You might remember bumping into Louie’s friend Eddie in the aptly named Season Two episode “Eddie,” which started as a very Louie take on the dangers of nostalgia and ended up a startling assessment of purpose and purposelessness — and how artists usually end up wading the waters between the two. Eddie chose Louie as the one person he wanted to tell goodbye before ending his own life, but not because of any personal association — he just looked at Louie as the symbol and spokesman for everyone (and everything) else. When Louie tries and eventually fumbles an attempt to assert the universality of struggling with life’s punches to Eddie as some sort of encouragement, we get the sense that Louie is mostly fumbling because he has a hard time buying any such hoopla himself.
From the opening frame of the Season Five premiere, we are immediately reminded of the philosophy at the center of “Eddie,” only this time presented from a turned-table perspective. After last season’s experimental highs — providing some of the most brilliant moments in Louis C.K.’s increasingly successful attempts at being both a comedian and an auteur — we are now in the throes of a character in some sort of recovery mode. Though the season premiere makes no direct mention of Pamela (who, as you recall from last season, has been struggling with commitment’s sticky hands), we get the sense that the weight of Pamela’s iffyness is burdening his ability to simply get through the days.
We are given a small dose of the same surrealism which defined much of the third and fourth seasons with Louie’s accidental intrusion on what appears to be some sort of culty potluck, but even this gut-wrenchingly hilarious segment is rooted in a reality only the character’s newfound depression could allow. Louie’s attempt to connect with something medical is dashed by the therapist’s seemingly temporary bout with boredom-born narcolepsy. Louie’s depression is a cliche, yes; and that cliche is so ingrained in the world around him that even his therapist can’t stand it long enough to stay awake.
However, that is the only real flash of pointed cynicism in this characteristically brilliant and decidedly low-key premiere. Fittingly, Louie’s spontaneous decision to connect with fellow parents from his daughter’s school is not undermined by Louie’s disdain for them, but their disdain for him as an outsider. Louie, in his own way, is trying. When he loses his previously promised dish of fried chicken to the aforementioned cult potluck, Louie doesn’t even bother explaining the experience to his fellow potluck guests. Instead, he privately wallows in the lunacy of it all while the world of near-normals around him project their own sadness onto virtually everything in sight.
Ultimately, Louis C.K. seems to be making the case here that sadness has a way of eventually making us happy. Though the premiere only provides speculative evidence that such sadness is related to the status of his relationship/non-relationship with Pamela, we can surmise that it mostly certainly also includes the loss of Amia (from the genius-level “Elevator” episodes) — which rooted this show in a surprising sense of earnestness and sincerity that Louie’s equally funny though surely more absurdist moments seemed to define as previously implausible.
Simply put, this is the Louie we need right now, though it may not be the one some will want. I, for one, trust Louis C.K.’s vision. That’s the least we can do after his near-perfect season last year.