Grantland logo

Powerless Rankings: How Do the Impotent Men of Breaking Bad, Curb, and Louie Measure Up?

Breaking Bad

How are television’s favorite angry white males of a certain age feeling put-upon and impotent this week? Let us count the ways.

3. Louis C.K., Louie

Predicament: Double the Louie episodes (seriously, what’s your hurry, FX?) means double the opportunity for angst. In the first, Louie appears on Red Eye (!) to vigorously defend the art of self-doin’ it against a prim, virtuous Ellen of Citizens Against Masturbation on behalf of everyone who’s ever lived, save for her. She appeals to his loneliness and desperation and dares him to come to one of her meetings, but not before he fantasizes about shoving an entire bag of dicks into an attractive elevator passenger suffering from a crippling case of no-dicks-up-in-here. Louie shows up at the end of a CAM meeting, then goes out for a drink with Ellen, then ends up back at her hotel suite with her cozied up next to him in a silk robe. He tries to kiss her, with predictably doomed results, and she proceeds to talk him through how amazing sex could be if they fell in love slowly and then got married. He, of course, uses this as inspiration in the hotel bathroom, which proves to be much sexier material than NPR reports about African genocide.

In the second episode, Louie bumps into Eddie (Doug Stanhope, amazing) at the Comedy Cellar, an old pal from their early stand-up days whom he hasn’t seen in 20 years, which is, not coincidentally, just about when Louie’s career began to take off. Eddie hasn’t been faring as well — he lives in his car, gets joy from nothing as much as berating liquor-store clerks, and will drive to Maine for a $200 gig. These are only a few of the reasons why Eddie is going to kill himself; Eddie isn’t telling Louie this as a plea for help, or even to make amends for two decades of petty jealousy, and Louie doesn’t take the bait, chiding Eddie for taking the selfish, easy way out.

Henpecking: While Louie is certainly no stranger to women denying him sex, the notion of being turned down by someone who denies everyone sex has to qualify as some sort of silver lining.

Insecurities about appearance, health: By volunteering to tell Ellen about his first, fart-filled hand job, Louie establishes himself as a man who is secure about his insecurities. Meanwhile, Eddie’s decrepitude makes Louie feel like a triathlete by comparison just for drinking a bottle of water.

Career frustrations: While Louie C.K. may not (yet) be a household name, seeing Eddie’s fate, and realizing how many Eddies he’s left on the side of the road over two decades of working, has to put his own relative success in a new light.

Proclivities towards violence: He almost gets off on the genocide stuff. Closer than it should have been.

Xenophobia/racism: It’s not like Louie necessarily jumps to the clerk’s defense or anything, but the whole “curry-monkey” thing is really Eddie’s deal.

2. Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm

Predicament: Curb Your Enthusiasm’s first non-Producers-related New York episode is basically like any Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, only with a scene on the subway. Jeff and Larry eat in a restaurant, there’s unpleasantness at a dinner party, Chris Parnell mistakes Larry for a Spaniard and laments his inability to write in cursive, and Ricky Gervais and his throat-protecting scarf and $300 bottle of gifted wine out-smug Larry at every turn.

Larry is mistakenly hailed as a Steven Slater-style airline folk hero when he trips on his too-long shoelace exiting the bathroom in coach and “tackles” a belligerent, drunk passenger. And he lives up to that by apparently running all the way from Veniero’s in the East Village to the 42nd Street F to rescue his new sorta-girlfriend Donna and that coward Ricky Gervais from a mugger. In between, he disrupts Gervais’ three-and-a-half-hour production of Mr. Simmington and makes enemies with the eavesdropping waiter at City Hall and the wife of Chris Parnell’s Hank.

Henpecking: Susie’s so onto Larry’s schtick — she can tell the hero story is a farce the minute she sees his long shoelace — that she may as well be his wife.

Insecurities about appearance, health: Hey, maybe if you tied your shoes like a grown-ass man, you wouldn’t be in this mess. Although you probably still would.

Career frustrations: Gervais’ Seinfeld zinger about the laugh track reminding people when to laugh? Don’t think for a minute that Larry David doesn’t agree with that.

Proclivities towards violence: The in-flight tackling may have been inadvertent, but clubbing a mugger with a crusty rye marble Italian bread was just this side of Al Capone’s baseball-bat braining in The Untouchables.

Xenophobia/racism: English people. Right?

1. Walter White, Breaking Bad

Predicament: We open with illegal-pistol-packin’ Walt swerving in an out of traffic worse than that Against All Odds chase scene, telling Saul to leave Skyler all the money and telling Skyler that he loves her. He’s as unmoored as we’ve seen him, ready again to murder Gus for taking Jesse, who could give a shit.

Jesse, meanwhile, is being shuttled all over New Mexico by Mike, who’s grabbing that shovel not to dig Jesse a shallow grave, but to unearth a bag of cash. He’s been told to bring Jesse along on his day’s pickups for reasons unclear to him, climaxing in a (fake) holdup that Jesse responds to (fake) heroically. (So many fake heroes this week!) But this gives Jesse just the confidence boost he needs to get back to the lab and stop turning his house into the very worst place on the face of the Earth.

Walt feels so depressed by his inability to get to Gus or get any control of his own life back that he sulks through dinner with Hank and Marie, guzzling red wine and, rather mind-bogglingly, telling Hank that Gale was no chemistry genius but rather probably following the footsteps of a chemistry genius, thus encouraging Hank to jump back into the Heisenberg case he thought he was done with. Not even some reconciliation sex with Skyler can make him feel better about moving back in with his family, into a house in which his son sips coffee from a Beneke mug.

Henpecking: To the show’s, or, to Anna Gunn’s credit, even something like Skyler’s post-coital invitation to move back home — everything Walt would have wanted just a few months prior — feels like a power play. And one that Walt’s totally giving into.

Insecurities about appearance, health: Walt is so ready to die that he makes Jesse look not ready to die.

Career frustrations: Forklifts are hard to drive, okay?

Proclivities towards violence: If he had more than six bullets, Walt may have shot down everyone in that Los Pollos Hermanos, then saved one for himself.

Xenophobia/racism: None.

This week’s most powerless: This is obviously becoming less of a competition every week — Walt couldn’t be more combustible if he were doused in gasoline, which may well happen soon. But it’s worth noting that even the double shot of Louie didn’t provide more rage than a single episode of Curb.


Previously: Powerless Rankings for August 8
Powerless Rankings for August 1
Powerless Rankings for July 26

To comment on this story through Facebook, click here.