"Louie's" women problem

Louie's love interests this season have been a parade of dysfunction. Why are so many of them falling apart?

Published September 12, 2012 6:10PM (EDT)

Why are all of the women on "Louie" crazy?

Over the course of its critically acclaimed third season, "Louie" has brought in a slew of recognizable and talented actresses, but the women are consistently and cartoonishly messed up -- deranged to the point where watching them elicits no empathy.

Louie, for his part, mostly stands off to the side and watches this parade of deficiency: Delores (Maria Dizzia), who freaks out at Ikea; Laurie (Melissa Leo), who threatens him with violence if he doesn't perform oral sex on her; Maria Bamford, who plays herself as a neurotic iceberg; and Nancy (Nancy Shayne), who feeds her son raw beef. Even bookstore clerk Liz, played brilliantly by Parker Posey over two episodes, doesn't make the kind of impact she might have if her character was less spastic.

That the women are exaggerated isn't the issue; the show has always been hyperbolic. The female characters in previous seasons were damaged, but often ultimately relatable. Pamela had her issues — just like Louie — but she was a real person with normal, human-style emotions. It was easy to imagine her living next door to you, and it was possible to see why Louie liked her.

In the pilot, Louie blundered his way through a blind date only to have her escape from him by running to a helicopter. The joke here, as when Pamela rejected him at the end of Season 2, was on Louie, for being a bit of a schmuck.

In Season 3, the crazy women have been the punch line of nearly every episode. Each woman’s psychosis, with the exception of Liz’s carcinoma, goes unexamined. He offers no chance for their redemption or an explanation of their behavior; we are just supposed to watch and laugh as the joke invariably falls on their flat shoulders.

What is the viewer supposed to take from this? Are we meant to think, whelp, the mystery that is women and chuckle a bit to ourselves and then go take a bath?

Each of the female characters, isolated from the others, would be palatable, but there has been no respite this season. Louie bumbles his way through breakdown after breakdown, sheepishly looking around when yet another crazy lady that he's invited into his life does something embarrassing.

The viewer is seemingly not supposed to empathize with the women at all -- only with Louie, who likes to prove that despite his best efforts, no good deed goes unpunished. But, like a friend who complains nonstop yet refuses to change, it is getting harder to find his artlessness with women engaging.

The punch line feels a little limp the tenth time around, especially as the women are not just quirky or neurotic, but disturbingly erratic and prone to endangering themselves and others.

At a male-dominated poker game, Sarah Silverman jokes about “cutting her tits off.” Single mother Nancy tells Louie she is having her vagina removed as she foists her son Never upon him.

Male characters provided the bulk of this season's depth. In one of the strongest episodes, Louie goes to Miami and befriends a bartender named Ramon. It's only here that he makes himself vulnerable, staying an extra few days so that he can spend time with Ramon and his family. In the end, the bartender lets him down gently. It is the most thoughtful and subtly romantic scene of the year.  If only he'd occasionally portray a woman with as much sensitivity as he did that bartender, or several of the other male characters, this season.

If this is the story of a single father’s blunders (or even if it isn’t, if it’s just about one person’s messed-up existence), it seems a bit of an insult to his own life that he should portray every woman on that journey so negatively.

Louis C.K. tries to prove he cares about women by explaining in one of his stand-up acts how gross it must be for us to have sex or for the beautiful among us to walk down the street and have men leer at us. That’s some pretty weak insight from a man whose repertoire now reads more like a French film — what with its surrealist cigarette boat rides and existential crises — than an episode of "Seinfeld."

We've all been on nightmarish dates. The problem is that there is a flatness to "Louie’s" women that suggests their creator is woefully out of touch. Maybe in some roundabout way that is what he wants. When a character played by Chloe Sevigny works herself to orgasm at a coffee shop in a recent episode, Louie looks at the barista and kind of shrugs helplessly as if to say, Poor me, I had no part in this.

Which is frustrating, as he's the one writing the script.

By Jessica Olien

Jessica Olien is a writer living in Brooklyn

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