I’m sure someone very wise and respected somewhere has said something to the effect that existence can be defined by the relationships we forge. So what does it say when your relationships become rote, so much so that the momentum of their routine is all that keeps them moving? If there’s any theme that “Ikea/Piano Lesson” expresses throughout it’s that these interpersonal loops will trap you, usually with pretty miserable results. While still of course packing plenty of awkward laugh-out-loud moments, “Ikea” was definitely among the more somber and potentially polarizing stories on Louie whereas “Piano Lesson” felt more like a traditional “funny-ha-ha” sitcom plot, yet it carried the same sentiments as its predecessor.
Though this episode works perfectly well on its own (thanks in part to some well placed flashback cuts), it also yields an extra layer of amusement if you’re familiar with the past Louie events it recalls. In “Ikea” Dolores, the woman Louie picked up some sexy blueberries for in the second season’s second episode, played by Maria Dizzia, approaches Louie, much to his chagrin, for a couple more favors. The meat of this segment takes place at the eponymous furniture store but the relatively simple set up for it really shines for indulging itself in those moments that last forever for those who cringed a lot during this story. Instances such as Louie muttering, “Oh shit,” before the high pitched, “Hi! How ya doin’?” followed by the more measured and baritone, “Hey, how are you?” and performing a similarly affected greeting to a woman named Meredith in between declining a blowjob and agreeing to a trip to the Ikea in New Jersey really emphasize the disparity between our truest, most intimate feelings and the social facades we display instead.
Once at the store Doris immediately calls Louie out for not “participating” in her shopping trip which prompts the main course of the story, the Louis CK version of the traditional male dilemma wherein your lady companion has gotten you to go shopping for clothes or shoes or both and you’re just not into it. Now I consider myself a pretty decent shopping partner for my girlfriend, actively searching for fashionable, aesthetically pleasing pieces taking genuine notice of their various practical and artistic merits, but I can’t say I haven’t found myself on the other end of that position in which I feel as though I must be dying and the only thing that can save me is one of those miraculous chairs or couches in the middle of the accessories department and an Orange Julius. My favorite line from Louie during their discussion about the rug is that it, “doesn’t solve all my problems but it doesn’t make me angry.” The fact that the line which ushers the pair’s heated exchange is Louie telling Dolores, “If you need something just ask, don’t make me read your mind,” an old marriage mockery trope of sitcoms and stand-up comedy, combined with the annoyingly cute young couple whom vows to never “end up like them,” clearly points to this scene being a stab at married couples, and anyone really, whom are miserable in their roles and routines without even being aware of it.
As much as I enjoyed everything about this segment from the writing to the performances, I was slightly disturbed by its potential implications. If this story is a kind of metaphor for unhappy marriages, what does it say about gender roles? Essentially it paints men as practical, frank, and ultimately forgiving and flexible entities whereas women are twisted nutjobs who all severely need therapy because they’re prone to emotional breakdowns in the bed set section of Ikea (though I cracked up when Louie tucked Dolores in after she collapsed). I’m quelling this concern though as less an examination of gender roles and more as a portrait of what any sane individual should do in a slightly insane situation. Such matters more often than not probably require a similar combination of tough love and merciful enabling.
“Piano Lesson” was a lot more easily accessible but also spoke to the danger of remaining trapped by psychosocial ruts. Eventually. This segment opened with an inspired stationary shot from Louie’s piano as he welcomes a piano teacher into his home for their would-be inaugural lesson. I say would-be because Maria Bamford reprises her role by interrupting the lesson with a phone call to inform Louie he has crabs because she does and he was “inside [her] last week.” I loved how because Maria didn’t know who gave whom the crabs she made sure to say, “fuck you or sorry.”
This leads Louie to ride his motorcycle to the pharmacy to acquire the necessary treatment where we all apparently learn how everyone at the pharmacy is just a few sentences away from embarrassing themselves. This scene, while funny, was unnecessary to the efficacy of the story’s purpose, but was nonetheless appreciated. Considering just how unnecessary this scene and really the piano lesson/phone call scene both are, I wonder if CK almost called the segment “Marc” instead of “Piano Lesson” or “Crabs”.
The last act of the episode is its real stand-out. Those who were quick to point out that this episode lacked any Comedy Cellar stand-up from Louie are technically correct, however, we did get to see Louie do some stand-up albeit through an episode of “Retro Comedy Showcase” which depicted actual performances from Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, and Marc Maron from the late 80s. It was a very entertaining trip to see these profoundly influential comedians at their humble beginnings two decades ago. Though one could argue “young CK” told a decent couple jokes in the video, as did the younger Silverman and Maron, Louie is noticeably silent, even disgusted, by his past self, whereas he clearly allows himself to enjoy Silverman’s performance though she’s also critical of herself. We really are our own worst critics.
After watching Maron’s bit and having a very convincing conversation with Silverman, in which we learn that Louie and Marc were once best friends but after a heavy falling out haven’t spoken in ten years, Louie sets up a meeting with Maron to apologize having realized the falling out was entirely Louie’s fault. Fans of Maron’s acclaimed podcast, WTF, will know that similar to the episode of Louie in which CK’s mild feud with Dane Cook was fictionalized, “Piano Lesson” dramatizes the actual antagonistic history these two comedians shared. The segment concludes with a simpler and less compelling exchange thatn the one with Cook as Louie ends up apologizing to Maron just as he did five years prior though that last part escaped Louie’s memory. Though this is a solid yet arguably underwhelming climax, it speaks to the amnesia routine seems to foster in people. Despite having already apologized years ago (and with tears no less), Louie has still yet to follow up with his former best friend and colleague by actually initiating some quality time between the two men. This suggests that Louie’s apology, though born of a genuine revelation (twice), was ultimately a more selfish move, one meant to alleviate guilt rather than repair a friendship. This is consistent with CK’s constant characterization of the human condition in which we’re all constantly failing yet hopefully striving to do better, like Sisyphus perpetually pushing that boulder up that hill.
Though the latter segment really took its time getting to its point, and didn’t necessarily pack the same cohesive punch most episodes of Louie wield so skillfully, the episode still works due to CK’s talent for details and making the most of a scene even if it’s completely inconsequential or anticlimactic. I can’t tell you how excited I was to see those two or three seconds of “Money House”, the fictional reality show which premiered in “Daddy’s Girlfriend Part1”, complete with the corpse of the blonde woman the requisite gay house member had stabbed to death.