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TV Review: Louie 3.13, "New Year's Eve"

I want to acknowledge the discrepancy between my anticipation of this episode and the vertigo-inducing roller-coaster of emotions I experienced while watching.

rating: 5

You may have noticed my (nearly) unprecedented 5 out of 5 star rating for the third season finale of Louie. I don€™t necessarily consider €œNew Year€™s Eve€ to be a perfect episode of television (although, feel free to argue otherwise in the comments €“ wouldn't that be refreshing!), however, it€™s difficult for me to look back on this season as a whole, which is what the star rating in this case in part reflects, and not consider it (and really the entire series) the absolute best of its breed. As much as I desire to construct a write-up of Louie and its truly unprecedented innovation, my favorite critic, Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club, already did so more completely and articulately than I could hope to in this moment and I highly recommend everyone read his article, €œWhy Louie is the Next Stage in the Evolution of the TV Sitcom€. That being said, I€™ll try to stick exclusively to just this episode as much as I can. First of all, I want to acknowledge the discrepancy between my anticipation of this episode and the vertigo-inducing roller-coaster of emotions I experienced while watching. Coming off of the epic three-part arc of €œLate Show€, I was looking forward to a stand-alone episode of Louie, one that would act as a relatively softer cap on an overall impressive season of television. While the first half of €œNew Year€™s€ certainly delivered on these expectations, the second half all but shattered them by also delivering the most abruptly heart-wrenching scene the series has ever concocted as well as one of the most heart-warming. However, to start at the beginning, the episode opened with the lovely acoustic guitar that€™s been present throughout many of this season€™s later episodes accompanying a shot of an even more exhausted than usual looking Louie draped in a blanket and holding a mug of coffee. The camera then pans out to reveal that it€™s Christmas morning in Louie€™s apartment and his daughters are gleefully unwrapping their presents. As each gift is unveiled, C.K. cuts to flashbacks of the holiday ordeals Louie went through to arrive at this tender family moment: frustratingly wrapping, aggressively shopping, and finally, dismembering a doll in the attempt to repair it. This last flashback was especially hilarious as I laughed exponentially harder each and every time Louie€™s effort to improve the doll led to even worse damage. (Louie crying is almost as funny as Donald Glover crying but for very different reasons.) This bit was particularly brilliant because the flashback portion ends without any explanation as to how Louie got the utterly broken and disemboweled doll to its current pristine condition (he probably just caved and had to go out and buy a new one, but this would a very boring and anticlimactic conclusion to the sequence). The lack of explanation isn€™t unsatisfying though because the pay-off comes once Louie eyes his ex-wife€™s boyfriend, Patrick, suspiciously examines the doll later on in a very quick and subtle but totally worthwhile shot. The first act is also noteworthy for including a sequence wherein Louie reads aloud to his daughter a storybook he got for her about a Chinese duck that embarks on an epic journey. This story informs the rest of the episode, coming full circle in the third act for the episode€™s closing scene. I wonder exactly how intentional C.K.€™s choice of a story about a duckling was as it serves as a subtle reference to the second season episode, €œDuckling€, one which was also sparked by his daughter. (Oddly funny as well because Louie€™s repeated connections to ducklings parallels Tony Soprano€™s obsession with geese, noteworthy after reading VanDerWerff€™s article which compares the two character€™s respective shows.) This reference was the first of five specific allusions to past episodes. The next reference was the most direct and inconsequential, Janet€™s inquiry as to the €œLetterman thing€, but feels noteworthy as it signifies a rarely seen example of continuity among episodes of Louie. The second act opens with Louie awakening from his post-Christmas clean-up (I love that Louie simply threw his Christmas tree out the window to dispose of it) to a call from his younger sister, Debbie, played by Parks and Recreation€™s Amy Poehler. This was a delightful guest appearance not only because Poehler is so awesome, but because it confirms for me, whether true or not, that the actress and C.K. must be best friends after C.K. appeared as a love interest of Poehler€™s Leslie Knope in a handful of episodes of Parks, the more mainstream ying to Louie€™s yang. (I€™m still fairly distraught over the news of Poehler and Will Arnett€™s recent separation, but if she and C.K. wanted to get married and make the funniest children ever, I€™d be okay with that.) I love how sparingly C.K. uses his very talented guest stars as Poehler is only in a single, relatively short scene. Poehler makes the most of it though as her admirable and simultaneously humorous and genuinely affectionate performance is enough, coupled with some absurdly hilarious and surreal newscasters (Fanny Chapcranter and Flappy Howserton, the third reference in the episode), to convince Louie that he doesn€™t want to be alone for New Year€™s Eve. Louie€™s familial desire is best expressed in the very funny dream he has in the first allusion to the €œPing the Duck€ story as his subconscious imagines his two daughters as adults (€œWe€™re, like, probably in our 20s,€) lamenting over how they€™re, €œprobably pretty fucked up from having that kind of a dad,€ one whom is repeatedly emphasized as being utterly sad and alone. Fearing his daughters won€™t know how not to be alone as adults, Louie is determined to take up his sister€™s and her husband, the overtly American Doug€™s, offer to come out and visit them for the holiday. As Louie is on his way to €œthat left-wing Kennedy airport€, he spots on the bus none other than the notorious Liz (Parker Posey) of the €œDaddy€™s Girlfriend€ episodes. Almost immediately upon recognizing and approaching each other, Liz starts to bleed profusely from her nose and collapses to the floor. The sequence rapidly escalates as Liz is transported in an ambulance to the hospital where she has a brief albeit soul-crushing exchange with Louie before promptly dying at exactly 11:59pm on New Year€™s Eve. Yeah, devastating, right? As we were watching this unfold, my girlfriend and I were completely astounded at just how abrupt and overkill this was. In hindsight, however, I totally respect and admire C.K.€™s definitive conclusion to what many fans wondered, nay, hoped, what may have otherwise been a potential loose thread. To all those that held out faith for their eventual reunion, C.K. made sure to squash any such optimism. While arguably harsh, this is thematically consistent and I applaud it. The final act was the simplest, though also the most heartfelt, and just about made up for the outstandingly ruinous previous sequence. Finally at the airport, gazing reluctantly at the departures, Louie spots several departures for Beijing. Wonderfully upending expectations, Louie opts to travel to China to look for the river Ping the Duck traversed in his daughter€™s Christmas present. Though mostly devoid of any actual dialogue, save the hilarious tai-chi pantomiming Louie goes through with the Chinese locals, it speaks volumes about inter-connectivity and family ties, two consistent themes throughout €œNew Year€™s Eve€ and the series as a whole, respectively. The adorable scene where Louie is randomly invited into a Chinese home to dine with a native family is extremely reminiscent of the earlier third season episode, €œMiami€. The final shot which pans from the very happy cross-cultural meal to the Chinese mountains while €œAuld Lang Syne€ plays in the background is a fantastic and fitting cap on another brilliant season from television€™s most innovative story-teller. Though conventional ratings have steadily dropped at an alarming rate throughout this season, Louie is cheap enough to produce and critically acclaimed enough that FX has renewed the series for a fourth season. Though I€™d of course like the series to go on as long as C.K. is willing to continue making it, the show will inevitably come to an end. Once it does, as Mr. VanDerWerff so aptly suggests, it will be fascinating to see just how thoroughly the future of sitcoms is influenced by it. If there€™s any justice in the world, that influence will be immediate and pervasive.
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Fed a steady diet of cartoons, comics, tv and movies as a child, Joe now survives on nothing but endless film and television series, animated or otherwise, as well as novels of the graphic and literary varieties. He can also be seen ingesting copious amounts of sarcasm and absurdity.