Episode three is the first Louie episode to introduce a strong thematic link, that of friendship. The episode displays two types of friendship, one a close bond and one an old high-school friendship. Louis C.K being who he is, he decides to display the more negative aspects of those friendships than displaying the positive, like difference of opinion and personality. But he ends up showing that it’s because of these differences that friendships exist, so in a bittersweet way they become a positive. In the “Nick” part of the episode we also see a shift in tone from simply being a comedy to a more sombre type of show, not played for laughs at all but going for something with more lasting power. But before that we have “Dr Ben”, which is possibly the funniest, straightforward comedy the show ever accomplished in its first season, thanks to the appearance of Ricky Gervais.
The character Louie wrote for him here is an interesting one. When you go to the doctor, you don’t really want to know them outside of the hospital/clinic, to avoid a future dinner party where you reminisce about the time he had a finger in your anus. Louie doesn’t just know Dr Ben, but they were friends in high school, and the dynamic hasn’t changed. Ben still makes the same tasteless jokes he did with Louie as a teenager, only now he’s also dealing with Louie’s health, which makes it much more inappropriate then it would be normally, and for the viewer also makes it much funnier.
In recent years I’ve been a bit down on Ricky Gervais. His shows haven’t been up to the same quality as his early work, and his rants about critics and religion cast him in a very bad light. But as Dr Ben here, he reminds you of how he rose to such prominence in the first place. Dr Ben is an awful doctor, at least to Louie, cracking the most distasteful jokes every chance he gets, my favourite being “you don’t need a doctor, you need a time-machine. Gervais plays him to perfection, peppering his lines with his trademark laugh and making everything he says feel improvised, even though it’s all scripted.
What stuck out most for me in this scene is that not once is it mentioned why Louie still goes to Ben. None of his jokes make Louie laugh, just more anxious. There’s potentially a bond there or a back story we don’t know about (with Louie you never can tell. He leaves out most fundamentals of other shows), or maybe he gets good mates-rates. But presumably Ben is just a laugh factory, a mere plot device that you aren‘t supposed to worry about the finer details of. On the commentary C.K says that this piece was the first he wrote after the show got picked up, and he admits that the tone is much more comic and sketch based than the rest of the show. I don’t see that as a problem, because it’s the type of show that allows him to do whatever he wants, and if he wants to do a hilarious doctor’s check-up sketch than it’s the audience’s gain.
Also, it helps make the transition into the more introspective “Nick” much easier. Stand-up as usual is used to break up the pieces, this time the joke involving why the term “Indian Giver” is a really offensive, ignorant term. But then we stay in the comedy club as Louie gets off stage and his right-wing comedian friend we met last week Nick Di Paolo takes the stage. This is the first time the stand-up is part of the sketch, not just used as a divider between two scenes, and it further breaks down any standard structure the show could be said to have.
Nick’s material doesn’t go over too well with the crowd, as it’s very right-wing in approach, and he‘s doing it in New York. Sample line “Can we quit calling Obama the first black president? My nipples are darker then Barack Obama” . While Nick is doing his material, a waitress complains she isn’t getting paid that night because there’s only black people at her tables and black people don’t tip. When Louie takes offence and says it’s racist, a black waitress confirms what the first waitress said and calls Louie an asshole, which according to the commentary is a true story. This and Nick’s material is used to set up that this piece is going to ask some political questions, and is indeed the most political piece of the entire first season, unless you consider the “God” episode political, which is clearly more confrontational, but I think it only falls under religion.
After Nick’s stand-up, we see Louie and Nick arguing about politics in a booth upstairs. Louie representing the left-wing is sitting on the left, Nick representing the right-wing sitting on the right. Comedian Todd Barry is sitting in the middle, not giving a shit either way. Both of them don’t exactly make compelling arguments, and both aren’t really taking on what the other is saying. Louie keeps calling Nick a Nazi, while Nick keeps calling Louie gay. A fight breaks out between the two (Barry just remains bored, asking “Is this really happening?”), which results in Nick having a bleeding hand.
Cut to the hospital, and Nick and Louie are in the waiting room. They start making jokes, which turns into talk about their home lives. Here is where we see why the two remain friends; they both care about the other and can relate to their situation, and if that means putting up with their differing views then so be it. Out on the street as the sun is beginning to rise, Louie apologises for cutting Nick’s hand, but Nick shrugs it off and says “It’s alright. I don’t jerk off anymore and I can lift the toilet seat with the other one.” Nick gets into a cab and they both give the finger to each other as it drives away, and with this sweet moment it’s clear the two have made up.
C.K asks a lot of questions about friendship and politics in this episode, but he doesn’t offer many answers. In fact, the only clear answer he offers is that there are no answers, that’s the way life is.
That sentence is the exact kind of preachy bullshit that C.K avoids on his show, and I thank him for it.
The last shot over the credits is Dr Ben giving Louie a call to update him on his health. The results are in, and he has “Big, fat, ginger ugly-itis”. Unlucky Louie. Unlucky.