Sunday, January 26, 2014

V. C. Andrews, Family Romance, and the Aesthetics of Adolescent Shame

Dolly Haze, Meet Cathy Dollanganger

A middle-aged man boarding in a widow's house, Humbert Humbert, becomes infatuated with her 12-year-old daughter, and when the widow is killed in a car accident takes advantage of the opportunity to kidnap the daughter with the intention of raping her. After becoming lovers they settle in another town, posing as father and daughter, until the girl tires of his possessiveness and escapes with the help of another older man who is infatuated with her. They split up after he tries to involve her in pornography and she ends up married, pregnant, and poor. Humbert helps her out with money, but she dies in childbirth at the age of 17.

This, as everyone knows, is the plot of Nabokov's Lolita (1955), considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.

After losing her husband in a car accident, Corrine Dollanganger, a beautiful young widow reveals to her children that their family is fabulously wealthy and that she will be taking them to her grandparents' mansion, Foxworth Hall. They arrive at night and are taken to a far-off room leading to the attic, as well as meeting their grandmother, a terrifying Bible-thumper who makes no secret of hating them. Corrine explains that her sternly religious parents' disapproved of her marriage to their father because he was her half-uncle, and that they will have to stay in the room for a few days or weeks, until she wins her father over. The “few days” turn into months and then years of waiting for the old man to die, during which their mother appears less and less frequently. The children can only play in the attic, which they decorate to resemble a garden. The monotony of their existence is broken up by surprise visits from the Grandmother, who spies on them and doles out whippings and other torture for disobedience or any hint of sexuality. The growth of the two younger children is stunted because they are never outdoors, while the two older children go through puberty and, with no one else around, develop a romance. Meanwhile, their mother gets remarried, to a man who knows nothing about them. When one of the young twins dies, from pneumonia according to their mother, Cathy and Christopher resolve to finally escape. When they see that their dead brother's pet mouse died after eating one of the powdered-sugar donuts that has been added to the picnic basket recently, they realize that they're being poisoned. Worse, they deduce that the poisoner is not their grandmother but their mother, having learned that the grandfather added a codicil to their will that she will forfeit her inheritance if it's proved that she had children from her first marriage.

This, as everyone knows (though perhaps not in all cases the same “everyone” who knows about Lolita), is the plot of V. C. Andrews's Flowers in the Attic (1979), which is set in the 1950s upon which Lolita is often presumed to pass scathing commentary. Whereas both Lolita and Flowers critique the nuclear family and the cheerful, suburban American ideal that conceals its secret passions, Lolita also criticizes the kitsch of American existence – tacky hotels and slangy, gum-snapping teens. Both novels are also first-person narratives, although Lolita is told from the perspective of the abusive adult (every bit as much of a charmer and self-deceiver as Corrine) and Flowers from the perspective of the abused young girl (the oldest girl, Cathy).

The interesting question before us is, of course, why Lolita is considered a masterpiece and Flowers in the Attic a piece of irredeemable yet strangely undying trash. Usually a novel is only considered “trash” if its subject matter is “trash,” which is to say, deals with an unacceptable form of sex; otherwise the milder pejoratives “garbage” or “junk” suffice. Obviously I have no systematic way of proving this anecdotal observation, but you know what I mean: novels dealing with taboo sex are put in their own category of “badness” and assumed to be bad until proven, by the defense of the cultural elite, to be aesthetically good, which, according to that elite, mitigates or negates their moral badness, and is in any case the more important value, or perhaps I should say, the appropriate value when dealing with art. The fact that Humbert Humbert keeps the reader morally anaesthetized by aestheticizing his predation of a child only makes the novel better by making us aware that the aesthetic defense is problematic.

But no novel survives because of its prose style. We make distinctions between novels based in part on the sophistication of the language, concepts, and structure, in part on things like whether or not it belongs to a genre (most genre fiction has to be around for a very long time before it's accepted into the canon), on its marketing, on what happens to be popular among the literati at the time (e.g. since Modernism you have to be a Modernist), and, yes, still in many cases the gender of the author (and presumed audience). But novels survive because of their archetypal power, and at that level there is frequent continuity between acknowledged great novelists and great popular novelists: it's interesting to compare the character types and the romantic endings of Portrait of a Lady and Gone With the Wind, for example, and Henry James is another progenitor of Flowers in the Attic, particularly in “The Turn of the Screw.”

Childhood, the Gothic, and Freud

Dickens is a rare case of a great popular novelist who is also considered uncontroversially canonical; but this is unlikely to happen to V. C. Andrews, because there is far too much shame associated with her oeuvre. If the day comes that that shame is no longer present, the novels will have lost the power that makes them important. If FITA's chronologically immediate progenitors include sensational bestsellers like Peyton Place (1965), with its themes of incest, illegitimacy, and adultery, and the child abuse memoir Mommie Dearest (1978), it also takes its place among such memorable horror novels of the 70s as Stephen King's Carrie (1974), the ultimate account of female adolescent shame, and Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire (1976), which also features a tremendously dysfunctional mock-nuclear family, this one headed by two male vampires, and the idea of doll-like children who are at once mature beyond their years and unable to achieve physical maturity, in a hellishly suspended puberty.

Both Rice and Andrews revived and developed the “Turn of the Screw” theme of the sexualization of children that appeared at the same cultural moment as Freud's theory of child sexuality – an idea that still makes as uncomfortable. The question that torments the Governess in James's Gothic novella is whether she is projecting sexuality onto the children or whether she has accurately assessed their sexual knowledge, in which case the source of contamination was their previous caretakers, Jessel and Quint. Her morbid fascination with the question of the children's innocence, however, is itself a kind of voyeuristic objectification of them – which finds one kind of logical development in Lolita, whose heroine is erotic for the narrator because she is non-sexual, and another in IWTV, in which our cultural fetishization of children and infantilization of women is played out in the form of a kind of nightmarish curse instead of the usual fantasy. Peter Pan is another fairy-tale progenitor to these horror novels; the Lost Boys are motherless children taken care of by Wendy, the Victorian Little Mother who can't wait to get out of the nursery, or rather get out of the nursery and then re-enter it as a mother. Only Peter Pan himself (like Rice's Nietzschean Lestat) boldly refuses to grow up (or in Lestat's case, grow old and die). It's perhaps interesting to note that a dead child featured centrally in the lives of both J. M. Barrie and Anne Rice: in Barrie's case, his older brother, whom Barrie would imitate (e.g. by wearing his clothes) in order to get the attention of his grieving mother; in Rice's, her daughter, who died of leukemia soon before her sixth birthday.

Adolescent Shame and Aesthetic Embarrassment

Although King's Carrie may be the ultimate account of female adolescent shame, with the DePalma movie still being discovered by new generations of teenage girls (even those who would never otherwise watch a movie made before they were born), FITA goes a step further: thanks to its “icky” incest theme, it is itself contaminated by that shame. The shame that one felt reading this smut as a pubescent girl transmutes later into an even more agonizing aesthetic shame: one can see it in the comments, essays, and blog posts by former readers of the series, who are only willing to confess their former fandom if they also excoriate Andrews's writing. The more recent the repudiation, the more hysterical the tone; the psychological mechanism is similar to the one whereby a generation of American movie critics who grew up with Jerry Lewis turned him into the bete noir of American film criticism when, as adults, they attempted to establish the seriousness of the medium, their enterprise, and their country's films in particular. Lewis, as Jonathan Rosenbaum has argued, epitomized the shame of the unruly pubescent body; but the sexuality of the persona was officially neuter, with even his lavish displays of sexualized affection for Dean Martin falling under the permissible neuter category of male puberty. In FITA, the shame that the pubescent girl feels about her changing body and biology and her curiosity about sex are projected onto the mother, who hides her children away and then forgets about them, while the book itself becomes another dirty secret, the act of incest objectifying and rationalizing the shame and embarrassment that the hazy idea of sex inspires in well-brought-up young virgins. Internet fan fiction, mainly written and consumed by young women and girls, now serves this purpose, and is aesthetically excoriated accordingly. It's perhaps to be expected that this demographic has internalized the idea that “female genres,” such as romance, are aesthetically worthless, and mixed up this cultural embarrassment with their sexual embarrassment and general adolescent shame or the shameful memory of it.

Andrews's Gothic Tropes

Andrews may not have been much of a prose writer, but, based on the names dropped in FITA, shewas a great reader, and there is a sophisticated as well as an instinctive side to her understanding and development of the Gothic genre. Take the invented name that the children's parents adopt for the family: Dollanganger calls attention to the doll-like qualities not only of the family's “all-American” beauty, but of their approach to gender roles (with Cathy as the ballerina doll and Chris as the doctor doll); it suggests the “gangliness” of adolescence and Cathy's “anger” at their mother's betrayal, as well as containing the word “gang”; and of course, as many have pointed out, it resembles “doppelganger.” Camille Paglia has written about how the profusion of doppelgangers in Gothic suggests psychological obsession and claustrophobia on the part of the writer. The Dollangangers are all doppelgangers for each other and serve as substitutes for each other: Cathy competes with her mother first for her father, then for Chris, as a substitute for her father; she wins (partly because of their sexual relationship), but only precariously, aware that Chris may at any time revert to his original love for their mother, for whom, Cathy knows, she is only a substitute.

Brother-sister incest has a respectable Gothic pedigree going back to Byron's Manfred, and Paglia has written about how Romantic incest is idealizing, with the “sister-spirit” as a manifestation of the poet's androgynous nature. FITA, however, is told from the sister's perspective. Chris is no Muse; he is, curiously, the sexually safe choice within the terms of women's romantic fiction: incest as the comfort of the familiar, a little like Isabel Archer's relationship with her cousin Ralph in James's Portrait of a Lady. Like many a romantic novel (or novel series) heroine, Cathy isn't especially in love with any of the men she seduces, but any of the others are more challenging to her than Chris – including Julian, whose “vulgar” attitude to sex she can't abide, and Bart, whom she comes closest to loving because her competition with her mother for him creates emotions that are strong enough that she mistakes them for love. But the only actual emotion Cathy is capable of feeling the love-hate (mostly hate) she feels for her mother/doppelganger, with whom she's stuck in the adolescent position of wanting to establish her own identity/wanting to be nothing like her and wanting to be just like her (the all-powerful seductress that she worshiped in childhood). She ends up with Chris not because they're Cathy-and-Heathcliff-like soul-mates, but because she can't escape the matrix of her family romance: she can't cathect onto anyone outside her immediate family. That claustrophobic psychological situation is spatially reproduced in the room and attic where they're kept prisoner, a womb-space where unpleasant emotions strangely change into pleasant ones. The reader, too, wants to return to that site of trauma, supercharged with emotion and meaning, which is why even though the second novel in the series, Petals on the Wind, is an enjoyably soapy coming-of-age and revenge story, the most exciting scene is the one where Cathy returns to Foxworth Hall to confront the Grandmother, raising the spectre of a horror that Cathy learns, to her disappointment, is now part of a past so irretrievable that revenge will always miss its mark, even though that past will haunt her for the rest of her life.

The Southern Gothic, Invalidism, and the Family Romance

One of the ways that reviewers of the new Lifetime movie adaptation dealt with their embarrassment over the subject matter of FITA was to accuse the movie of not being “campy” enough. But FITA, although full of stylized (successfully or not) dialogue and first-person narration, is the least campy of the novels actually written by V. C. Andrews. The feverish My Sweet Audrina, whose heroine must attempt, like the young J. M. Barrie, to channel the spirit of her dead older sister, “the first and best Audrina,” in order to please a parent, is easily the campiest of the novels actually written by Andrews (there are so many deaths-by-falling-down-the-stairs that it's like Ed Wood wrote a soap opera), and as such would probably best lend itself to dramatization. It also best fits into the Southern Gothic tradition exemplified by writers as diverse as Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, and Flannery O'Connor. Like those other famous female Southern authors, Andrews found inspiration in illness, in Andrews case the arthritis that afflicted her from the time of a teenage accident; like McCullers she used a wheelchair, and like O'Connor, who moved in with her widowed mother as an invalid, she lived most (all?) of her life with her widowed mother. (All of this I've gleaned from the Wikipedia article on Andrews and a couple of web biographies.) Andrews and O'Connor were also both visual artists as well as writers; Andrews, however, did not turn to writing until she was in her 50s, and died of breast cancer early in her bestselling writing career. My Sweet Audrina features two classic Southern Gothic “grotesques”: Billie, a double leg amputee who becomes Audrina's mother-in-law as well as her dad's girlfriend, and Audrina's intellectually disabled little sister, Sylvia. The plot, however, is Henry James meets Robert Aldrich.

Unlike the angry, vengeful heroines of the Dollanganger and Casteel series, Audrina is purely passive: she's Andrews's Maggie Verver, except that the libidos and drama swirling around her belong to hillbillies instead of members of high society. Just as Maggie gets her marriage into hot water by clinging to her emotionally incestuous relationship with her father, Adam, thus driving her husband into the arms of her friend Charlotte, who's also, by the way, her stepmother, since she married her off to her father so he wouldn't be left lonely by her marriage; so Audrina, by clinging to her childhood and shrinking from the physical side of her marriage, lets her jealous cousin and illegitimate half-sister (that's right: dad had an affair with her mother's sister before he met her mother) step in and seduce her husband. Audrina, however, has a pretty good excuse for her regressive tendencies: although she thinks she's afraid of men and sex because her older sister was gang-raped and murdered in the woods, in fact she was the rape victim, although everyone in her life has conspired to persuade her otherwise.

In both the Dollanganger and the Casteel series, the heroine has younger siblings whom she feels obligated to take care of, but in My Sweet Audrina it's obvious that Sylvia – who, like Carrie in Petals on the Wind, but intellectually instead of physically, can never grow older – symbolizes Audrina's regression. Audrina has been trying throughout to escape from her controlling father and his house, but in the end, even after learning the truth, she agrees to stay because Sylvia wants to. Andrews's abused children ultimately don't want to leave the scene of trauma, which is also the cozy womb of family romance, and Audrina and Sylvia's choice reflects the one that Andrews actually made. Incidentally, this excellent essay, "V. C. Andrews and 'Disability Horror,'" by Madeleine Lloyd-Davies, avoids the hysterical or otherwise embarrassed tone of much internet commentary on Andrews and also reflects the intelligent analysis of someone who's read My Sweet Audrina a lot more recently than I have.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Comedy of Truth Telling: Louis C. K.'s Louie and Simon Amstell's Grandma's House

Preface: Very seriously, if you don't like spoilers, don't read any of this blog post, which contains MAJOR SPOILERS for events old and new on all three sitcoms it discusses: Louie, Grandma's House, and Peep Show. The kind of spoilers that dwell on the profound televisual pleasure of the skillful revelation of surprises, ruining them for you in the process. So do not read on unless you've already seen these shows and want to compare reactions, or you like to read blog posts about TV shows you'll never watch, or on an impulse that you'll regret immediately after, cringing at each MAJOR SPOILER that erupts in your face.

For two comedians so drastically different, Louis C. K. and Simon Amstell have a remarkable amount in common. They both star in artistically ambitious, autobiographical sitcoms of the “comedy of humiliation/discomfort” sub-genre, playing less successful versions of themselves who are awkward, vulnerable, and have a difficult time finding love and getting laid. Both men have Jewish ancestry on the paternal side; C. K.'s parents divorced when he was ten, Amstell's when he wasn't much older; both shows are haunted by paternal absence. The strong autobiographical element in their comedy goes along with a broader concern with truth telling: Amstell became a minor celebrity in the UK by mocking celebrities, first as a presenter on Pop World, then as the host of the pop music-oriented quiz show Never Mind the Buzzcocks, while (to judge by the bits featured on the show) C. K. prides himself in his stand-up comedy on telling uncomfortable truths which often have to do with sex.

But that's where the similarities end. C. K. is an out-of-shape man in his early 40s who's obsessed with the idea that he's decrepit; Amstell is a wisp of a waif in his early 30s who's as fat-phobic as C. K. is food-addicted and who frequently remarks on the youthfulness of his own appearance. When in Season 3 of Louie, Louie confronts the idea of failure, it's as a middle-aged man whose aim, given his career in show business, has always been to become a stupendous success, and who has started to realize that it may not happen, and soon his best years will be behind him and he will have no more opportunities. When in Series 2 of Grandma's House, Simon grows more desperate after giving up his TV host job, it's as a once-precocious success who thinks his best years may already be irretrievably behind him even as he watches his peers, such as the oft-mentioned Russell Brand, take their careers to “the next level.” It's important to the comedy of both men that we believe they're too prickly, insular, hapless, and, of course, honest for mass popularity; but in truth there's no inevitability to these things. Before Forgetting Sarah Marshall, only five years ago, it might have seemed that Russell Brand was too edgy and outspoken to make it in America; and (being Russell Brand's age) I'm old enough to remember when David Letterman, then in his mid-40s, was being considered as Johnny Carson's replacement, and everyone thought he was too edgy – in his case, acerbic and facetious – for the position. Edginess and awkwardness may reduce your chances of success in entertainment, but they doesn't preclude the possibility.

One of the most obvious differences between the two men is that C. K. is heterosexual and Amstell homosexual, which in their case affects not just their sexual preferences but their stance towards masculinity. C. K. struggles with what it means to “be a man”: fear of fighting and whether that compromises his masculinity; shame over his “disgusting” fantasies about women; a mixture of shame and defiant pride over his masturbation addiction; nervous mockery and jittery tolerance of male homosexuality, accompanied by homophobic/homoerotic fantasies (e.g., the denouement of the dentist episode). Amstell, on the other hand, seems as far from wanting to approximate traditional masculinity as he's incapable of doing so, with his adolescent appearance and voice; in Grandma's House the only function that traditional masculinity serves is to be mocked as absurd in the form of Simon's mother's boyfriend, Clive, an erratic alcoholic who calls Simon “Captain” and whose blustery attempts to engage in male bonding with his amused and horrified pseudo-stepson tend to evoke pity and fear.

The Trouble with Truth Telling

An unfortunate aspect of Amstell's truth-telling persona is his nastiness towards those he deems deserving, whether celebrities or relatives; although in Grandma's House this is tempered by self-deprecation, on the one hand, and intermittent compassion towards most of the other main characters, Clive included. An unfortunate aspect of C. K.'s truth-telling is that he seems to think that he's speaking for “men” and hides behind this idea when he tells us unsavoury truths about himself, such as about his sexual thoughts and habits. The same can't be said of Amstell: when in his stand-up show, Do Nothing, he tells us about his attraction to young men who are thin and vulnerable, like himself, he's not talking about anyone else's foibles but his own, and one is astonished, as throughout the show, equally at his confessional bravery and his infinite narcissism.

This willingness to speak on behalf of “men” is no doubt a large part of the reason that C. K. has been embraced as philosopher-comedian, appealing to the same middle-aged white male demographic, confused and disoriented in a world that is no longer theirs even though it still pretty much is, for whom Walter White is a badass. C. K.'s weird, prematurely-curmudgeonly, anti-modern world stance must also have something to do with it, as well as his absolute confidence in the familiar fallacy that if he thinks something, and it's unpleasant, it must be true. The nadir of this attitude is on display in an early episode in which he asserts that lesbianism is wrong “not ethically, but geometrically,” a repetition of the stale sexist idea that “it can't be sex if there's no penis involved,” and therefore lesbianism is neither harmful nor serious. Those silly girls can do what they want to because nothing real can happen until men are involved; and if you find that offensive, it must mean it's true, and not a culturally dominant prejudice that denies the truth of another person's experience.

A World Populated by Psychopaths

In a way, Louie has more interesting things to say about 21st century masculinity than more progressive sitcoms like Grandma's House or Jonathan Ames's on Bored to Death, which is a kind of post-masculinity buddy-comedy. Louie doesn't get the kind of firm, clear exemption from masculinity of an Amstell or Jason Schwartzman, baby-faced men whose adolescence has wondrously survived into their early 30s. He's a farting-and-masturbating “regular guy” who's nevertheless as neurotic and anxious as Woody Allen (although by Season 3 he's become almost as inarticulate as Jerry Lewis); whose “ordinary” appearance is brutally criticized throughout the series, mostly by men; and whose pathological relationship with food would appall Bridget Jones.


A more troubling aspect of C. K.'s comedic persona on Louie is the fact that he is almost always presented as a sane man surrounded by psychopaths, albeit a sane man with a binge-eating disorder and, quite possibly, clinical depression. That would be enough to make you a freak on most shows, but it's nothing compared to the eccentric, hysterical women he encounters in personal situations (dates, sisters, mother) and the strange men who put him and others in dangerous situations. Louie the character and Louis the writer rarely make any attempt to find out what is making these people act in the strange ways they do: why the woman who approached him for sex after the PTA wants him to buy her blueberries and spank her in bed and why the spanking makes her break down in sobs of despair; why the bus driver doesn't know where the field trip is, how to get there, or the regulations about taking buses on highways. Once these people have confirmed for Louie, once again, that the world is an insane and scary place, nothing more is needed from them. Sometimes the dynamic flips, in the episodes where Louie goes into a panic that turns out to be unjustified; then he is blindly hysterical, with the difference that we know the cause, and it's a good one. This does happen with another character in the show, once: the teenage bully who threatens to kick the shit out of Louie in front of his date, whom he then stalks to his house, where he confronts the boy's father and discovers that both of his parents are physically and verbally abusive. This of course ends up feeling a little like an after-school special, but if C. K. is so drawn to unhappy eccentrics and extreme situations, he might try a little more often, Cassavetes-style, to help us understand these characters and feel something for them. One of my favourite episodes is the one where a fellow comic that Louie's known for years, but not very well, chooses him as the person he's going to say goodbye to before committing suicide because his life is empty, facing the viewer with the question of whether this is always a stupid decision, sometimes a sensible one, or simply a personal one.

While I watched the first two seasons of Louie with half-interest and occasional detached admiration, for me Season 3 is the big pay-off, where Louie and the show together try to push beyond their boundaries. Season 3 contains not one but two inspirational plotlines, although they're only “inspirational” within the context of the show's dark universe. First, Louie finds a new woman to obsess over in the form of Parker Posey's bookstore clerk, who agrees to go on a date with him, during which she reveals herself to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, pushing him to try things and do things he wouldn't normally do, to make the effort to enjoy life while you can. And then the season settles into its major arc: Louie's attempt to “get in training” for taking over Letterman's job on The Late Show. Fighting his own terror of failure, which manifests itself as a horror of effort, and his settled, comfortable conviction that he's a niche comic who can't entertain the mass audience, he pulls it together in order to be a role model for his little girls and show them that if you want something, you have to try. The more layers of cynicism and self-doubt that Louie strips away, the more vulnerable he becomes, and as he allows himself to want the job and believe in himself it's hard not to root for the underdog. He isn't allowed to get what he wants, or it wouldn't be Louie, but his triumph is that he thought he could, and knows he could have.

And then in the final episode, Parker Posey briefly reappears and we learn the reason for her sudden melancholy at the end of the date episode, while she was sitting, exhilarated, on the edge of a high rise roof; and that she was not a Manic Pixie Dream (or Nightmare) Girl after all, but Milly Theale. Like the Letterman opportunity, she, too, taught Louie to be a little less afraid of life; and she's denied to him even more brutally. In Season 3 of Louie, the world is perhaps even more insane and scary than ever, but Louie has somehow found the inner resources, and outer motivation, to take some risks, and C. K. shows the real difficulties and rewards of opening yourself up to possibility despite fear and pain.

Do Not Go Gently Into the Post-Masculine Era

Something similar happened to the protagonist of Peep Show, Mark Corrigan (David Mitchell), in the initial Series 7 of Peep Show, Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain's point-of-view-cam sitcom, with voice-over access to the thoughts of Mark and deuteragonist Jeremy (Robert Webb), a couple of hopeless losers, Mark an anti-charismatic nerd and Jeremy a vaguely charismatic, irresponsible, unemployable mooch. Before I saw Louie, I thought Peep Show was the darkest sitcom I'd ever seen, with the most excruciatingly humiliating and generally horrifying situations. The first four seasons focus on Mark's seemingly hopeless obsession with his co-worker, Sophie, first leading the viewer to sympathize with and root for Mark despite his frequent ineptitude, then making us realize, with delicious dawning horror, that Mark is incapable of a functioning romantic relationship, never really wanted Sophie in the first place, and has fucked up her life by winning her over.

Armstrong and Bain then take us through the revelation of Mark's true, but involuntary, awfulness and manage to bring us around almost to sympathizing with him again as he keeps fucking up on Sophie and adding to her hatred of him. When Mark gets a crush on a new co-worker, a cute, funny nerd girl, we're relieved that it seems as though something is finally going to go right for him, and at the end of Series 7 it looked like he might be ready and able to take baby steps towards “growing up” by kicking Jez out and moving in with a completely awesome woman.

If Peep Show had ended with Series 4, it would have been a masterpiece. Series 7 doesn't add much to the proceedings, instead drawing out the question of whether Mark's “growth” will prove illusory and Dobby will turn out to be Sophie II, which no longer has the ability to surprise, or whether this time he won't screw it up, in which case Mark and Jeremy split up and the show has to end. Peep Show has gone into a soap-opera holding pattern and could go on this way for years with ever-diminishing returns. Grandma's House, on the other hand, is over too soon after only two series: proving true to his perfectionist and somewhat antagonist stance, Amstell has said that he likes to end things once they're good and while they're still liked. As for Louie – isn't he, too, going to have to get the girl and start getting his life together (if they're not equated) at some point, and won't that be the end of the show? Mark's emotional trajectory with Sophie makes perfect sense for Louie as well, but I'm not sure if C. K. hates him enough to tarnish the beauty of his wistful, delusional feelings for women he can't have. Louie's self-loathing is always on the border of self-pity, which is a frequent difference between British and American dark comedy, and which is something else that Louie has in common with Walter White. Rage, rage against the dying of the light, ageing white dudes. Or whimper, whichever.