It's been a few weeks since we've last caught up with "Louie," due entirely to my adventures on the musical high seas over the past month. But Thursday's most recent episode demanded a recap, if for no other reason than to testify to the greatness of a show written, directed, edited and produced by the single most prolific comedian in showbiz today: Louis C.K.
We've discussed the greatness of "Louie" at length in the past, with particular focus on the fact that so much of the show's gravity and uniqueness comes from the fact that the comedy doesn't arrive by committee, and there is only one cook in this kitchen – making for an unfiltered, singular flavor that is unlike any other. The unfiltered vision is the show's greatest asset, a wonderful deviation from the boardroom-orchestrated drivel that most sitcoms are comprised of.
"Duckling" was the first hour-long "Louie," the first to credit the star's 6-year-old daughter, Mary Louise, for a story idea, and with a budget of $500,000, its most expensive by far.
What we get for the money and added time is Louie embarking on his first USO tour in Afghanistan, which has him righteously unnerved. Once he arrives he finds he has a stowaway: a baby duckling that his young daughter put in his luggage to keep him safe (the night before departing, Louie's house played host to a class pet collection of baby ducks).
Shot in the deserts of Santa Clarita, CA, the countryside is a relatively hostile area in which U.S. soldiers are posted on constant lookout and laugh off incoming RPGs like they're hot air balloons passing in the sky. Louie can't seem to believe how casual everyone is about the deadly surroundings – even the 19 year old ditsy cheerleader (who's never heard of Led Zeppelin) he sets his sights on winning over. Let's just say it doesn't go well.
Louie “Would you ever date a guy my age?"
Cheerleader “Why, would you ever date a 19 year old?"
Cheerleader “Would you really?"
Cheerleader “That’s disgusting."
As it turns out, the stowaway duck plays a major role in not only impressing the girl, but in saving the lives of roughly a dozen grown and heavily armed men, a faction of American soldiers meeting tense moments with a band of Afghani hunters/farmers. Louie's stumbling buffoonery as he tries to recapture the escaped waterfowl leads to laughter on both sides, and in short order everyone is having tea.
He leaves the duckling with a little local girl just before departing, as sudden and jarringly as he arrived. Except he refuses the bulletproof vest as he boards the chopper, an establishment of confidence and comfort in the hellish warzone that he'd so feared in the earlier parts of the show.
The 60s music blaring as the black hawk chopper flew Louie and his companions from camp to camp was a terrific touch, a great contrast to the terrified look on our protagonist's face the entire time. Interestingly, the Hendrixian guitars ceased the moment Louie told his seatmate that he wasn't afraid anymore
Louis did a fantastic job of conveying how the experience of a USO tour humbled him (he had previously gone in real life, and was so moved by the experience he built an episode around it), without homogenizing the tale or cheapening it with a weak hero narrative.
The comic's unique vision and brand of laughability lends a realism to “Louie” that seals in a captivating quality that keeps us coming back. The “Duckling” episode was no exception, and with the added budget and runtime we’re given a full view of the magic our hero can work if given a greater canvas to work with.