In some ways, “The Road: Part 1” feels like this season’s equivalent of last year’s “Pamela: Part 1.” Not just in terms of its narrative being spread out over multiple weeks, mind you, but in how the episode appears to be particularly in need of explanation. Commentators were rightfully angered by “Pamela: Part 1,” as the attempted rape in the end of the episode warranted further discussion, the future nature of which was unknown to us at the time. I won’t attempt to grapple with my complicated feelings on last season’s Pamela arc here (I’ve already made some attempt), but I mention it due to its influence over my thinking on “The Road: Part 1.” The subject of the episode, Louie’s interaction with everyday people, doesn’t carry the gravity of the depiction of rape in “Pamela: Part 1,” but it does feel like it necessitates an explanation which next week’s conclusion of the story (and the season) may or may not bring.
The explanation needed this year, unfortunately, concerns why exactly Louis C.K. deemed the theme and narrative of this shaggy dog story to be worth telling. From the beginning, the premise of the arc appears to be something along the lines of “arrogant comedian comes to see the virtues of the populace,” and its first half doesn’t develop much beyond that.
The theme is present from the instant Louie travels on a plane to get to Cincinnati and gets sideswiped by an apparently callous stewardess. It continues once he touches down in the airport and is greeted by a driver, Mike, with a sign reading “Comedian Louie C.K.” The joke here, of course, is that Mike only puts the job description in the title due to his excitement over getting to drive Louie, since he doesn’t need anyone to tell him what he does for a living.
C.K. continues developing this joke when Louie leaves the airport, as Mike attempts to engage him in a conversation which he clearly doesn’t want to have. Things don’t get any better when he arrives at his motel, the state of which prompts him to call up his teenage agent, Doug (Edward Gelbinovich), and plead for better conditions for future road trips. The situation devolves even further just before the second commercial break, where Louie’s bitterness prompts Mike to cry, which marks one of the only breaks in Louie that feels like an act break of a more traditional sitcom.
The return from the break reveals Louie’s apparent discovery of the virtues of the working class. A girl who works at a cinnamon roll stand named “Jizzy Bun” fools him into thinking that he can order the semen-like sauce to be poured into his mouth, which humbles him and suggests that he’s not as superior to the less famous ninety-nine percent as he thinks. Following this encounter, an airport employee comes to his aid, going far out of his way to try and help Louie track down his lost bag.
“The Road: Part 1” seems to suggest that the people who Louie once neglected are now saving him, as the bitter comedian — who couldn’t be bothered to talk with his chauffeur –gets his prejudices shaken up by a helpful security man. All in all, it feels familiar, uninspired and not particularly profound.
Then again, it’s impossible to know now what the conclusion to “The Road: Part 1” will bring, which makes it akin to last season’s “Pamela: Part 1.” One assumes that C.K. won’t spend the entire season finale depicting the further redemption of his protagonist, so it’s certainly conceivable that “The Road: Part 2” will bring new dimensions to the arc. As of now, though, it doesn’t appear to offer much.
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.