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Louie – Joan

“Joan” was probably the least enjoyable of the second season episodes so far. But when the bulk of the episode is a conversation with Joan Rivers and it's still watchable, then you've accomplished something. While it wasn't the most laugh-laden of episodes, “Joan” still showcased many of the things the series does right. It also proved that C.K.'s recent acknowledgment from the Emmy committee wasn't unwarranted.

Right off the bat, Louie was showing it can do what Wilfred has forgotten how to do since its pilot: make toilet humor funny. The standup segment in which Louie confesses he's always within a forty-eight hour window of having diarrhea was hilarious. He managed to take something crass and elevate it, with an excellent sense of timing, and the heart that comes from C.K.'s self-deprecation. When Louie and Wilfred started out this season, they seemed like a great match, both for their use of dark comedy and witty twists on juvenile humor. As the season moved on though, Louie is proving to be alone in its ability to add something more to crude jokes, or at least not rely so heavily on them. That difference is making Wilfred stand out as the lesser of the two shows, while making me wonder if Louie doesn't deserve to be in better company.

The entire cold open was brilliant actually; a perfectly contained dose of comedy separated from the main plot. The strangeness of the store clerk demanding an exact number of bananas – but not apples – felt so believable as just another one of the oddities Louie has to put up with on a daily basis. Even when at their most surreal, there is something so true to life about Louie's misadventures that they can't help but resonate with viewers. The interrupting call from Louie's sister, Carleen, built on that feeling. Sobbing uncontrollably, for a reason she's built up all on her own, the call came out of left field, but Louie's cold shoulder reaction was right in line with his character and earned a good laugh for it. Pouring himself a healthy shot of Jim Beam and vowing not to answer when she calls back was funny already and it led perfectly into the arrival of the delivery boy with Louie's sixty bananas.

My initial reaction when Joan Rivers appears on screen is to change the channel. And while her role in the episode wasn't the funniest, I'm glad I didn't reach for the remote this time. Even when it's a comic I'm not particularly fond of, seeing Louie riff with any of his comedic brethren is always a pleasure. Just as the show did with Nick DiPaolo last season, this episode gave me a greater appreciation for a comedian I never thought much of. Rivers proved she could be down to earth – or at least play it – even while she never fully shed her diva persona. The perfect example of which was her requesting some Purell immediately after she was done glad-handing with her fans, even as she is casually asking Louie up to her suite to gossip or chat. The usual sense of C.K. giving the guest star the best lines was also altered by her presence, and the way she seemed to take those lines for herself.

Their conversation itself is what really earned Rivers respect. Trying to impart on Louie that you're never too famous to lose your fame, endeared her both to his character, and the audience. No matter how you feel about her, the woman has worked in the entertainment industry for just about as long as you can – and then some. So when she warns you that comedy is a business in which you never stop paying your dues, it can't help but remind the viewer that she's been doing just that for years longer than most comedians. That kind of aged wisdom, and experience in comedy, is what drove her role and made her performance so impressive, even without it drawing many laughs. There were a couple uproarious moments however; namely Louie lunging for Joan, and her consenting to sex so long as Louie agreed not to stay the night.

Though his character was having a rocky night, C.K. himself had reason to celebrate. This episode came on the heels of the Emmy nominations being announced, where C.K. picked up an acting nom for his performance from the first season. The series also picked up a well deserved writing nomination for the episode “Poker/Divorce.” Credit for which also goes to C.K. as he also writes all the episodes. It seems odd to single out C.K.'s acting while not acknowledging that the show itself is one of the best comedies running. It's also doubtful that C.K. will come home with the prize, but any praise for this edgy and offbeat series is something to be excited for. And despite this episode not being amongst the best, the second season has thus far been better than the first. So hopefully those two nominations will have more company next year.

This episode's timing seemed serendipitous; Louie learning a lesson in humility just as C.K.'s own fame sees a rise. While it did drag at parts and didn't engender the most laughs, it seems harsh to call this a bad episode when there were so many positives. “Joan” definitely wasn't the best Louie has done, but like all episodes, there are things to appreciate.



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