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From the DVD Shelf: Louie Season One

February 13th, 2012
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I discovered the comedian Louis C.K. when he appeared in a recurring role during the second season of Parks and Recreation, and I fell in love with his work after watching his concert film, Hilarious. I’ve subsequently devoured all of his stand-up comedy CDs that I could get my hands on.  I knew that Louis C.K. had a show on FX, as well, and as as I started reading the rave reviews for the show’s second season over the past few months, I knew that this was something I had to track down.  I’m so pleased that I did!

The structure of Louie resembles that of early Seinfeld episodes.  Louis C.K. plays Louie, a fictionalized version of himself: a divorced stand-up comedian with two kids.  The narrative of each episode is punctuated with several clips from Louie’s stand-up routines, which usually have a tangential connection to the stories being told.

But Louie is a far weirder concoction than Seinfeld, and I love it for that.  For one thing, whereas Seinfeld became known for it’s densely plotted, clockwork-like stories, many episodes of Louie barely have any plot to speak of.  Episodes often consist of two or three extended vignettes that have entirely nothing to do with one another.  It’s bizarre, and quite off-putting to anyone weaned on the familiar rhythms of the sitcom.  But the technique is so determinedly idiosyncratic that I find it makes the show extremely endearing.

Louie is, often, extremely hilarious.  In particular, I find Louis C.K.’s stand-up bits to be phenomenal.  These stand-up routines (and they’re usually lengthier, meatier bits than the short snippets of stand-up seen in Seinfeld episodes) tend to be the highlight of the episodes for me.  But the show is unafraid to have extended sequences that are not funny at all.  Sometimes that’s because we’re watching something serious (such as the lengthy conversation, right at the start of the second episode, between Louie and his friends as to whether it’s OK for him to use the word “faggot” in his stand-up routine).  Sometimes it’s because we’re watching something teeth-grindingly awkward (such as some of Louie’s failed dating experiences).

The show doesn’t shy away from digging deeply into serious issues.  The episode “God” is a notable example, in which we watch an extended flashback of a brutally unpleasant experience young Louie had at a Catholic religious school.  By the way, this episode is particularly notable for the way in which we see the real Louis C.K. throwing traditional notions of structure right out the window.  The flashback sequence takes up almost the entire run-time of the episode, which is a surprising and unusual choice.  The episode also raised some eyebrows for Louis’ casting of a different actress to play his mother than the one seen just a few episodes prior.  And actually, this new actress, Amy Landecker, had already appeared in an earlier episode as a different character, a woman Louie dated.  Louis C.K. later gave the fascinating explanation that he doesn’t see his show as a series in the traditional sense, and so therefore he doesn’t feel he has to worry too much about continuity or consistency.  That’s an intriguingly free-spirited approach to story-telling.

While the episode “God” is an example of the show getting serious, I also love the way the show often gets very, very silly.  Notable examples include Louie’s run-in with a looney-tunes brother-and-sister pair after performing down South (in the episode “Travel Day/South”) or Louie’s pot-induced freak-out (in “Dogpound”).

The show is determinedly un-sentimental, though I adored the sweet final scene that the final episode of the season closes with.  I won’t spoil it, but it put a smile on my face and was a fine close to the first run of episodes.

Louis C.K. writes, directs, and stars in EVERY SINGLE episode of season one.  He also produces the show and is involved in the editing.  It’s an extraordinary achievement, and I think the reason Louie is so interesting and idiosyncratic is because it represents the focused, undiluted vision of one individual, extremely talented comedic mind.

Louie is an extremely unconventional comedy series.  Don’t expect a sitcom.  But for those of you interested in a slightly out-of-the-norm style of TV show, I highly recommend Louie. I think you’ll discover that this weird little show is packed with unexpected delights.  Time now for me to track down season 2!

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