As of late, one of the great virtues of Louie has been its tight thematic focus. Whether concentrating on the frivolity of gender roles in “Bobby’s House,” the challenges of empathizing with those who don’t appear to deserve it in “Cop Story,” or Louie’s deep-rooted fears in “Untitled,” Louis C.K. has been using the fifth season to explore the ways in which his protagonist relates to the world. Although this season hasn’t had much of a serialized narrative in the manner of the fourth season (outside of Louie’s relationship with Pamela), it has used the seemingly disconnected episodes as fragments which work together to create an in-depth character study.
It’s a bit disappointing, then, to see the overstuffed chaos of last night’s “Sleepover.” While the episode’s parts seem to spring from good ideas on their own, and they’re certainly filled with hilarious details, the vignettes feel like fragments for which C.K. couldn’t find another place. Given how well the episode still holds together, it’s the sort of thing which wouldn’t be an issue in a different show, but one which feels dissatisfying in the context of the thematic unity C.K. has been achieving recently.
In fact, the episode is so chock full of ideas and plots that C.K. forgoes the opening credits sequence which he’d taken out of the fourth season, but had gone back to for most of the current one. Instead, he jumps straight into a scene in which he watches a star-studded play with Lilly (Hadley Delany), featuring Matthew Broderick, Glenn Close, Michael Cera, and John Lithgow. Although the drama enraptures him, his daughter appears to be less focused, as she uses her phone during a climactic scene. This enrages her father, and he lectures her outside of the theater. As tempted as we are to take his side, she complicates our feelings by explaining that she was reading about the play. Lilly then proves her comprehension with a rote recitation of the dialogue from the scene when she uses the phone, aided by the background information she discovers through doing so.
Louie doesn’t know how to react, and he soon uses his phone with more harmful side-effects, leading to the episode’s only unifying narrative element. He’s the unhappy host of a gaggle of screaming pre-teen girls, including one whom he inadvertently informs of her parents’ impending divorce. Unsurprisingly, he’d rather engage in phone sex with Pamela than watch them. Although the consequences of his ignorance aren’t disastrous, beyond permitting the girls to behave in the manner of the hilarious screaming cartoon, they do appear to have more potentially devastating consequences than Lilly’s research during the play.
Still, rather than harping on this connection, C.K. shifts the episode’s focus to bailing Bobby out of jail. Not knowing what else to do, he brings the girls with him, transposing the chaos of his apartment to the police station. Bobby has a hysterical explanation of the circumstances that lead to his lock-up, which involve a giant sub, a mysterious old woman and a goat. The arthouse, black-and-white style with which C.K. depicts his brother’s fantasy makes for a humorous contrast with the crudeness of the tale.
Again, these elements all work on their own, but the parts don’t appear to add up to much of a whole. Given the time and care C.K. has been dedicating to the development of stories recently on Louie, the vignettes of “Sleepover” almost feel like they all could’ve been the subject of their own episodes. As funny as the stories are, they seem more like disparate ideas then aspects of a unified story, leading to an episode which feels like an uneven mishmash rather than a cohesive, thematically driven half-hour. Despite this, C.K. embeds each segment with so much energy and detail that they make for a very funny and entertaining episode, even if we can’t help but be left wanting more.
Max Bledstein (@mbled210) is a Montreal-based writer, musician and world-renowned curmudgeon. He writes on all things culture for a variety of fine North American publications. His highly anticipated debut novel will write itself one of these days, he assumes.