Louie - "Duckling"
(Real quick, then we'll get into this: you know how that country singer said he was an Army Ranger? That's kind of selling it short. He was an Army Ranger here, when this happened. That dude can sing about toothpicks and ground water, he's got a lifetime pass.)
Hour long versions of thirty minute shows were most likely invented to increase some kind of revenue, but nowadays they seem to exist mostly so that television reviewers--even though that's what this post ostensibly is, I kind of still can't believe that "television reviewer" is a real thing--can use the word "overstuffed". And while I can't point you to somebody actually using that word to describe "Duckling", I'm certain the word came up, and I'm going to act as if you believe it did as well: if only so that I can say "nahfuckingway".
"Duckling" opens with CK's most direct admission of what all those Comedy Cellar bits are to date: they're exercises, barely promoted and "performed" for a small group of the lucky few. The Cellar sequences that make up the bulk of the show's stand-up material has always been Louis figuring out or adjusting his material, but this is the first time where he's so bluntly shown the gears involved. It's funny stuff, first about ducks, then a weirdly sweet bit on lions and giraffes. Better still, the unfinished lion bit doesn't really work, and you get the sense that Louis knows it never really will...which is why he relies on that crowdwork-honed shrug and raised eyebrows, that "I don't know man, I thought it was gonna work too" dismissal that puts the audience right in his pocket, whether they think animals are funny or not.
And then, it's off to Afghanistan, with the requisite stop for a scene that picks up a plot device (said device being a duck, from an idea contributed by CK's daughter). We meet--sort of, I never figured out whether both cheerleaders had lines or not, and that might have been confusing on purpose--the rest of our supporting cast, one of whom I already singled out (Keni Thomas, who played himself). Besides the duckling stowaway, the episode follows CK's actual USO tour diary as close as prudence and time contraint allows for. The emotional impact the experience had on him is blunted overall, and all political criticisms are nonexistant, but as his writings make clear, he wasn't too sure about those in the first place. The episode concludes on what are now becoming classic "Louie" tropes--him humiliating himself physically in an episode where almost all of his non-stand-up bits are him humiliating himself emotionally--and then it's over.
It's a good episode, harmed only by the fact that the longer story behind it is one that's just more touching. Some of the bits come across live, but others--like CK's actual relationship with the Christian cheerleaders, or why it was important that he go so gross in his routine--are either absent or impossible to depict. Luckily, all of those remain documented in a series of posts on his website.
Still the best thing on television though.
Childrens Hospital - "Party Down"
Man, that echo effect was a real pain in the ass.
"Hey mom. See you're still Chinese. I'll see you on China day."
NTSF: SD: SUV - "Tijuana, We've Got A Problem"
Some of this worked--the Rebecca Romijn split screen, the Applebees jokes, that list of reasons why Alaska is better than San Diego continues to grow--but they really should just let Rob Huebel write every episode. He's the only one who has figured out how to expand this beyond 75 seconds without turning it into a shitty version of the very thing it's supposed to be parodying.
Suits - "Shelf Life"
"You sound like Fraiser's brother" is the sort of low-belly pop culture reference that Suits normally pulls off well, but this time it came across as a little too much of a dad-joke. And since it fails to hurt the feelings of Lewis--whose teeth are particular large this time around, which is top-notch--it's even worse. No one wants to watch Harvey blow an insult. (That's Mike's job.) After what might be the greatest (its definitely the weirdest) "check my breath on my hand" moves ever broadcast on basic cable, Lewis heads over to pick up some random woman who will later participate in an unfinished subplot involving Lewis curling up in the fetal position. Harvey uses Lewis' absence to meet this episode's ultimate villain (hiss!) and we cut over to Mike, who is in the process of making out with his ex-best friends ex-girlfriend. (She's a blond whose name I always forget, and since Mike is actually in love with a brunette and this to-whose-charms-will-he-succumb conundrum forms one of the show's fundamental story arcs, I think of and refer to her as "Betty".)
Betty is boring as hell. However, so is Rachel, who I call Veronica. Also boring? Mike. Anytime there's a scene focusing specifically on those three people, it goes down like a lead balloon. Let's get back to the plot of this week's episode, which revolves around Mike being forced by Harvey to help take down an outdated model of Mike, i.e. an accountant who has been fooling his employers for years (he never got certified) and has a particular unusual skill for remembering numbers. Future Mike is played by one of those recognizable character actors who you see all the time. I think he was in that show about people who escaped a hostage situation, and then spent the rest of the season having flashbacks to the hostage situation. I never saw an episode of that show on purpose, but now I watch Suits all the time so I probably shouldn't get snobby.
One of those random things that happens on cheap shows like this is that their cheapness inadvartantly results in something unusual, making the show seem better than it really is: like in the scene where Mike gets undressed while Veronica/Rachel watches him. USA isn't about to give Mike a personal trainer, and while the actor playing Mike is pretty fit, he isn't fit enough to pull off a chick-gawking-at-him-topless scene. It's just sweet and weird for Rachel to be looking at him the way she is, like she's looking at Taylor Lautner in one of those virgin vampire movies, when in reality, she's looking at a guy you went to high school with. Any guy. At any high school. Still a lead balloon, but at least it went by quickly.
After this scene, some lady tries to break Harvey with words. It's kind of like watching a little kid try to knock over a tree with a piece of notebook paper. Since this is a USA show that's never going to break huge, you'll have to trust me on this: Harvey Spector is the sort of never-gonna-happen capitalism-with-heart fantasy man that appeals to 99% of this countries taxpaying base, and Gabriel Macht plays him like he's the Jason Bourne of talking-about-shit. Some low rent security thug tries to blackmail our boy Mike? No big deal. Harvey looks the dude up, figures out the security guy has been cheating on his taxes for five years and threatens to expose him. And then, Harvey still pays him the full blackmail, but the check is made out to the security guy's kid's baseball team. "You can steal from him, if that's what you want", is Harvey's basic message. (Actually, that's his second message. His first, which he makes clear in Macht's crystaline language-as-knives is that nobody fucks with Harvey Spector.)
The general war of the episode ends the way all of them have so far--Mike figures some shit out with his super brain, after some prodding from Veronica/Rachel who then kisses him, and then Harvey throws the truth down the enemy's throat, with talking. He's backed up by Gina Torres, who continues to make the viewer feel like "The Firm" exists for her character the same way D'Angelo felt about the boy Wallace, and then the episode ends with another grow-the-fuck-up lesson for Mike, this one a badass moment where Harvey sits in the dark and tells Mike to quit or quit bitching.
It was pretty dope.
-Tucker Stone, 2011