When we last left Louie, he’d finally settled down with the woman of his dreams.
Well, balls to that! None of it happened! Or did it?!
Louie isn’t typically big on continuity. Sometimes the rules of the show’s universe change over the span of one episode, a la the series’ pilot when a realistic-enough bad date ended with the woman fleeing from Louie’s affections to board a waiting helicopter.
Season four threw the unconventional conventions it had set up so far out the window in favor of buttloads of continuity. The character of Dr. Bigelow (played by the awesome Charles Grodin) was introduced in the season premiere and provided cohesiveness by showing up multiple times throughout the rest of the season. Pamela (Pamela Adlon) reappeared for the first time since season two with a few episodes devoted specifically to the progression of her relationship with Louie. Heck, nearly half the season was dominated by a six-episode-long saga about Louie’s fling with a Hungarian woman.
The joy of Louie is how it’s so totally under one person’s control that it can go pretty literally wherever he wants it to go and it can do whatever the hell he wants it to do. While I don’t know that season four was the best the show’s ever been or any such thing, it was extremely enjoyable and refreshing to witness Louis C.K. try doing his show in a drastically different format. After three seasons of largely disconnected short films exploring isolated premises, season four was all about long-form storytelling. It made for an exciting, interesting change.
So I’m not gonna lie here; this season’s premiere is a bit of a disappointment. With the reintroduction of the show’s theme song and opening credit sequence (which was absent from last season) and a self-contained premise (what might happen if Louie tried to act like a normal, social parent and went to a parents’ potluck?), “Potluck” instantly feels like it’s saying “forget about season four! We’re doing this again now.”
Luckily, that’s terribly misleading. FX sent out four screener episodes and (without spoiling anything) I’m happy to say all the ones following “Potluck” are great and do a fantastic job of feeling like the earlier seasons of Louie while still acknowledging and continuing the stuff that went down last year. It strikes a rather perfect balance between both “versions” of the show.
Back to “Potluck,” though. It’s not an unenjoyable episode. It just feels a bit rote, as much as that makes any sense to say about an episode of Louie. The plot is pretty loose and silly, based around Louie getting himself into one awkward situation after the other. I enjoy that the inciting incident is Louie’s shrink falling asleep during Louie’s session, leading to his epiphany: “Oh my God. I’m a boring asshole now.” Feeling like crap, Louie is motivated into going to the parents’ potluck (for which he makes fried chicken) to be social in some fashion.
It’s definitely very funny that Louie initially accidentally ends up at a totally different potluck run by some sort of cult. Also great is how he forgets the fried chicken there, but rather than go through the social suffering of interrupting the cult people to get his chicken back, he just goes to KFC to buy chicken to pass off as his own.
At the correct potluck, there are some funny moments, like the lesbian couple discussing how they went about impregnating their surrogate mother (“We got sperm from my friend at work who’s gay and who died”). But once outside the potluck, the surrogate mom approaches Louie to see if he wants to share an Uber car and, at that moment, I immediately knew he was going to end up having sex with her.
Even a seemingly a-formulaic show like Louie does, after a time, construct something of a formula, or at least a progression it returns to more than others. To loosely define the typical Louie plot progression: Louie is depressed, he gets into awkward/bad situations, some completely weird stuff happens, some stuff that could be construed as positive (if you squint and turn your head) happens, and he gets laid a lot more than you might expect.
Unlike the majority of season four, “Potluck” is happy to return to this formula, so while it’s a functional episode of Louie, it doesn’t do anything to surprise, which is the key attraction of this show.
But things get much better after this.