(FX) A great man once said that watching a really good, dark comedy is like listening to the blues. It shows you the pain of life and achieves a cathartic release of that pain. As it happens, he was talking about Peep Show – one of the best dark comedies of all time – but the same is true of Louie, starring Louis C.K. Louie's third season is currently airing on FX, but season two is now streaming on Netflix. So, if you haven't yet given this show a chance, now is definitely the time.
Season one of Louie showed us that C.K. was determined to do something different this time around. His previous HBO sitcom Lucky Louie had been a failure that ran for only one season. Perhaps C.K. felt that the sitcom formula was too restrictive for his style of comedy, because Louie immediately displayed a tendency to defy the constraints of format and genre, adopting an almost stream-of-consciousness approach to storytelling.
As exciting and innovative as season one was, season two is that much better, feeling significantly more assured and doing completely unexpected things at every turn. By this point, the show isn't even strictly a comedy anymore. It frequently edges from painful observational humor into straight drama. C.K.'s view seems to be that the purpose of comedy is to find truth, so why feel the need to tell jokes all the time? Basically, it's no surprise that C.K.'s prize possession is a fan letter written to him by Woody Allen. His work has a lot in common with Allen's, and every episode of Louie is like a short film that wouldn't be out of place in an art-house cinema.
All of this isn't to say that Louie is some hyper-realistic slice-of-life documentary. Its realistic moments are always tempered by large doses of absurdity. The show doesn't really follow the lives of its characters in any kind of linear fashion, nor does it attempt to portray events the way they would really happen. The narrative often veers off into fantasy sequences, and even the “real” interactions between characters have an element of the dreamlike to them. However, the truths that C.K. is getting at are always real and relevant to the way we live our lives, and he somehow wrings performances out of his cast that feel completely genuine. One is reminded of the theater of Bertoldt Brecht, who used surreal devices to remind the audience that they were watching a contrived story, and that truth is fundamentally subjective.
Louie isn't as pretentious as it sounds, though. It's mostly about the hilarious, sad, and joyous little moments of life that we take for granted. For an example, look no further than the episode “Country Drive,” in which C.K. sings, air-guitars, and air-drums the entirety of The Who's “Who Are You” while his two daughters look bored and exasperated in the back seat. It's pretty much a perfect moment, capturing the essence of music's transcendent effect on our ridiculous, glitchy brains. Then, there's the two-part episode “Duckling,” in which C.K. flies to Afghanistan on a USO tour. What's amazing about this one is the way it shows us the banal and terrifying everyday lives of soldiers without resorting to a single prosthelytizing speech or deep conversation. In fact, C.K. spends the most of the trip awkwardly hitting on an uninterested cheerleader.
What's significant about Louie in the context of television is that it's a rare example of one man having complete creative control over a show. C.K. famously refused a larger per-episode budget in order to retain the ability to work without notes from the network. He writes, casts, and directs every episode himself. The result so far has been Emmy-nominated genius, and one hopes that Louie will serve as an example to other networks of what can be accomplished when you find a talented artist and give them your absolute trust in their vision.
However long Louie continues, we know that we'll eventually have to say goodbye to it. Nothing lasts forever, and C.K. would likely be the first to explain that that's a good thing. All we can do is take a page from his book and enjoy it while it's here – every disgusting and wonderful moment.
For Fans Of: Peep Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, M*A*S*H, Woody Allen, Bertoldt Brecht
Why We Like It: gives us a window into one man's twisted and hilarious mind, does things with comedy we've rarely seen before, great casting and spookily-good acting.