Over the course of the past month, in six half-hour installments, I’m pretty sure I watched one of the best films of 2014. The Elevator, a recent six-part episode of the FX show Louie, was Academy Award quality television.
And yes, I’m aware T.V. is the Emmys.
With The Elevator, writer/director/editor/star/stand-up Louis C.K. has carved his face in stone amongst the likes of Nic Pizzolatto, D.B. Weiss, David Beniof and Bryan Fuller on the Mount Rushmore of television’s wunderkind. But C.K. isn’t wielding an hour long drama flush with murder and sigils and antlers. He’s producing one of the most inspired shows on television under the guise of a half-hour sitcom. Though, it’s telling that the current season of Louie is being aired two episodes at a time and the show itself hasn’t been moved to FXX along with former FX comedies The League and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Of course, the six parts of The Elevator could have been shown consecutively in a movie theater and fooled me. C.K. juggles several compelling storylines and a diverse cast of characters who live and breathe and change over the course of six episodes, all with precise expertise.
In The Elevator, Louie helps a woman stuck in an elevator and winds up befriending her Hungarian niece, who doesn’t speak English. Meanwhile, Louie’s youngest daughter is acting out in school, his relationship with his ex-wife is at an all-time low and the news is abuzz with ominous tidings.
Louie’s relationship with Amia, the aforementioned Hungarian woman, is a masterful examination of communication, not only between the sexes but between people. Just like Louie, we’re never given subtitles to explain what Amia is saying. Instead we’re left with gestures and inflection and expression. And yet, much as not fully understanding a person doesn’t make them less a person, it doesn’t make Amia any less a fully-realized character.
But as interesting an exploration into human relationships as Louie and Amia’s courtship is, when Louie is dealing with his ex-wife and troublesome daughter the storytelling truly hits the next level.
We’ve all seen divorce dealt with in film and television:
KID – IS THIS MY FAULT?
PARENT – NO! (HUGS CHILD)
AUDIENCE – GAWWWW
But C.K. isn’t content with exchanges we’ve heard a dozen times before. Instead, he presents the thesis that divorce is the start of a whole new relationship with its own variables and ups and downs. An obvious enough observation but one consistently overlooked in favor of soft piano music and sad children.
Louis C.K. and Susan Kelechi Watson continue to showcase a fascinating chemistry as Louie and Janet, ex-husband and wife. When the camera lingers as they discuss their concerns for their children it feels like a Steve McQueen film, turning the viewer into an eavesdropper on intimate conversation.
Again, Academy Award quality.
Sure, “my ex-wife” is a hilarious punchline at poker night, but divorce is an uncomfortable topic and The Elevator earnestly puts it into the spotlight, juxtaposed against the excitement and wonder of a new romantic prospect. In both instances, time and time again The Elevator returns to that ever elusive verb: communication.
What does it really mean to communicate with another person?
What happens when ex-spouses are going through trouble at the same time as their children?
How do you tell your kid something doesn’t work, but it’s the best society can do?
The Elevator asks some pretty heavy questions for a half-hour comedy, but Louie never shies away from asking them, even if the answers aren’t concrete.
I’m a huge Nine Inch Nails fan, but when Trent Reznor won an Oscar I was pretty shocked. I won’t be when Louis C.K. does.
1. Louie? Louis? Lois? Lewis?