Louie: ‘Cop Story’ Season 5, Episode 3

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Cop Story is a devastating episode in the continuing excellence of the quasi-comedic television show Louie on FX. Having watched the entirety of this program’s run, I have come to the conclusion that it is one of the most difficult, intelligent, surreal tv shows to be produced in recent broadcast history. Louis C.K. is a genius for presenting this tv show as a comedy, when it is only funny half of the time. For example, the beginning of Cop Story is a tense conversation between Louie and the young female shopkeeper of a kitchen supply store. Louie wants to buy an expensive cooper pot and is rebuffed repeatedly by the shopkeeper in his efforts to do so. She lays her logic down hard on why she won’t allow him to buy a professional-grade copper pot; suggesting that he should visit William-Sonoma if he wants to have his ego stroked, as he will never be a real chef like her younger clientele.The shopkeeper is brutal in her assessment of Louie and his unease around young people and even contends that everyone younger than him is smarter than he could ever hope to be. Their conversation is uncomfortable and a little too real. This is not a conversation that would transpire in real life. A shopkeeper might think a customer is a jerk, yet would not out-right say it to their face. The confrontational conversation is Louie’s projection of his hatred of himself. Due to C.K. implementing a slipping, surreal reality into the show’s structure, a conversation like this will occur to remind Louie of his own obsolescence.

The rest of the episode revolves around an awkward reunion with an old acquaintance of Louie’s.  Louie runs into Lenny(Michael Rapaport) while walking past him on the street. Lenny summons Louie from a NYPD cop car and pretends to frisk him. It is obvious from the start that Lenny is overjoyed to see Louie, as he jokes around with him and demands his phone number so that they can hang out and catch up. Louie’s expression is of the thinly-veiled realization that he wishes he had walked down a different block and not run into Lenny. It is revealed that Lenny was Louie’s sister’s boyfriend long ago and though Lenny still wants to be friends with Louie, despite the breakup, Louie is reluctant. Regardless, Louie agrees to attend a Knicks game with Lenny, to basically fulfill his hanging-out requirement and then never see Lenny again.

When Lenny arrives at Louie’s apartment to take him to the basketball game, he brandishes his cop gun, using it as a toy. Louie is very unnerved by Lenny waving around his pistol, yet brushes off his childish, irresponsible behavior so they he can just get the night over with. As the pair walk to MSG to see the game, Lenny starts talking and never stops. He’s constantly talking about himself loudly, bringing up old memories which make Louie aggravated, and acts as a gigantic, pushy buffoon. Lenny is a veritable stream of talking; Louie hardly gets a word in edgewise and finally calls Lenny out about his embarrassing behavior and tries to go home early. Then Lenny’s world collapses; he realizes that he has lost his service pistol at some point during the evening and he completely implodes.

He frantically starts freaking out at Louie, raving that he cannot lose his gun. His life will be over, as losing a service pistol is one of the only ways that a cop can be fired. Without his gun, and the identity of a cop which it affords, Lenny is nothing and he is sickeningly aware of that. He knows that he is an annoying, brutish person; one who people actively avoid. Lenny doesn’t want to be a loser, so at least the profession of a cop can give him an identity; if his gun is lost, he will be too. The way in which Lenny rips apart Louie’s apartment to locate the gun and then starts screaming, crying and hitting himself, sobbing that his is stupid, is agonizing. If Lenny did have his pistol at that very moment of ultimate depression, he would have put it to his temple.  Realizing this terrifying fact, Louie commands Lenny to stay put and he will fix things.

The conclusion of this episode shows Louie retracing his steps and miraculously finding the gun undisturbed on the sidewalk. A little comic relief is employed in this section, as Louie awkwardly tries to conceal the gun and even drops it in front of a crowd of cops who luckily do not notice it. When Louie returns to his apartment, he shows Lenny he has found the gun and that all is not lost.  Lenny then tackles Louie into a hug and crushes him to the floor sobbing with relief. Louie cradles Lenny the broken man-child and strokes his back lightly with the gun still in his hand. This final image is highly affecting as the hug is an apology to Lenny; a way to make him feel there can be solace. The aptitude with which C.K. can cut to the bone of human frailty and also serve up a tender closure is the hallmark of this superior program. Louie is not laugh-out-loud funny, it is better than that. This episode is a fine illustration that surrealism employed in comedy can lay bare our most overwhelming feelings of failure and help us explore our hidden inner lives.

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The Boss of It All

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Lars von Trier’s 2006 film is unexpectedly and happily a comedy. True to the obstinate Dane’s fashion this film innovates by utilizing a computer editing process called Automavision. In the simplest terms, the camera was placed in a fixed position and the Automavision program decided when to zoom, pan and frame the action, entirely of it’s own accord. Due to this peculiar process the film looks terrible, for the program had no idea of proper framing or color continuity. The cuts are random, the actors move up and down, even out of the frame, the f-stops are way too high at times causing retina pain. Out of all of von Trier’s films this is the most accessible, you could recommend it to your parents without blushing, but he willfully caused it to look crappy to sass the audience.

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Lars interjects himself into the film at various points to narrate the story and comment upon the conventions of the comedy genre. He is first seen in a crane outside of an office building, with his reflection in the windows. He says, “Although you see my reflection, trust me, this film won’t be worth a moment’s reflection. It’s a comedy, and harmless as such. No preaching or swaying of opinion. Just a cozy time. So why not poke fun at artsy-fartsy culture?” Here the comedy starts, with the camera showing Kristoffer (Jens Albinus), an actor through a window of an office building. Lars’ narration describes him, “So here we have a self-important out-of-work actor, who, by miraculous chance, got a job. A very special job.” This is where von Trier starts to poke fun at the absurd proclivities of certain actors who ascribe to a method (Kristoffer is committed to the ideas of a fictional playwright Gambini, whose work is alluded to as being very modern, very ‘serious’) and also the directors who confuse them with no instruction but expect them to produce an engaging character regardless of that fact. The office staff in the film doubles as insufferable actors and the boss Ravn (Peter Gantzler) doubles as von Trier himself. Despite his assertion that the film is a “cozy time” the duel-leveled way in which the characters can be read makes this film much more than von Trier wants to admit.

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The conceit of this story is that Ravn, the boss of an I.T. company in Denmark, wants to sell to Icelandic investors but has come upon a snag. Ravn never had it in him to be the boss of a company; he hates rejection and doesn’t want to be the one who has to mete out disappointing news. His solution years previous was to invent a “boss of it all” who lives in the United States and gives his directives to Ravn to carry out. This way Ravn never has to be the bad guy; he is only the messenger. This ruse worked for years, as the employees would receive bogus emails composed by Ravn in the guise of the “boss” which basically convinced them that he existed, until he decided to sell. The potential buyers want to meet this elusive boss, who does not exist, so Ravn hires the actor Kristoffer to impersonate the boss to expedite the sale. With this decision the elaborate lies unravel and the comedy of errors ensues.

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The cast comprising the company are very funny, embracing their eccentric personalities and odd company dynamics. The company produces a vague I.T. product; the jargon of which is made fun of greatly. The difference between ‘outsourcing’ or ‘off-shoring’ are amusingly discussed as well as arguments about the true nature of what they actually do, which in never made clear. The corporate culture of inclusion and coddling are also made fun of. This is an office where hugs are routinely given out, rhyming songs are sung to make others feel better, and worker’s strange and volatile behavior is tolerated and even encouraged. Gorm (Casper Christensen) has a violent temper and when he starts to recite “Autumn in the country is muggy”, watch out because someone is getting a punch in the face. Mette (Louise Mieritz) is a basket case who screams repeatedly when the photocopier runs and cries several times a day. My personal favorite is Spencer (Jean-Marc Barr), an America who for some reason works at this company. Spencer’s problem is that he cannot speak Danish, no matter how much he practices, and he is openly ridiculed by his co-workers for his lack of language skills. He mangles the language repeatedly, yet refuses to converse in English; his naive optimism that he will speak Danish correctly or will be silent evermore is delightful.

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Compared to the bulk of von Trier’s other work this film will not stir furious debate, unless one rails against the poor visual quality of the picture. Though Lars contends that this is not an important feature; that we can go home “and with a clear conscience forget everything we’ve seen…” he still directed this for a reason. It reminds me of his assertion in The Five Obstructions that he hates cartoons and then he gleefully tells Jørgen Leth to produce a cartoon, just to be a nudge. A conversation between Ravn and Kristoffer near the end of the film sums up the reason for this film existing. Ravn questions Kristoffer, “What do you hope to achieve?” To which Kristoffer replies, “Nothing. We’re just having fun.” It’s that simple, sometimes you just have to have a fun time and laugh.