It’s a striking choice to begin a season of a network sitcom on raw emotional notes, especially a sitcom that closed out the previous system by visiting a fantasy borough. And yet “Louie’s Rival”—much less about Louie’s competitiveness with the ostensible “rival” in the episode and much more about struggles with his internal demons—comes out of the gate swinging, and very nearly pulls it off. From the opening moments you can tell something is off; Louie keeps trying to talk to Alex about “problems with my love life,” to which Alex and I had the same reaction: Ew. But, as Louie insists on explaining, something is happening between him and Zena. “It’s like somehow we got out of sync,” he says. “Our gears aren’t meshing as often as they used to.” Alex suggests dinner, movies, and talking, and moves on, as anyone would.
An uneaten $87 French dinner later, Louie and Zena get to the heart of the issue: Zena is seeing someone else, one of the bartenders from Mario’s, the only bar in Taxi. Here’s Louie’s face during the conversation:
He makes an uncharacteristically emotional exit from the scene: “Y’know something, Zena? Someday you’re gonna come back to me, crawling on your knees, begging me to take you back. And when you do, you know what I’ll say? I’ll say, ‘Thank God.'” And while, yes, it’s not really a good thing to say, and the sexual politics of the era are pretty noxious (and, in retrospect, it’s a little Rorschach-y), it is very much a departure from the Louie De Palma we know and love.
After a sojourn to Mario’s, he ends up back at Zena’s after Dwight, the bartender, dumps her for getting too serious. (It’s a sitcom.) Making himself a lettuce-on-wheat sandwich, he makes himself at home — since Dwight is out of the picture, he can come back. Zena counters that she still wants him out of her life. He makes a long, uncomfortable plea for her to take him back:
Love is the end of happiness! [makes plane going down noise and hand gesture] Because one day, all a guy’s gotta do to be happy is to watch the Mets. The next day, you gotta have Zena in the room watching the Mets with you. You don’t know why. It’s the same Mets. It’s the same room. But you gotta have Zena there!
I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not bullshitting you when I say that THIS, IN ITS ENTIRETY, WORKS. AFTER THIS, SHE COMES BACK TO HIM. YES, REALLY. She says, “Lou, do you really feel that way?” He makes what can only be described as “giggity” faces at her and mumbles, “Wanna see me again, Zena?” They lean in to kiss. Fear enters her eyes. “Oh, god,” she says. Her breathing becomes more labored. “Here I am back in the same old stinking, lousy, crummy, rotten relationship all over again. The same place I was in to begin with!” Louie sniffs her hair. “I’ll never get out from under it.”
“Oh, Zena,” Louie cries, throwing his arms around her. “You don’t know how happy that makes me feel.” She turns with a look of disgust on her face.
And on that note, the episode ends, everything seemingly resolved.
“Tony’s Sister and Jim”
Sometimes all it takes is throwing the two stupidest characters into a sitcom plot and watching the formula work. To wit: Tony’s sister, Monica, played as Julie Kavner by Julie Kavner, has just moved back into town, and Tony wants to set her up with Alex. (“She’s been married and everything. I doubt she’s even a virgin anymore. So, I want you to know that I’ve thought about it, and it’s OK with me if you wanna go to bed with Monica.”) Naturally, she takes an interest in Jim.
Very little happens that you wouldn’t expect; Monica and Jim lie to Tony, Tony finds out, Tony says the line “You don’t even like me enough to go to bed with my sister” to Alex. At a certain point Jim is lifted, but that isn’t out of the ordinary either. That’s not to say there’s nothing to appreciate about this episode, just little to say about it. It’s a joy to watch throughout, and I’m worried that any further analysis might ruin it for me.