Whenever I have trouble sleeping, I put on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s not at all that I find it boring, but rather, since I’ve seen every episode 100 times I can safely tune out and let myself be soothed to sleep by that Enterprise 1701-D background hum.
Years ago, sometime in between Lucky Louie getting cancelled and the rise of Beloved Leader Louis C.K., I was dozing on the couch to the season three Next Gen episode “Who Watches the Watchers.” It begins with a father and daughter on the planet Mintaka III making generic Star Trek alien dialogue about moon cycle harvests or something. But something about the daughter’s voice made me sit up and put my glasses back on. At first I didn’t recognize her under all that brow makeup, but there she was: Louie’s wife, Kim, from Lucky Louie. On Mintaka III! All I had to do was add an angry “Louie” to the end of any of her lines: “When the sun reaches its zenith, I have to be ready to take the measurements… Louie.” And so began my love affair with the incredible Pamela Adlon (whose Mintakan father on that episode of Trek was played by the great Ray Wise).
Her career is mainly as a voice actor, so Adlon has done Miyazaki dubs, acted in classic 1980s sitcoms like Night Court and Facts of Life, and done voice work on dozens of video games and animated TV shows (everything from Rugrats to The Oblongs). She won an Emmy for her work as Bobby Hill on King of the Hill. As Louie’s wife on the criminally underappreciated Lucky Louie, she equaled Louis C.K. in power and wit, hurling swears and comebacks like an Amazonian Alice Kramden.
Adlon is now a producer on everybody’s favorite show, Louie, and playing a role that’s sort of like an alternate-reality Kim. She and Louis have so much real chemistry that it’s heartbreaking to watch them do the unrequited love thing. They seem like they must be good friends in real life. Besides the kids, Adlon is one of the only recurring characters who hasn’t been re-cast or re-imagined. I’m a re-watcher, but I can’t bring myself to re-experience the episodes where they say goodbye at the airport, or when Louie confesses his feelings for her at the outdoor flea market. Every time I read some breathless praise piece about the uncompromising genius of Louis C.K., I think of Adlon. She’s an essential, unsung component of TV’s best comedy and its sadly, short-lived forerunner. And nothing on Earth is as sexy as Kim in her pink nurse’s scrubs looking at Louie and saying, “You’re a badass.”