Who are the assholes in your world? You probably know a few of them – people who receive dividends from interpersonal relationships but refuse to pay them back. People so dogmatically set in their ways that their very existence is offensive to your sensibilities. People with generally off-putting behavior. Maybe, to some of the people you know, you’re the asshole. I know that’s the case with me, anyhow.
Episode 6 of Louie’s third season, entitled “Barney/Never” is yet another comprised of two vignettes instead of a singular narrative (like the kind we saw in both parts of “Daddy’s Girlfriend” the past two Thursdays). But there’s a thin, yet sinewy, connection – assholes.
In the first piece, featuring Robin Williams as himself, the legendary comedian and Louie both arrive at the grave of a recently deceased mutual acquaintance, Barney. Over coffee later, they each step on eggshells in regards to the (not so) dearly departed until Louie finds the the courage to admit that Barney was a world class prick. (Isn’t it interesting how organically our protagonist can talk to men, even giants in his field of work, when speaking to women is still so difficult?) The conversation quickly sublimates into a joking memorial of the man’s exploits. Everything between stand up comics is a competition, you see, so naturally “Who can crack wise about the dead guy the best?” isn’t left off the fight card.
Later, Louie and Robin (hmmm, Batman spinoff?) find themselves at a strip club that Barney frequented. They’re surprised to find that the strippers, bartenders, promoter and even other patrons of the establishment are shocked and dismayed at the man’s untimely demise – a nice completion to the joke and also a reminder of constantly checking one’s perspective. Everybody, even a supreme douche, means something to somebody.
In the second vignette, Louie is put in charge of his daughter’s very strange classmate, whose name is actually Never. Studious fans of the program will remember that in Season 1, Episode 4, Never’s strange mother tries desperately to include Never in a play date between Lily and Pamela’s son Serge. Well, Mom is back and more ridiculous than ever. She’s off to have her vagina removed (an elective surgery) and needs to leave Never in the company of Louie. Lily bristles at the idea, and for good reason, but her father seems to think that it’s a moral responsibility. Is he growing as a person or simply trying to impart wisdom to his little girl regarding prejudice? Tough to tell. Mom leaves with two unsettling pieces of information – Never never gets told “no” and he isn’t to eat anything comprised of carbon.
The utter absurdity of the situation is a harbinger for the hyperbolic nature of Never’s misdeeds. When this kid is around, baby strollers roll into traffic, expensive rugs are thrown out windows, raw meat is eaten straight from bowls and bathtubs are “diarrhea’d” in. Louis C.K. seems to have a message here about the permissive attitude that modern parents display toward their children, one where everything makes you special somehow. At the end of the episode, even after his tub has been soiled by human excrement, Louie is there with the olive branch toward Never, but the child refuses to take it. He’s special and there’s no saying otherwise. Alas, the creation of an asshole.
Amid this second story, Louie gets a dig at shock jock radio hosts when he’s forced to field an interview from Kansas City where one of his shows isn’t selling well. Those who keep up with C.K’s career know that he’s currently in the process of changing the game for promotions in comedy, eliminating a variety of middle men and selling tickets on his own. The idiotic morning zoo character blather on incessantly and laugh uproariously at Louie’s inane comments. That is, until he tells an actual joke but insults Kansas City in the process. That’s a no-no and he’s booted.
Unlike some of the other Louie episodes this season, “Barney/Never” isn’t much of a deep-thinker, but there are some guffaws along the way, and I’d argue that the darkness of “Daddy’s Girlfriend Part 2” needed to be balanced by something more effervescent. When Louie discovers his bathwater filled with a naked obese 10-year old and his diarrhea, I nearly lost it. It was also a nice change of pace to see Robin Williams (now a literal and figurative graybeard) going with understatement. We’re so accustomed to his multiple performance personas (both comedic and dramatic) that it’s difficult to remember there’s just a normal human inside of him. He jokes and cajoles, but comes off as a guy just going about his business.
And isn’t that a microcosm of our experience with Louis C.K himself on this program? The funny moments occur as they will in such a messed up world, but overall it’s about a comedian attempting his own version of normality.
Some departures from the norm resound in this episode, and you can bet that they were intentionally highlighted – it’s just that I’m not quite sure of the meaning. Instead of the traditional opening credits over the strains of “Brother Louie”, this episode begins with the man walking through the graveyard in grayscale. It also marks a rare occasion when Louie’s stand up routine is never portrayed. Perhaps the moral of the story regarding Never was so heavy handed that it didn’t require filtration through a more direct channel?