kimberlee rossi-fuchs cures our case of the mondays…
After last weeks’ dark, somewhat tragic conclusion to “Daddy’s Girlfriend,” this week’s Louie, “Barney / Never” was a bit of a palate cleanser – lighter fare to be sure, but with a ton of laugh-out-loud moments and some great guest appearances.
Rather than the usual slice of pizza, Comedy Cellar entrance opening, this week’s episode opens with a stark title sequence over a black and white shot of Louie walking through a cemetery, recalling Night of the Living Dead via Woody Allen. The sequence beautifully sets up the story for “Barney,” the episode’s first vignette, as we see that Louie’s come to pay his respects to someone who apparently lived a lonely and unloved life. There is no religious officiant or mourners present, just Louie and the simple pine coffin beside the freshly dug grave. Eventually, another man shows up at the grave site and the two exchange a quick nod of recognition, then look on in silence at the sad final resting place.
Afterward, the fellow mourner finds Louie at a nearby diner and asks to join him for a cup of coffee. After he introduces himself as Robin (Robin Williams, not playing himself), a former in-law of the deceased, the two men make related small talk and try to suss out the other’s feelings for the dead man. Reading a knowing look in Robin’s eyes, Louie finally opens the floodgates and blurts out, “I’m pretty sure he was the biggest piece of shit I ever knew.” The two quickly bond over similar stories of Barney’s general dickishness, Louie recalling that he often cheated the comics who performed at his club, Robin that he stole thousands of dollars from him. Yet despite how much he hated Barney in life, Louie admits he decided to come to the funeral because, “When I pictured him going into the ground and nobody’s there – he’s alone – it gave me nightmares.” As someone who also grapples with loneliness, the thought of dying utterly alone clearly touches a nerve with Louie. He also seems affected by the fact that despite being a general all-around asshole, Barney wasn’t necessarily a hateful person and really wanted people to like him. Both Louie and Robin ruefully mention how they never once accepted one of Barney’s many invitations to visit his favorite strip club, Sweet Charity.
Cut to Louie and Robin walking in to Sweet Charity’s lunch time shift. They are immediately approached by a group of bored strippers and when they turn down a dance, the girls demand to know why they’re there. When Louie tells them they’re there to commemorate the recently deceased Barney Ross, the strippers reel in disbelief. As the news spreads across the club, the girls crumple, most of them openly sobbing and the DJ dedicates 80s power ballad “Sister Christian” to the memory of this “great” and “generous” man. Louie and Robin leave the club and a moment after the door closes behind them, the two look at each other and burst out laughing. I was laughing pretty hard myself at the moment, as “Barney” essentially plays out like a joke, with Robin and Louie providing the set up with their tales of Barney’s rampant dickery and paying off with that great punchline of the strippers’ genuine grief at his passing. Though neither man could stand Barney in life, sharing their memories of him, no matter how unpleasant, forced them to recognize his humanity on some level and their impromptu memorial service relieved the dark fears conjured up by his lonely passing by allowing them a glimpse into a world where the man was actually beloved.
In “Never,” the episode’s second storyline, we meet the seeming child counterpart of departed douchebag Barney. “Never” begins with Louie and his eldest daughter Lilly excited to enjoy some much needed one-on-one time when a classmate’s harried mother approaches Louie and begs him to watch her son for a few hours so she can attend a consultation on elective surgery to remove her genitals. (“I want to get rid of my vagina before Easter,” she matter-of-factly asserts, in another of the show’s many fantastic throwaway lines) Not wanting to stand in the way of the woman’s vagina removal, Louie agrees and the mother hurries off, shouting two instructions as she goes – the cryptic “He can’t eat anything with carbon in it” and the illuminating, “I don’t say no to him.”
While Louie argues with Lilly, who’s outraged by this sudden playdate with this odd little boy, Never busies himself by pushing a baby carriage into the busy NYC street, resulting in a multi-car accident involving a truck carrying apparently deadly chemicals. As the truck driver (Artie Lange, who’s apparently still alive -Good for him.) and other passer-by frantically run for cover, an annoyed Louie calmly rounds up Never and Lilly and heads back to his apartment. Upon reaching home, Lilly immediately locks herself in her room, leaving Louie to deal with Never alone. The kid immediately proves a handful, searching the fridge for acceptable food (he can’t have peanut butter or apples, his mom tells him, because he’ll die) before settling on a bowl of raw meat and throwing Louie’s rug out the window when Louie turns his back for two seconds. When his agent calls to set him up with an immediate phone interview to promote an underselling upcoming performance in Kansas City, Louie, in need of a safe way Never can occupy himself for fifteen minutes, reluctantly agrees to let the kid take a bath.
After Louie’s interview with the inane radio hosts (a nice little cameo by Jim Norton, of Opie and Anthony, doing a pitch-perfect imitation of your typical awful radio banter) abruptly ends when he calls Kansas City a dump, Lilly alerts him to a horrible smell coming from the bathroom. Louie bursts open the bathroom door to find Never, calmly sitting in soupy, brown water because “I diarrhea-ed in the tub.” It was a great sight gag, hilarious in both its sheer disgustingness and the horribly awkward situation it puts Louie in as he now has to clean and dress this strange, shit-covered child.
Sitting on the couch afterward, Louie attempts to reach out to Never, offering him a friendly ear if he ever wants a father-type to talk to. He’s blunt – when Never asks why Lilly doesn’t like him, Louie responds “Because you eat raw meat and you shit in the tub and you wreck everything” – but also kind, patiently waiting with the kid for his mother to arrive and patting his knee in a fatherly way. The fact that he doesn’t shy away from this gross, annoying kid speaks to who he is as a person, as Louie can always see a bit of himself in the misfit and isn’t quick to write anyone off completely. Although Never is a bowtie-clad little weirdo and a huge pain in the ass, he’s no cliché evil child deviant and isn’t necessarily malevolent. Thanks to his mother’s soft parenting, he’s just convinced that it’s OK to act out on every childish impulse, no matter how destructive. What would happen if I pushed this baby carriage into the street, threw this rug out the window, or filled the tub with diarrhea? Without worry of punishment or reprimand, Never’s free to explore all these impulses and thanks to his mother’s indulging of them, he can’t understand why his classmates don’t like him. “My mom says every choice I make is OK because I love myself,” he tells Louie and can’t believe his response that, “Your mom is wrong.”
Both Barney and Never are at unlikeable at best and, at worst, pathologically sociopathic, but the episode revolves around Louie’s inherent ability to see their humanity and forces us to see it, as well. By far the most straight-up comedic episode of the season so far, “Barney / Never” had plenty of hilarious moments (I didn’t even get to mention the always funny JB Smoove’s brief cameo as a pissed-off grave digger) and some great guest appearances. Robin Williams always works best for me when he’s more subdued then manic, as he is here, and I loved the way he and Louie played off each other, culminating in that great, shared laugh outside Sweet Charity. The child actor who played Never was great, too, possessing an odd, expressive face and imbuing his line readings with the perfect amount of weirdness to make the character seem less nightmare child than unfortunate weirdo. “Barney / Never” may not have been as stirring or possessed the same emotional gravity as last week’s heavier episode, but funny has always been one of the things Louie does best.