this scene was obviously when Janet and their girls stop by unexpectedly to surprise Louie with some hugs and a homemade good luck card. I may be biased but my heart definitely had a few strings plucked seeing Louie tear up while holding his family. This was a very well placed moment of sincere emotion. I’ve heard C.K. doesn’t like to consider himself much of an actor but I think this scene in particular proves him otherwise.
This swell of familial support appears to reinvigorate Louie as we next see him jogging once again with considerably more enthusiasm than last time. This small scene didn’t really work for me as it felt way too hokey with the triumphant music playing as some random teenagers started to run along with Louie as if they were reenacting a scene from Rocky.
As the final act opens we find Louie and Doug stewing in Louie’s dressing room intercut with shots of the audience gradually taking their seats for Louie’s test show in a sequence that does a good job of building tension. Before he starts the show Louie gets two important visits. The first is from Jack Dahl as he tells Louie that he’s done all he can for the comedian and that the rest is up to him. Dahl actually has some very sweet and supportive things to say in addition to the suit he had custom made for Louie. This might sound out of character on paper but somehow Lynch made it work well. Dahl gives Louie the three rules of show business: 1) Look the audience in the eye and speak from the heart, 2) You have to go away to come back, and 3) If anyone ever tells you to keep a secret, that secret is a lie.
So naturally once Louie’s second visitor, Jerry Seinfeld, arrives, this last rule comes into play. It’s been made clear that Seinfeld is the network’s first choice to replace Letterman as Late Show host with Louie serving as the cheaper option. We later learn that this cheaper option element was more significant than at first depicted. Jerry arrives not just to check in on his competition/understudy, but apparently to get inside his head. Jerry tells Louie that he’s already been chosen as the new host and he felt bad letting Louie labor under the impression that he still might get the job. Louie is visibly disappointed but takes it well in stride. That is until Jerry asks Louie to keep that bit of information secret. Louie and Doug then repeat Dahl’s third rule, something that was really unnecessary as we just heard him say it only minutes earlier. Once Louie realizes Seinfeld was only trying to get inside his head he appears to feed off this botched attempt at sabotage and proceeds out to the audience with confidence and determination. It should be acknowledged how cool Louie’s comic celebrity friends, Seinfeld and Chris Rock, are with being depicted as such slimy, treacherous assholes.
I was afraid that just as we never saw Louie’s performance on The Tonight Show, we would also not get to see his test show. This would have been a huge disappointment after all the build-up leading up to it. Thankfully we did get to see the performance and it was surprisingly true to Louie’s style. These past three episodes have really emphasized the contrast between the type of comedian Louie is and the type desired by networks to host any of the major late night talk shows. Louie’s test show, however, was a truly well blended cross between the conventional late night talk show format, complete with monologue, announcer/co-host, display board bits, celebrity interviews, and C.K.’s unique brand of dark humor. I loved Louie’s jokes in his monologue about seeing death in front of him in his cue cards and how Obama if elected again promises to kill Osama Bin Laden a few more times, the “JEWS” display board bit (I loved how we don’t know what exactly the bit was, only that the audience totally went with it), his gratitude toward Susan Sarandon’s scantily clad performance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and his mocking of Paul Rudd’s wife’s choice to name their daughter Darby after a nonexistent film character. Aside from The Eric Andre Show, The Late Show with Louis C.K. would be the only truly watchable late night talk show worth watching.
In the last five minutes of “Late Show Part 3” we find Louie at a bar celebrating with his friends Nick DiPaolo, Jim Norton, and Todd Barry. Just as the comics are congratulating Louie they hear on TV that Letterman is in fact remaining as host of The Late Show for at least another ten years as he successfully renegotiated his contract. This crushing news, however, is cushioned a bit by the arrival of Doug who informs the group of friends that CBS used Louie to bring down Letterman’s deal from 60 million to 40 million dollars (or was it 16 to 14 million? I couldn’t hear exactly). I really liked DiPaolo’s line to Louie about how even though he lost the job, he was still good enough to cost Letterman 20 million (2 million?) dollars. Louie apparently agrees with DiPaolo’s optimism as we next find Louie outside the Late Show marquee as he victoriously shouts, “I did it!” and “Fuck you, Dave!” This last bit in particular makes me wonder just how much of this three episode arc was based on actual events. Something tells me C.K. wouldn’t tell David Letterman to go fuck himself at the conclusion of his first big multi-episode storyline in which Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jay Leno each made appearances and Letterman does not without there being some truth in the matter. I wonder how, if at all, this may affect Louie’s backdoor pilot for CBS, Before We Made It.
I very much liked this conclusion and think it kind of saved what was a well-executed though hard to swallow story of a Louie C.K. whom struggled with professional self-confidence. Though I understood why this “Late Show” arc was so important to C.K. it wasn’t until this final scene that I was completely sold on it. Seeing the story transform from a tale of the moral risks of selling out (to put it glibly) to that of an overcoming of one’s greatest fear was truly inspiring. I don’t know how next week’s season finale, “New Year’s Eve” (I suspect this will be better than that god-awful film), will top it, but if anyone can do it, Louis C.K. is the man for the job.